Roofs are boring.
Not these. These amazing architectural achievements are stunning works of engineering and fabulous pieces of art.
It’s National Roofing Week and Allied Construction Services is celebrating by sharing eight spectacular roofs from around the world. We’ve done a lot of great work over the past 25 years, but we’re humbled by these wonders.
Photo Credit: Diliff, Wikimedia Commons
1. U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington, DC.
A Centerpiece for a City
When you google pictures of Washington, DC, the gleaming white Capitol building with its impressive dome will be included. The United States Congress convenes in the building, which also serves as the visual centerpiece for the entire city of Washington, D.C. While the building is made of stone, the dome is too large to be stone and is instead cast iron, painted to look like the stone in the building below it. Designed by Thomas U. Walter, the dome was influenced by other intricately detailed classic domes such as St. Paul’s in London and the Pantheon in Paris. The 96 feet wide and 288 feet high dome sits above the capitol rotunda and is topped by the Statue of Freedom. The bronze statue, also known as Armed Freedom or just Freedom, was designed by Thomas Crawford and depicts a woman in a military helmet holding a sheathed sword in one hand and a laurel wreath and shield in the other.
Photo Credit: Ingfbruno, Wikimedia commons
The present dome isn’t the original. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson sponsored the first dome in 1792. Three successive architects were involved in the design, so it quite changed from what was originally planned. It was a traditional Neoclassical dome consisting of wood, brick, stone inner dome, and a wooden outer dome covered in copper. The copper became green over time.
By the 1850s, the country had grown so much that the capital building was no longer large enough. Once all the needed additions were made, the original dome looked out of place, and a new dome was designed. Because of its size, builders used cast iron and painted it to look like the stone in the rest of the building.
While it seems like one piece, there are two domes, one inside the other. Each was cast by a foundry in New York and weighed 9.1 million pounds. Construction took 11 years, and in 1964, Abraham Lincoln had to have his inauguration under the scaffolding.
Photo Credit: Joel Godwin, Wikimedia Commons
2.Taj Mahal, Agra, India
An Onion Dome
The marble Taj Mahal dome and Minarets are the most recognizable in the world. The symmetrical white architectural structure is topped by five marble domes, including a 35-meter-high main dome and four small domes on the corners.
The main dome, made of marble, sits on a 23-foot-high cylindrical drum structure and has a lotus design at its top. The roof is sometimes called an onion dome due to its shape. The four corner towers or Minarets are each 130 feet tall. They are topped by a smaller dome and gilded finial. Finials are decorative architectural devices traditionally used in Persian and Hindu architecture to accentuate height.
The structure dates to 1632. The Taj Mahal took over ten years to build and 1000 elephants to transport the materials needed. Originally called the Rauza-i-munawwara, Shah Jahan built it on the southern bank of the Yamuna River to house the tomb of his favorite wife. It also holds Jahan’s tomb. It’s now a centerpiece of a complex that includes a mosque, guest house, and formal gardens. In 2007 it was declared a winner in the New 7 Wonders of the World (2000–2007) initiative.
Photo Credit: Kyle Taylor, Wikimedia Commons
A Building Called Stone Quarry
Also known as La Pedrera, which means stone quarry, this popular tourist attraction was built between 1906 and 1912 and recently declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The fascinating roof, designed by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, includes sculptured skylights, fans, chimneys, and staircases. The structure became known as “stone quarry” because of its very rough appearance. The materials include lime-colored brick decorated with broken marble pieces and glass shards. Gaudi is known for a free-flowing style reflective of nature.
When the building, which was meant to be a private residence, was commissioned in 1906, the unconventional modernist design was controversial. The rough-cut stone and undulating facade, along with twisting iron balconies, were not considered normal at the time. Some unusual and original building concepts include a self-supporting front facade, free-plan floor, rooftop terrace, and underground garage. None of that seems too crazy today, but it was pretty revolutionary at the time.
When completed in 1912, the main floor was a home for the owners, and the rest was rented out as apartments. Today, La Pedrera holds exhibitions and educational and cultural events in its 1835 square meter space.
To learn more about events and visiting go to La Pedrera’s Website.
Photo Credit: Olivier Vanpé, Wikimedia Commons
One Beautiful Roof Not Enough?
If one beautiful roof isn’t enough for you, go to Beaune, France, in the Burgundy Region (yes, where burgundy wine comes from). Many buildings have roofs covered with multi-color glazed tiles. The highly glazed colored tiles are laid in a variety of complex geometric patterns. The patterns give the roofs and structures a distinctive Beaune style and Beaune tiles and designs are now used for roofs all over the world.
Some of the most famous roofs are the Hotel Dieu, the Chateau de Santenay, Chateau de Corton, Chateau de la Rocheport, and the Hospices de Beaune, now a museum for the region.
The factories in the French region between Dijon, Nuits-Saint-Georges, and St Jean de Losne made the tiles in the Middle Ages, and these ornate, polychrome roofs were affordable only to the very wealthy and therefore a status symbol. In the 13th and 14th centuries, these luminous tiles covered the great cathedrals and the most opulent homes. The factory regions migrated to other cities from about 1860 through the 1940s, and today, there is only one factory still making the original tiles in Chagny. The tiles on modern roofs now are replicas of the originals and only date to the early 1900s.
