Building Language: Coping

Written by on November 13, 2012 in Building Language - 3 Comments
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Limestone Coping on Marian Hall at Marian University (3200 Cold Spring Road)

Coping. The architectural term coping refers to the top course of masonry used to “cap” the top of an exterior wall. Coping is commonly sloped or curved to help divert water away from the building. Splayed coping refers to a coping that slopes only in one direction, while saddle-backed coping is sloped on both sides of a common ridge. Coping is frequently found whenever there is a parapet wall, serving to visually complete the parapet design. On parapet walls, the coping regularly uses a contrasting building material, for example, if the exterior walls are brick, the coping will be limestone.

A simple example of limestone coping you may see on many 20th Century historic buildings is found on Marian Hall at Marian University (3200 Cold Spring Road). The western end of the building features the entrance to the theater and a simple, limestone coping along the roofline. The center bay is highlighted by limestone panels.

Limestone coping on 1601 North Delaware Street

A good example of coping is found at the apartment building at 1601 North Delaware Street. The limestone along the roofline is the coping and serves to visually complete the brick exterior walls. The structure also uses the rusticated stone as a string course, so the repeated use of this material for coping helps complete the ornamental scheme.

The Murphy Art Center (1043 Virginia Avenue) in Fountain Square features some wonderful terracotta ornament decorating the primary façade. This terracotta is also used as coping along the roofline. The simple terracotta coping helps to finish the brick exterior walls, leading up to the brick parapet wall. Tip: the terracotta molding found along the exterior wall directly below the coping is known as a “drip stone” – a molding used to help cover windows or doorways.

Terracotta coping on the Murphy Art Center (1043 Virginia Avenue)

Add it to your vocabulary – how might one use today’s Building Language term in their everyday life?

The blackened limestone coping was cleaned during the rehab of the apartment building.

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About the Author

Raina Regan is an architectural historian employed by the Indiana National Guard. Her work encompasses statewide cultural resources projects with National Register eligible or listed structures. Raina has a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Visual Culture from Michigan State University and a Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Ball State University. Raina is an Indiana import by way of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan and loves the culture and architecture of the Midwest.

3 Comments on "Building Language: Coping"

  1. basil berchekas jr November 13, 2012 at 8:14 am · Reply

    Do wish to stay with this informative blog…

  2. Molly Head November 13, 2012 at 9:28 am · Reply

    Welcome to HI, Raina, and thanks for sharing.

  3. Fred J. Nowicki November 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm · Reply

    There is an old saying in the construction / masonry field that is extremely valid,it follows. If you want to eliminate problems with flat roofs eliminate the flat roof : if you want to eliminate problems with parapet walls,eliminate the parapet walls.

    I believe the reasons we see fewer buildings using these details is because designers / architects are aware of the near impossibility to detail them properly,along with the huge amount of regular repairs they require. As stout as they appear from the street,most parapets on 50+ yr. old buildings can be pushed over with mere hand applied force. In 38+ yrs. in construction / masonry i can vouch for that.

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