A look at the mansard roof, popular in both contemporary and traditional settings
A Mansard roof. Diagram by Zern Liew (via Shutterstock).
In Britain, it is often referred to as a gambrel roof but, in spite of this little technicality, there are some subtle differences between a gambrel roof and a mansard roof. Both are designed to make extra use of the roof space without drastic conversions, due to their distinctive roof pitches. The subtle difference between the two kinds is the gable. On a gambrel roof, the gable is flat; on a mansard roof, it is hipped.
A brief history
The name, Mansard, is a corruption of a French architect’s surname: that of François Mansart. Though he didn’t invent the roofing style, it is he who popularised the style in France. In the early 20th century, they became a popular rooftop design. Instrumental to this was the 1916 Zoning Resolution in New York City, which promoted the use of Mansard roofs for office space.
From the 1960s and 1970s, they became a popular part of postmodern architecture. Eventually, the Mansard roof became the roof of choice for civic centres, supermarkets, community centres, and private homes. A roofing style that became popular in the Tudors and Stuarts era would feel at home in the age of High Speed Gas and fondue sets.
Roof type or attic type?
In Europe, Mansard can also refer to the attic type as well as the roofing type. Its steep angle makes the roof ideal for adding extra space. In many office blocks, it forms part of a penthouse style suite. Likewise with hotels and apartments. If expanding upwards, a Mansard roof is a popular choice for historical buildings without straying too much from the original design.