A look at how butterfly roofs work: image by Jenny Cestnik, 2012 (Creative Commons License – Some Rights Reserved/Share Alike).
In a nutshell, butterfly roofs are a standard gable roof in reverse. They are ‘V’ shaped instead of ‘A’ shaped like their gabled peers. The crevice of butterfly roofs is often used for guttering. Rainwater drains downwards towards the gutter.
As to who invented butterfly roofs is subject to dispute. It is claimed in many sources that William Crisel and Dan Palmer invented the roof style in 1957. The two American architects did more than any other to popularise the roofing style. It was used on many houses and public buildings throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Other sources think Le Corbusier invented butterfly roofs in 1930. Its first noticeable use would have been Maison Errazuriz in Chile, a bolthole for heiress Eugenia Errazuriz. Plans were halted in the same year as the heiress filed for bankruptcy. Three years later, the plans for Maison Errazuriz attracted Antonia Raymond. A year later, his roof appeared in Architectural Record. The butterfly roofs we are familiar with today stemmed from Le Corbusier’s design.
Yet, Le Corbusier wasn’t the inventor. They had been used in Victorian-era properties and in many cases, were concealed with walls around the perimeter.
For many people, butterfly roofs are associated with 1950s and 1960s architecture. Popular uses include petrol filling station roofs (canopies as well as shop units and pay boxes), public buildings, bus shelters, and railway station canopies.
For many people, butterfly roofs are associated with 1950s and 1960s architecture. Popular uses include petrol filling station roofs (canopies as well as shop units and pay boxes), public buildings, bus shelters, and railway station canopies. Owing to its height of popularity in that era, Thunderbirds references aren’t uncommon.
In more recent times, butterfly roofs have had some sort of a revival. They make for aesthetically pleasing yet inexpensive public buildings and desirable homes. From bus shelters to sports centres, they are a popular choice owing to their economy, and how they optimise passive solar gain.