Cupola and Dome, Indiana Statehouse (200 West Washington Street)

Cupola. The cupola is a small structure crowning the top of a dome or roof. The cupola traditionally is a circular or dome structure that is placed over a larger dome. Historically, a cupola would provide additional light or ventilation into a building, while in more recent history, they act as an ornamental feature. The cupola will be positioned in the center of the dome or roof, bringing the design upward and acting to “top” or “finish” the structure. The term has its roots from both Italian and Latin and can be translated more literally as just a “cup”.

There are several notable cupolas found throughout Indianapolis. One you should immediately recognize is found atop the Indiana Statehouse (200 West Washington Street). This small cupola is the feature that tops the stunning dome of the 1888 Indiana State Capitol. Edwin May’s design features a classically inspired cupola with unique ornamentation, including a colonnade and dentils.

In contrast, another cupola is found on the National Register of Historic Places listed Old Southport High School (6548 Orinoco Avenue). The Old Southport High School is a Colonial Revival design dating from 1930 by the local Indianapolis architects McGuire and Shook. The school features a side gabled roof with an octagonal cupola found centered along the roofline. This wood cupola features louvered vents on each face. Although the cupola seems like a purely ornamental feature, it’s hard to imagine this building without the cupola centered on the entrance.

Old Southport High School (6548 Orinoco Avenue)

Cupola detail, Old Southport High School (6548 Orinoco Avenue)

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

The view from the cupola provided an unobstructed view of the entire city.

One response to “Building Language: Cupola”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    The cupola was an excellent watchtower in its day, similar to the Italianate “cupola” atop the flatter roof of an Italianate designed dwelling…I’ve a photo to send of a cupola from Birmingham, Alabama…

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