Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Mansard roof

A roof with two slopes, the lower almost vertical to allow extra roof space for the attic rooms

The lower roof can have a straight, convex or concave shape. Sometimes the straight mansard roof can flare out at the bottom.The illustration above shows a straight mansard roof

The style is named after François Mansart (1598-1666)

Found in many French styles, including Second Empire, Beaux Arts Classical, Richardsonian Romanesque

See also:

The emblem of the [Second Empire] style is the distinctive mansard roof, a device attributed to the 17th-century French architect Francois Mansart (1598-1666). Mansart is remembered by architectural historians as the Father of French Classical Architecture, but he clearly had a practical nature as well.

The point of Mansart's dual-pitched roof was to squeeze a full floor of living space above the cornice line of a building without increasing the technical number of stories in the structure - an economically appealing bit of architectural legerdemain in a city like Paris where upward mobility, at least in buildings,was restricted or heavily taxed.

The top of a mansard roof is generally broad and flattish in order to maximize the volume of space beneath it - think of a hipped roof with its top surface spreading almost to the edges of the building.

The lower pitch may be convex (outwardly curving, possibly in an S or bell shape), concave (inwardly curved or flaring), or steeply angled.

Sometimes the mansard roof is two stories high. Whatever the exact shape of the roof, there are always numerous dormer windows to light the living space within.

Second Empire features and mansard roofs are so often found together that the style itself is frequently referred to as the Mansard Style. While it is true that every Second Empire house has at least one mansard roof (and some have many), does the presence of a mansard roof always signify a Second-Empire house?

In a word, no. In Second Empire buildings, the mansard roof must be the dominant feature, not a subsidiary one. You might, for example, have a Queen Anne house with a gabled main roof and a mansard-roofed tower. Such a house is still a Queen Anne, not a Second Empire.

- James C. Massey and Shirley Maxwell, "The Mania for Mansards" pub. in the January/February issue of the Old House Journal, p. 64. ONLINE

Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement © 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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