The next time you step into an elevator, notice if the 13th floor is missing. In Asia however, you may find buildings skipping the 4th floor instead of the 13th. Ever wondered why? How far does this practice go and is it still relevant today?
Buildings skip the number 13 because it’s viewed as bad luck. The 13th floor is removed and renamed as “12A” or goes straight to “14”, for fear of losing potential clientele from renting/buying on that floor. Notice the different buildings in the world will skip different numbers depending on what their culture views as bad luck.
This belief is not limited to the construction and building industry. You’ll find that even airplane seats or certain stores give discounts on the 13th (especially Friday the 13th). Airplane seats can go from 5-44% cheaper when flying on the 13th. (1)
It is estimated that $800 to $900 million in sales are lost in buying or moving homes , offices — all due to the fear of the superstition. (2)
Just check out the horror movies or this event alone centered on “13.” It’s automatically a symbol that conveys a spooky, foreboding message that for some reason is understood by many.
Origins of the 13
Where did the stigma against the number come from?
The most common, widespread of the stories mentioned are that of the God Loki from Norse Mythology and Judas from the Bible during the Last Supper. Both of which involve an undesirable, unlucky 13th guest that leads to another’s death.
Other historical references are the Knight Templar and another Norse story from that of Frigga, the goddess of love and fertility, along with “death” and 11 witches formed the “witches sabbath.” — both stories cursing people on Friday the 13th. (1)
More instances in history cited are the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest form of law from ancient Mesopotamia leaves out the number 13 out of its 282 laws (3), and space tragedy Apollo 13 in 1970.
There’s just a constant perception and avoidance of the number, so much that in France there’s said to be a job position called “quatorzes.” Whose main task is being the 14th guest at dinners should 13 guests arrive, to steer the event away from bad luck. (4)
Bad for Business and Buildings?
Contrary to popular belief, more Americans are saying they wouldn’t mind staying or working in a space on the 13th floor. However about 13% in a 2007 Gallup poll still felt uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping on the 13th floor. (5)
This is probably why several elevator manufacturers like Mowrey and Otis report 80-90% of their elevator panels are without unlucky 13. (3)
The next time you step into a building, see what tactic they may have used: (2)
- Skipped numbering straight from 12 to 14
- Renamed 13 as “12A” or “M” for Mezzanine
- Designated it as a special floor for amenities like a ballroom or swimming pool, therefore using letters instead like “M” or “PD”
There’s some speculation that in the boom of U.S. skyscrapers in the 19th century, architects did not like building a 13th floor for the shadows it would cast at street level. (The first skyscraper in history, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago (1885) was only 10-12 floors high, so this ritual of leaving out the 13th floor came later on.)
To some degree this is true, as building codes today regulate that after a certain height, buildings should begin to stagger into a smaller footprint, to allow light and ventilation to reach the ground. This is why several New York skyscrapers have that cake like effect on top.
However it is not stipulated by code that the cut off be on the 13th floor. This is dependent on your zoning and how wide the street your building is fronting. There are some codes like this below that says a maximum height of 150 feet before staggering back, which divided by the typical floor height 11.5 feet, equates to about 13.
It’s a Legit Phobia – Triskaidekaphobia
The fear of the number 13, or “triskaidekaphobia” is more than just an uneasy feeling. Those with this phobia can experience immediate anxiety, nausea, vomiting, racing heart beat, find it hard to breath and overall panic when encountering the number.
Doing without the number 13 on your floor labeling, elevator buttons or TV channels can save those with the condition a lot of anxiety from the fear. (6)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, are people who challenge the superstition. The “Thirteen Club” headed by Captain William Fowler, has the number 13 intertwined and integrated in several aspects of his life. Not only that but this club aims to purposefully perform every superstition of bad luck, like starting meetings passing under a ladder. (1)
Superstition in Buildings
Although buildings are shaped through engineering and heavy science, there are several superstitious beliefs that remain within the construction realm.
You’ll find sometimes construction doesn’t happen on days that bring bad luck. Some cultures have their own ground breaking ceremonies, blessing the building and bleeding an animal or tossing coins on the foundation before concrete pouring. There’s no real science to back any of these except the strong faith of a community in tradition for years (maybe even centuries).
I mean, when spending millions and months to years on a project meant to last decades, better safe than sorry right?
So this rule of “13” should be taken into cultural context as it is different around the world. The Italians actually view the number 13 as lucky and number 17 as their unlucky one. (1)
The Chinese and Japanese view “4” as “death”, which is why their buildings may have the number 13 but do away with the 4th floor. (3)
Expanding “belief” further, Chinese culture regularly practices “Feng Shui.” It is a building practice, way of life and belief that dictates whether a house is built in good practice, attracting good energy and driving away evil spirits. Some feng shui rules recommend how many steps are good luck or bad luck. Others stipulate where a living room or dining room should be situated and oriented. Feng Shui also dictates what rooms can be adjacent and which shouldn’t be.
Should these beliefs be taken to heart?
There are certain practices that actually contribute to sustainable design, like how it is unlucky to have a lot fronting a dead end. This in turn has architectural planners design a cul-de-sac road to “circulate the energy and flow”, but also helps our car maneuvering and prevents harsh storms from funneling and slamming onto our property.
However, be warned that other rules can give your architect and engineer a headache. So discern which practices are relevant and how far you’ll take the rules rooted in superstition before going crazy.
Seeing as these practices are still strongly carried out today, it’s your choice in taking the risk of enforcing a “13th” floor in your building or not. It’s hard to ignore the fact that you may be turning away a sector of the market if your building triggers a phobia or is ultimately giving off “bad energy”.
The safer practice would be “better safe than sorry” in losing potential customers or clients by avoiding the 13th. Then again remember this is cultural based. So perhaps if you can attract a lot of another culture that views 13 as lucky, they can occupy that floor instead.
- Brew. (2019, December 13). This is why buildings don’t have a 13th Floor . YouTube. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48gqSmWwzrY
- *. (2021, July 29). Why many buildings don’t have a 13th floor: Rentalpaca. Alpaca. Retrieved March 2022, from https://rentalpaca.com/blog/why-many-buildings-dont-have-13th-floor/
- Caña, P. J. (2020, February 6). Why many buildings don’t have a 13th floor. Esquiremag.ph. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/why-buildings-don-t-have-a-13th-floor-a00289-20200206
- Lacy, R. (2019, September 10). The mystery of the missing 13th floor: WSRB blog. Go to WSRB. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www1.wsrb.com/blog/mystery-of-missing-13th-floor
- Leasca, S. (2017, October 13). Square waves are a thing – and if you see them, get out of the water immediately. Travel + Leisure. Retrieved March 2022, from https://www.travelandleisure.com/travel-tips/square-waves-cross-seas-danger
- Barclay, S. (2019, March 3). Why isn’t there a 13th floor in hotels? USA Today. Retrieved March 2022, from https://traveltips.usatoday.com/isnt-there-13th-floor-hotels-107585.html