Photo Credit: Bwag, Wikimedia Commons
A Self-Cleaning Snakeskin Roof?
St. Stephen’s Cathedral or Stephansdom in German, in Vienna, Austria, is considered a symbol of the beautiful city. The architecture includes elements from Roman and Gothic periods, and intricate sculptures and statues adorn the limestone walls. As beautiful as the building itself is, the roof is what people flock to see.
The roof is remarkable in two respects.
It’s extremely steep and tall (about 125 feet above ground) and beautifully ornate. The roof’s steepness makes snow and rain slide right off so that the roof stays cleaner and brighter than other roofs without any work.
The eye-catching roof design comprises over 230,000 white, green, brown, and yellow tiles laid in a striking diamond pattern. Some people think it looks like snakeskin. On the south roof, the tiles depict an imperial, two-headed, black eagle which seems to pop out of the mosaic tiles. On the opposite side of the cathedral, visitors can see both the Vienna City and the Republic of Austria’s Coat of Arms in tile.
The best view of the roof is from one of the towers. You can walk up 343 stairs in the south tower or take an elevator in the north tower.
The original church was built over an ancient Roman cemetery about 1137 AD. A fire in 1258 left only two towers standing. The cathedral was rebuilt around the remaining towers and finished in 1263. Additions, extensions, and additional ornamentation continued throughout history, but much of the structure was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt to what it looks like today. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of Austria.
A Roof of Wind-Filled Sails.
The Sydney Opera House, a multi-venue performing arts center in Sydney Harbor, opened in 1973. This is the most photographed structure in the world and is recognized by its shell-shaped roof design. The shells look like the wind-filled sails on a regatta of boats and represent Australia’s maritime history.
Not Really Shells
While the roofing units are referred to as shells, they are made up of many precast concrete panels supported by cast concrete ribs. All the pieces were built off-site, and steel and tendons hold the concrete pieces together. A waterproof membrane and precast panels covered with specially designed glazed tiles cover the roofs. There are 1,056,000 tiles, all imported from Sweden. The white and beige glaze reflects the beautiful Sydney skies. The tiles, which are subject to mold growth, are designed to be self-cleaning, but some maintenance is still required. The height of the various roof sections differs according to the performance spaces below them.
The design was amazing, but it wasn’t an easy build. The architect, Jorn Utzon, won the commission in a competition in 1957. The plan was modern and innovative and won Utzon the architecture world’s greatest award, the Pritzker Prize, in 2003. As beautiful as it was, Utzon wasn’t sure how his vision could be fulfilled and couldn’t begin to calculate how much the Opera House would cost to build. Engineers discovered just how challenging the build would be.
It took a total of 14 years to complete the construction and cost about $102,000,000 Australian. That was 13 ½ times what was originally budgeted! Utzon resigned from the project in 1966, and Peter Hall stepped in to complete it.
The Opera House presented many engineering challenges and took a long time to build, but the sight of a building “sailing” through the harbor is one no one forgets.
7. St. Basil Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
A Confusion of Shapes and Colors
If you go to Moscow, the main tourist location is the stunning Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, better known as St. Basil’s Cathedral. Located in Red Square, the cathedral now houses a museum. It is known for its confusion of colors and shapes, including its ten domed spires, each decorated with intricate, colorful patterns. The crazy roof covers nine chapels. The architectural style is uniquely Russian.
Photo Credit: Anton Zelenov, Wikimedia Commons
As with so many things Russian, there isn’t a lot known about the history of this architecture, but the cathedral was built over almost 200 years, between the 1680s and the 1860s. In 1552, Ivan the Terrible celebrated conquering the region by commissioning the church, calling it the Intercession Cathedral. It was built over the years 1555 to 1561. According to legend, Ivan blinded the architects so they could never design a similar structure.
8. Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
200 Years of Additions
The Grand Palace has 200 years’ worth of changes and additions. It’s hard to know where to look first. Complex and ornate, the palace consists of many buildings built in different styles giving it a chaotic, asymmetrical impression. The colorful, elaborate decorations of the roofs portray designs and symbols representing Thai culture and history. Tourists love to roam the palace grounds which include open lawns, courtyards, and gardens. They cover 2.35 million square feet.
Photo Credit: Supanut Arunoprayote, Wikimedia Commons
Once home to the king of Thailand, the Grand Palace is now mostly used as a museum and for official events. Until 1925, the Kings, their courts, and governments were based there. Building the palace posed many challenges. Due to a lack of other materials, the first structures were entirely wood. The Grand Palace became the official residence of the Kings of Siam (now called Thailand) in 1782. Have you ever seen “The King and I”? That was Hollywood’s version of this palace.
People think roofs are boring, but we don’t think so. We hope you’ve enjoyed this trip around the world looking at some of the most amazing roofs ever built.
This post was created for National Roofing Week.