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Pitched Roofs Matter

January 26, 2016

Roofs and Architecture now have an odd relationship. Roofs have become the litmus test for a variety of judgments. Sculpture has no “roof” it is a shape unto itself. A “datum” (archispeak for a straight line) means a flat roof. Anything that has a symmetric pitch is “vernacular” and thus Not Architecture (just building).

All roofs matter. Gable roofs matter. Flat roofs matter.

So the photo above elicited this cyber comment: “Very cool. What is the commission? Why the one vestigial gable-y thing? Maybe a long “flat” overhang over Entry?”

Clearly the commentator saw the pitched roof in the foreground for what it is -a solar array, and liked it and that there was a roof beyond it: which had to be “vestigial” because it was “gable-y”.

No architect who wanted street cred would intentionally do a “gable-y” roof. Its so “vestigial” of a previous world where allusions begged questions, where easy vernacular pat answers were applied to new technologies, new cultural desires – “gable-y” is not “Modern”. Not Modern requires an explanation.

Here it is: as the photos below show: the “gable-y thing” is clearly the entry to a two part building – its the third part. One part is clearly back office, another a corner-positioned pivot. Between is its own place – higher than either of the others, but also different: it has a center, a focus a place humans want to go to: in this case an entry.

Why do humans think arches, doorways and portals invite access? I do not know, but approaching this place at 55mph I had to say “Here” not “Wow”.

So I made a “gable-y thing”.

Shallow? I think not: it will be a canopy over a forest of columns happening both inside its glass walls and outside. Its dynamism is in stark contrast to its stoic bookends. Contrast is not simple, or it becomes cacophony: here the massiveness of the back office and corner focus had to be itself, proudly.

But the commentator offered up a better solution: a “flat” roof defining entry. That would be a starker contrast to the solar wedge and the pyramidal corner focus parts: clearer, cleaner and simply, to me, morally suspect: there was no zoning or cost reason for a flat roof: and a flat roof while cheaper and graphic and “Modern” sentences the occupants/users/owners to never ending leaks.

Unless you live in an arid climate, roofs should shed water. It you live in a tropical climate they should overhand the wall to protect them. If you live in a climate that gets cold it also needs to insulate the interior of a building from heat loss.

This roof is in a place of hurricanes, blizzards 100F and -5F – a flat roof was not something my clients should have inflicted upon them: instead, the results could be dynamic, clear and cogent: with fewer leaks: “gable-y”  – but for some,”vestigial”.


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