Gabled Roofs Experience a Revival Across North America
Gabled Roofs Experience a Revival Across North America
In this week piece by MetropolisIn her original article, author Kelly Beamon examines “the patriotism associated with pitched roofs and shares how architects are reshaping this staple of suburban home styles.” By definition, a gable roof is a classic roof shape, usually in cold or temperate climates, consisting of two roof sections that slope in opposite directions and are positioned so that the highest, horizontal edges meet to form the ridge of the roof. This article, emblematic of the US, discusses the return to the urban fabric.
Gabled roofs are as powerful a symbol of Americanness as apple pie: the roof typology and dessert are European, but both are seen as emblematic of national domesticity. So it makes sense that gabled roofs in North America are experiencing a resurgence in new variations and materials at a time when customers and communities tend to weigh up the social and environmental impact of each project. After years of being seen (and taught) as a feature at odds with modern architecture, a facade 2.0 seems to be on the rise.
“’Contextual’ doesn’t have to be over-the-top traditional. It can fit right in and still be innovative,” said Katherine Chia, president of the New York-based company Desai Chia Architecture with Arjun Desai. Indeed. And while three examples of that innovation usually suggest a trend; dozens of views in recent years indicate an evolution — or at least that there’s an encouraging number of companies that have ditched binary thinking when it comes to American house styles. A middle way is created.
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In Wisconsin, the woven house by Bruns Architecture, for example, “distills the form into a typical children’s drawing of the house, by exaggerating the facade and erasing the overhang,” says director Stephen Bruns. Doing so will remove canned decorations that would otherwise turn it into a “caricature.” A continuous slate-like material lines the structure from the top of the roof to the tarmac ground – essentially a composite made from recycled tires that functions as a rain screen rather than a conventional gutter.
The Nova Scotia-based studio MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects has designed several homes in Canada that take the form but modernize it with roofs and walls clad in extensive weathering Cor-Ten steel. “I’m interested in the vernacular wherever I find it,” says director Brian MacKay-Lyons. “Repeating the ‘good generic’ is how you make a village.”
For a weekend home in Connecticut, Desai Chia reworked the regional gabled barn typology in Japanese-style charred Kebony siding of yellow pine known as shou sugi ban. Because they chose the gabled roof over something sharper — like the undulating butterfly-shaped roofline they used on another project, Michigan Lake House — the company went to great lengths to find technology that could help reveal the shape inside. Specially designed framing by David Kufferman PE Structural Engineers allowed conditions that exposed the steep vault created by the pitched roof, unimpeded by the usual trusses and beams. “It’s not that we want to be known as the pitched roof architects,” Chia says of the extra effort required to deploy the type here. In this case, she says, “it was relevant to be contextual.”
Jonathan Tate, founder and president of his eponymous company OJT (Office of Jonathan Tate) has taken the context to the next level by creating a unique local design language in New Orleans with its signature rooflines. His housing, slightly adapted for each location, reflects the scale and rhythm of the surrounding neighbourhoods, because, as he says, “I get a special pleasure from tackling a formal typology, a context in which I grew up. It feels familiar and fun to work with, but also to find ways to undermine it.”
“radically different but familiar” is how Jennifer Bonner, founder of MALL and associate professor of architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, describes her own Atlanta residence, Haus Gables, which she designed as a life-size study of asymmetrical gabled roofs built from crosswise laminated timber, which also allows for interior views unimpeded by support beams and posts. ‘You observe the new materiality. The conventional expressions and materials have changed, but it is still a gabled typology,” says Bonner.
Many examples of the new generation of gabled roofs lack conventional gutters: “Without overhangs, we collect water around the base of the house in a gravel basin with pipes below the level,” explains Bruns. “Removing the gutter and letting the water run down the sides of the house is an innovative way to deal with this water.” Access to the interior and a glorification of the interior gables are also common features. “The problem with conventional gabled roofs is that you can never live in them unless you explore and play in the attic,” Bonner says.
Putting the form and its cultural currency at the service of people who had no access to it in the past also encourages explorations of affordable versions, which can be even more fun. Take, for example, the Bastion Community, OJT’s recently completed affordable housing development for veterans in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood. The aerial view mirrors that of idyllic 1950s and 1960s suburbs such as Levittown, New York, where charming pointed rooflines also contained restrictive racial similarities that forbade sale to non-whites. Although marketed as a symbol of home ownership to the masses, those iconic suburban rooflines were associated with redlining for the marginalized. A resemblance to those once restrictive suburbs is a hallmark of Tate’s project that makes it almost resemble a housing-type reclamation – even if it wasn’t his intention. “The objectives were to develop a massive and spatial organization that supported the mission and would integrate into the surrounding neighborhood,” he says.
In areas of Alabama, Nebraska, and Wyoming, and in Wisconsin, where Bruns Architecture is located, some developers still rely on restrictive agreements, though they no longer impose racial exclusivity, but only architectural homogeneity. “Frank Lloyd Wright’s house would not have been acceptable in these developments,” says Stephen Bruns. One of his clients looking for a lot to build on dug through more than 124 pages of legal texts to find that the developers selling the lot had not only added a pitched roof agreement, but even the degree of specified the slope. “Through these covenants, uniformity has been created and the decision of one person is conditionally prescribed,” says Bruns.
Viewed through that lens, developers and their architecture control committees and homeowners’ associations could undermine efforts to update and improve facades, in the same way the proposed Trump administration order to restrict federal architectural styles could hinder innovation in may have killed public buildings.
Of the growing number of hybridized, new-familiar-contextual projects, there are plenty of innovators looking to adapt previous forms — not just anchor them in new construction — to bring about real change. “We’re trying to engage in a dialogue with our environment, not our own conversation,” Tate says.
This article was originally published in Metropolis.