Thursday, February 16, 2006

Howard's Blog of Fame: The Mansard Roof

I have a pretty picture to show you. It is quite possibly the most amazingly perfect example of a mansard roof that I have ever seen. I came across it a few years ago, and copied it into my laptop archives. It is such a striking drawing of a mansard roof, that I think it deserves its own stand-alone entry as the maiden installment of what I am calling "Howard's Blog of Fame".

But first a little history lesson so you will have a bit of deep-felt appreciation that a little historical understanding might bring...

he mansard roof had an unusual origin dating from the time of early 17th-century French royalty. During this era, Parisian property was taxed on the basis of the number of floors below the roofline. These taxes went to support the grandeur of the royal court and, as you might imagine, the high taxes were wildly unpopular. A French Baroque architect, Francois Mansart, began to design buildings with an apparently lowered roof height -- in essence an 'attic' that could still be used and even rented out as occupyable space -- in order to increase building area while keeping the property tax of his clients to a minimum.

A mansard roof style has two vertical slopes on each side of the building; the lower slope might be straight, concave, or convex (in this case: convex), and is much steeper than the upper slope, which can be low-sloped or often appear to be flat on top.

Mansard roofs were and still are one of the most noticeable features of French revivalist architecture, as it was brought back to vogue two hundred years later in the mid-19th century during the reign of Napoleon III, becoming a key design element of the Second Empire style. The Louvre Museum is a good example of a building built at this time (actually the Romanesque building was remodelled and added on to) using this particular architectural revival style which included extensive use of the mansard roof. Google it if curious. I'm not going to do it all for you.

One more detail of the mansard story that I recall from architecture school was that Napoleon III commissioned Baron Haussmann, a French planner, to develop a master plan for the redevelopment of Paris. This resulted in all the wide boulevards that radiate throughout the city, as well as the construction of new water supplies, sewers, parks and gardens, and many prominent public buildings such as the Paris Opera House and the Arc de Triumphe. This city planning concept was an immediate success and was highly influential in the planning and layout of Washington D.C.

But what does this have to do with mansard roofs? One of the limitations placed on new construction along these new Parisean boulevards by Haussmann was that buildings could only be five stories high, with the top story being a mansard roof in the Second Empire style. With over 60% of 19th-century Paris being affected by this planning scheme, you can see the mansard everywhere in photos of Paris today.

Okay, now that you have been edumacated about the mansard roof, you may closely study the above drawing of what is quite possibly the most gracefully designed and proportioned mansard ever conceived.

You're welcome.

The roofing material used on mansard roofs is traditionally slate tile, black and heavy -- though sometimes terne metal will be used in regions like the American Gulf Coast. Terne is nickel gray and metallic.


Blogger Gravity said...

I love Mansard roofs. My current apartment building has them. They are a fairly common sight on the Victorians in this area (Central VT).

1:46 PM, February 16, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey I like your blog! Came by from Digby's blog...

It's refreshing to read a blog about something like architecture - something I know nothing about - written in a way that is accessible and informative.

Living in Toronto I don't see many Mansard roofs - but I agree they are beautiful and I will keep my eyes open for them.


5:16 PM, February 17, 2006  
Anonymous Luke S. said...

A little Q&A (I've got the Q). Is it correct as Second Empire Mansard roofs go, to have any section of the upper hip roof flat? I'm adding on to my house but local codes wont let me go high enough to raise the ridge when I make the house wider. To keep the same angles everywhere I would need a 6' wide section at the top to be flat. Any advice would be appreicated.

5:23 PM, March 13, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

To be technically correct, there ain't no such thing as a flat roof, or at least there shouldn't be. So while the upper facet of Mansard roofs often may appear to be flat, they really aren't. Low-slope roofs--where the slope is 1/4"/foot minimum, enabling water to run off quickly rather than linger around and find a way inside your house--are still very doable and possible with house projects. I myself designed an addition to a turn-of-the-century Victorian house three years ago that had a low-slope roof with a single-ply membrane system over a few inches of fire-proofed polyisocyanurate insulation. However, it wasn't building codes that I had to wrestle with, but zoning laws. In this particular case, the neighborhood was zoned with an historic character in mind, necessitating minimum slopes of something like 5:12 (5" rise per 12" run -- see? high school geometry does have its applications) To keep from blocking the one good window on the second floor that looked out over the nicely landscaped backyard, I recommended and designed an addition with a low-sloped roof and deep overhangs for sun control and general aesthetics. This meant a visit to my clients' zoning board, which was meeting to hear monthly zoning variance appeals. They looked at my design, listened to my rationale for the low-slope roof, pronounced it an excellent solution, and granted the variance. Piece of pie. Of course, your zoning requirements may vary. Three last caveats: While single-ply membrane roofing systems are just about the best low-slope roofing system going, they may not be recommended in your area for residential projects, and the warranty may not apply for this reason. Second, usable deck space over an addition is typically not permitted by many zoning laws in residential neighborhoods, except possibly over porches and sometimes garages. And even then, don't be walking on a singly-ply roofing system if you can help it. While the rubber membrane is tough as nails, it can still be punctured, and then all is lost. Hope this helps,

12:31 AM, March 15, 2006  
Anonymous luke s. said...

Good info, thanks- But what I actually ment was this; Is it period correct (that is does it belong on) to have a flat (low slope) roof section on a Second Empire Mansard Roof. I'm curious because I dont want to take away from the look of the house- the low slope portion wont be visible to anyone thats not a bird. It would be, from ground level, 21' to the bottom of the Mansard. 29' to the moulding that seperates the upper and lower hip sections. And another 3' for a total of 32' to the "flat" roof. The house is 26' wide, and the flat section would only be 6' wide. Again thanks for the info.

