Roof. For today’s Building Language, let’s examine one of the most vital elements of a structure: the roof. I think it is safe to assume everyone knows what a roof is on a basic level, the ‘top’ of the structure designed to cover all the contents of the building. So, let us look a little deeper at the different roof forms in Indianapolis. Historic roof materials include slate shingles, wood shingles, metals, asbestos shingles, and terracotta tile; contemporary roof materials include metals, asphalt shingles, fiberglass shingles, composition rubber, and built-up tar.

The style of the roof is often dependent upon the architectural style of the structure itself. The following examples look at the different types of roof forms.

Flat Roof: This one speaks for itself: a flat roof has no pitch and may only have a slight slope to encourage water run off. Flat roofs are typically masked by a parapet wall and commonly use composition rubber or built-up tar as a material. Flat roofs are common in the architectural styles of the Beaux Arts, Art Deco, Art Moderne, and International Style. An example of a flat roof is this Spanish Eclectic house in the 5800 block of North Delaware Street, which includes a parapet wall to mask the flat roof.

Flat roof with a parapet wall on the 5800 Block of North Delaware Street

Hip Roof: Four sloped surfaces that come together at a horizontal apex line define a typical hip roof. A cross-hipped roof will occur when a structure has an L-shape and the two hip forms converge. A subset of the hipped roof is the pyramidal roof, where all four sides converge on a single point at the apex, creating a pyramid shape. One might find a hipped roof on an Italianate or Colonial Revival house. The example at 2550 Cold Spring Road features a hipped roof with contemporary asphalt shingles.

Hip Roof on 2550 Cold Spring Road

Gabled Roof: The gabled roof slopes downwards on two sides from a central ridge, forming a gable (or triangular) form on each end. The gabled end of the roof can extend slightly beyond the wall, creating overhanging eaves as an architectural feature. Gabled roofs are employed on Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor, and Craftsman styles. An example of a gabled roof is found at 618 East St. Clair Street in Chatham Arch, which is a cross-gabled roof with both a gabled end on the primary elevation (south), with the primary gabled ends running east to west.

Cross-Gabled Roof on 618 East St. Clair Street in Chatham Arch

Mansard Roof: The mansard roof features two parts, a steeply pitched lower section and a shallow upper section. The lower section can also be a concave shape, while the upper section can be almost flat in slope. The mansard roof is almost identifiable to the Second Empire style and commonly includes window openings. An example of a slate tile mansard roof is found on the Indiana Landmarks’ Morris-Butler House, which also duplicates the mansard roof on the central tower.

Mansard Roof on Morris-Butler House, Old Northside

Barrel Roof: A barrel roof features a semicylindrial, or half arched, roof form. Barrel roofs allow for large spans, commonly employed in large, commercial, industrial, educational, or community structures. An example of a barrel roof is found on Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, supported on the interior by steel trusses.

Barrel Roof on Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler University

Gambrel Roof: The gambrel roof features a central ridge, with two sides divided into a steep sloped section on the bottom, and a shallow sloped section on the top. One might find a gambrel roof on a Dutch Colonial Revival house. An example of a gambrel roof is found in Irvington at 218 South Audubon Road.

Gambrel Roof on 218 South Audubon Road in Irvington

These roof forms are most common to the structures found throughout both historic and contemporary Indianapolis. See also previous Building Language terms Pleated Roof as another roof form and Jerkinhead as a roof detail.

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

Unfortunately, the building owner chose to replace the slate tile on the mansard roof with asphalt shingles to save on costs.

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