The next few blogs I think will speak to different building components and share thoughts about them and their usefulness in creating what I hope are cumulatively, inspiring and amazing places. Walls, Windows, Materials, Roofs, Columns. In a top-down approach, or in a “trickle down economy” -I suppose it’s just as well to start with the roof. That statement belies my deep feeling that honestly, the roof is perhaps my favorite single element. I feel most like a sculptor when pondering how best to work the covering of a structure. It represents so much, and offers the first glimpses and over-arching statement of a place. It can be sculpted (or should be) -and in the roof’s big picture view of the world, creates the form that gives form to your first impressions of a place. It has a crucial job to do, but its artistic capacity can’t be understated- it can even be, (as at the picture on top)- the roof is the destination.
The roof is the warrior-poet of any great design.
Isn’t it fascinating to realize that a structural engineer starts with the roof- before he can design the proper load carrying ability in the footings!? We say metaphorically, that you must first “have a good foundation”, be it financially or spiritually perhaps- yet it’s not the base but - the roof - that is the first thing we see of a new town, the skyline to a great city, and is the first line of defense against the elements. But in fact its one of the most misused or under-utilized design elements I can think of. Ponder having four walls yet with no roof, how well would you fare in a hot, or rainy, or snowy environment? It’s the roof that covers us, and takes the brunt of the heat, the sun, and the rain- and render them almost useless against our comfort and safety. These are of course pragmatic and functional aspects, but I can promise that you would do alot better at the beach without walls than you would without a roof, which is perhaps why tents came to be so useful to certain cultures, the single most important and portable building component.
But if its only mere function that the gentle designer uses, he misses so many opportunities. I love a simple gable with perhaps a few dormers to keep things interesting. And who can resist the charm of a stoop, with a little swooped roof over the doorway on a cottagy house? The roof will tell you if the layout of walls underneath it was exercised with care and thoughtfulness, or conversely- have you ever seen a roof that is so busy trying to cover it’s runaway train of a house that it too, becomes a confusing and convoluted mess? I won’t show a picture of ugly things usually, we all have too much access to the unfortunate as it is.
And regarding the material ON the roof, what a statement that makes. Think about your first impression of a house with say, a slate roof for example. How about clay tiles? Too spanishy for you- ever noticed flat clay tiles? Doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive, either- one of my favorites is an old tin roof on a mountain house, (at the beach it works just as well)- and how wonderful is the sound of the rain on a rusty metal porch roof? Ok, I will admit, I love copper in small doses, I like to use it on lower slope roofs like shed dormers, or lower areas where it’s inherent beauty can be appreciated up close. But my favorite may very well be ….drum roll… Cedar Shakes. Not to be confused with cedar shingles which are sawn, not split as shakes are… Now I do also believe cedar shingles are very wonderful, but to be sure; I love that natural texture of the hand split cedar, and make no mistake- it smells good too, (just an added bonus). But there is a certain smell around a cedar shake house, that gives it a certain woodsy yet aristocratic perfumed feeling. The great thing to me- is that it’s a REAL material, not synthetic, just natural, simple and elemental. It’s soft, and elegant, it’s not stiff not formal- can be used on a large English arts and crafts house or a cottage, even a barn.
There are details also to a great roof that can be used to bring much beauty and interest. Now; the roof transfers it’s first blush impression- and becomes the FIELD in which these details become the OBJECTS in- the jewels in the crown. These jewels, such as dormers, chimneys, vents, dovecotes (gable vents of a certain type) all create a pattern in the roof’s field. When used carefully and judiciously, in conjunction with an equally thoughtful and contoured roofline, and beautiful materials- the roof is not just a great way to keep the rain out, it becomes a piece of art. I haven’t even mentioned the wonderful creativity that can be made from the edges where the roof meets and flirts with the wall- the rafters which can be exposed as hundreds of tiny decorative whimsical sculptures, marching along on equal spacing like good soldiers- dutifully and delightfully carrying out their mission.
All to support their royal subject, the roof.