4:32 PM, March 21, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

And the answer to your question, if I understand it correctly, is yes. Many, if not most mansard roofs have a non-visible low-slope roof up where the birds live, because if the roof had any substantial slope, the roof peak or ridge would be expensively high in the sky. If you google pictures of mansard roofs, you should find many examples of this. The rendering I posted here shows a slight transition line near the top of the roof, though the slope does not flatten out as much as it can with typical mansards. Hope this helps and thanks for playing.

1:21 AM, March 22, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think the space just below the "peak" of the upper slope of a typical mansard roof would allow installation of a 7 inch supply line for a Unico or Spacepak high velocity HVAC system?

12:56 AM, September 09, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Sorry I didn't see this question until today, anonymous, but...


The mansard roofline, if you've read everything on this thread so far, was designed to allow an additional occupyable floor. But the upper roof portion you refer to is still typically extra attic space where one could put HVAC lines and ducts galore.

Of course, your attic space may vary.

9:55 AM, October 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A well thought out and informative blog. I am working on a 'new' historic project that may well be a 4 story mansard project and enjoyed reading what you have here.

8:20 AM, November 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings, Fine Sir ~

I am a fledgling interior decorator in the midst of designing my business logo, in which I intend to incorporate a drawing of a European-esque style home depicting a mansard roof. I’m curious… would you have any recommendations or leads that would help me find such an image? Naturally, I have scoured the Internet ~ everything from architectural house plans through pages and pages of relative word searches. Your blog piqued my interest and I wondered if you might have any advice in which to share.

1:22 PM, November 21, 2007  
Blogger The Houston Inspector said...

Mansard roofs can be very striking. I am consulting on a remodel of home in Katy, Texas that has such a roof. It was found during the home inspection that the home had cedar shingles and insurance companies would not insure it. The cedar was removed and was replaced with cementitious siding. Looks great. That is also an awesome looking home diagram.

Jeffrey Owen
Houston, Katy, Sugar Land

1:59 PM, April 20, 2008  
Blogger SLS said...

can you please help me? i am searching for information on mansard roofs and came upon your blog. i am looking at buying my first home. it is darling on the inside but the outside is half mansard and the other half, i am told, is dutch colonial. is there any way to extend a mansard roof and cosmetically correct the architecture of this home? thank you so much!

8:56 PM, May 11, 2008  
Anonymous Tim said...

Good Job! :)

3:31 AM, September 16, 2008  
Anonymous boxcar girl said...

Beautiful! What a dream. We were taking a walk down Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena, Ca and there were several old French homes with this roof. Loverly!!

10:06 AM, October 18, 2008  
Anonymous opalfox said...

Hello from Fort McMurray Alberta Canada. I have been pondering how best to transform my 36' x 36' western style horse stable into a guarage house. The people before me built the stable and it is only 5 yrs old and in perfect condition but useless to me as anything other than storage of items that can be carried in on 2 legs. I intend to transform the lower floor which is on a concrete slab with in floor heat into a triple guarage. The second floor will b an adaptation of a plan I found on cool house plans website (chp-15968) stretched to my boxy 36 x 36 dimensions. I hope to add a third floor to this design using the Mansard style roof so that the house doesn't look so unproportionately tall and gives it character and to make use of the wasted roof space and lastly to keep the house height under the max allowable. My concern is the snow load up here. I would like to use black metal for the roof and log siding and keep as much character as possible relating to the horse stable roots of the bldg such as ornamental horse shoes on the trim above the corners of the windows and wagon wheel style windows possibly in the gables and carriage house doors. It's nice that I have absolutely no archetectural controls here and my only concern is the structural integrity to support the added weight and making allowances to fit a huge amount of insulation b/c it gets to -65 celcius at it's uglyest here. My big question to you before I try to find an architect is will the snow hang up on and strain this roof? I have a 40' x 60' all metal shop with a descent roof pitch of probably 5/12 and a huge amount of snow is hung up on it right now but it is also not heated at the moment and this guarage house will always be heated. Would the heat reaching the roof be enough to cause the snow to slide or melt off? is it even a concern? I have never seen anything like this in my area b/c everything is so sickeningly plastic in design.

The mansard roof in ur blog is beautiful but i wonder if the roof windows would be on the floor in that level. That picture with the varying ceiling heights and textures really caught my eye. That sort of detail is uncommon to see and is the only thing I have stumbled accross that relates to the use of varying ceiling heights to distinguish spaces without the use of walls and add visual interest. Also the remodel of the hotheads kitchen is a vast improvement spacially and the colors are rich and warm and inviting.
I looked at many of your and your wife's other blogs just b/c I enjoyed the humor with which they were written and just wanted to comment that the two of you are such an interresting intelligent and untypical pair. The bike trips look awsome! I mostly just do day trips in the summer and x country ski and board in the winter. The detailed descriptions and lure of such a challenge are very inspiring and appeal to me immensly! Thank you to you both for sharing all that!

3:17 AM, February 22, 2009  
Blogger Arthi said...

Nice blogging. Thanks for sharing. One of my friend suggest a Roofing company from which I have hired the roofing services. Really they have done a great work for a affordable price.

11:17 PM, April 26, 2010  
Anonymous electricians in Edinburgh said...

I appreciated the quality of image and the exact image of flying roof use in the blog. Thank you for the information that fly roof may bring some advantage that I don’t know yet.

5:54 AM, April 09, 2011  
Blogger Lilly Wren said...

This is amazing! I have completely fallen in love with the mansard roof and even more so now I know the history,
I find houses and design so interesting I could read things like this all day long

4:10 PM, January 27, 2015  
Blogger Roofing material types said...

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4:00 AM, July 21, 2016  
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4:09 AM, September 25, 2017  

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