The Fear of the 13th Floor

THESE WALLS CAN TALK

For those who build towers that rise to ever-more-dizzying heights, could the fear of one relatively middling number really factor into their work?

Absolutely. In fact, for years, developers have been more apt to give into triskaidekaphobia—fear of the number 13—than acrophobia.

In New York City, fewer than 10 percent of all Manhattan condominiums that have 13 or more stories actually identify a 13th floor. The rest favor other numbers like 12B or 14, according to Bloomberg News. Meanwhile, the Otis Elevator Company has estimated that 85 percent of high rises in the world with more than 13 floors did not name a 13th floor.

So what’s the big deal with the number 13? Throughout history, there’s been a stigma attached to the number…

So what’s the big deal with the number 13? Throughout history, there’s been a stigma attached to the number that’s lasted as long as the Old Testament. The Code of Hammurabi left out a 13th law from its list of rules (an omission that was later found to be a clerical error, according to History.com). Judas Iscariot, the man who was said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th person to arrive at the Last Supper.

In Norse folklore, Loki, the mischievous God, was the 13th guest who attended a banquet in Valhalla, uninvited, and orchestrated the murder of another God.

The reason builders pay heed to triskaidekaphobia cannot be traced to one particular incident. If anything, it stems from the common fear of the number 13 shared by many cultures. Between 9 and 13 percent of the adult U.S. population view Friday the 13th as an unlucky day, according to Live Science. (To put it in exact terms, you can say they suffer from a bad case of “paraskevidekatriaphobia.”)

Such superstitions make it difficult for building owners to market the 13th floor to residential and business clients alike.

“[From] the developers’ perspective, even if there’s a 0.01 percent chance it’ll affect prices, why take a risk at all?” says Gabby Warshawer, director of research at CityRealty, in an interview with The Atlantic.  

Hotels, meanwhile, have a long history of omitting the 13th floor to avoid scaring away skittish customers. A 2007 Gallup Poll found that 13 percent of respondents would be bothered by staying in a room on the 13th floor.

That doesn’t matter to the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, which has boasted a 13th floor since opening over 140 years ago. The new Virgin Hotels Chicago also has a 13th floor, and the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel is home to Cindy’s, one of the hottest restaurants in downtown Chicago that’s situated—you guessed it—on the 13th floor.

Last year, the City of Vancouver enforced new rules that will force developers to list out all floor numbers in a new condo or office building, especially the numbers 13 and four (the latter of which is considered bad luck in China as it sounds similar to the word “death” in Cantonese and Mandarin). 

Whether other cities will adopt similar building codes remains to be seen. Don’t expect One Dalton, a 61-story skyscraper in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, to list all of its floors. The building excluded the 13th, fourth and 44th floors from its elevator panels.

The $700 million Millennium Tower Boston also doesn’t have a 13th or 44th floor in the building.

Carpenter & Co., the developers of One Dalton, told The Boston Globe that the goal of not including the superstitious numbers “is to be aware of and respectful of cultural preferences beyond our own.” 

In New York, Toll Brothers, a development firm, is not scared of including the 13th floor in its buildings. One Ten Third, a 21-story luxury condo in Manhattan, lists its 13th floor, and the developers have plans to do the same for two future developments.

Says David Von Spreckelsen of Toll Brothers City Living in a 2013 interview with The Wall Street Journal: “I think it’s a silly thing to be afraid of.”

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