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Why Many Buildings Don't Have A 13th Floor

It's not that complicated.
PHOTO: Pixabay

Most of us have probably been inside a tall building or skyscraper, rode the elevator and noticed there's no button for the 13th floor. Why is that? In the Philippines, many buildings just choose to skip the 13th floor altogether, perhaps because of the fact that so many of our countrymen are superstitious to the point that they will refuse to set foot there, much less stay there (if it's a hotel) or work there (if it's an office building). 

It's fairly obvious a lot of people think the number 13 is unlucky, but have you ever stopped to think about the reason why this is so?

Why the number 13 is unlucky

Although many historians are generally in disagreement over the origins of triskaidekaphobia, or the fear of the number 13, it has been theorized that it began as far back as the time of Jesus Christ. Remember the Last Supper, when Jesus broke bread with his 12 apostles? The 13th person in that room was Judas Iscariot, whom we all know would eventually betray him. Apparently, the number has taken on an ominous meaning since then.

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Another theory about people's aversion toward the number 13 comes to us from ancient Mesopotamia, one of the oldest known civilizations on earth. The Code of Hammurabi, a code of law that is also one of the oldest deciphered writings in history, apparently left out number 13 from its list of 282 laws. Historians and archaeologists later found out it was a simple clerical error, but of course, people already jumped on the fact. Poor number 13 just can't get a break.

Finally, the Norse myths are another source of all of the drama surrounding the number 13. Legend has it that there was a huge banquet for all the Norse gods and goddesses, but for some reason, our god of mischief was not invited. Feeling resentful, Loki crashed the party and caused mayhem (what else did we expect?). When the dust settled, at least one god, Balder, lay dead.

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No 13th floor

So now that we have some ideas on how the number 13 became unlucky, how did the practice of skipping the 13th floor on buildings start? The commonly accepted belief is that it happened during the time when skyscrapers began sprouting in big cities in the US. The logic was simple: Because the number 13 was considered unlucky, owners and developers didn't want to risk potential occupants being turned off. Result: They just skipped 13 entirely when numbering the floors and went straight to 14. 

In New York, especially, where skyscrapers first started mushrooming in the late 19th century, people didn't build towers with more than 12 floors not just because of superstition, but because, initially, they were concerned about unsightly shadows falling back down on the streets.

And because the Philippines was once a colony of the US, us Filipinos adopted many of the Americans' beliefs and superstitions not just related to architecture and planning, but in many other facets of culture and everyday life.

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There's a variation of this fear, too. The Chinese and the Japanese generally try to avoid the number four as the character for it sounds a lot like the word for "death." This is the reason why many Chinese-owned buildings don't have a fourth floor. 

Today, there are conflicting studies about whether many people still have triskaidekaphobia. According to a 2007 study, 87 percent of Americans wouldn't mind staying in a hotel room on the 13th floor. However, according to elevator manufacturer Mowrey Elevators, up to 85 percent of elevator panels don't have the number 13, ergo, no 13th floors on those buildings.

"No data exists, and will never exist, to confirm that the number 13 is an unlucky number," Livescience quoted Igor Radun of the Human Factors and Safety Behavior Group at the University of Helsinki's Institute of Behavioural Sciences in Finland as saying. "There is no reason to believe that any number would be lucky or unlucky."

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But would you voluntarily live or work on the 13th floor?