Mansard Roofs: What is this Jargon!?!

May was such a busy month for me, which was great but also meant I had limited time to write posts. So I’m getting back in the blog posting game this week with a simple post on mansard roofs and that means a “What is this jargon!?!” post!

YAY! You’re excited, Right? Well, at least I’m excited about mansard roofs. I love pointing them out when I’m riding shotgun in other people’s cars.

So anyways….mansard roofs are easy to identify and have a really cool back story.

So the technical definition of the mansard roof is that it is a low-pitched hipped roof with four double-pitched sloping sides. The lower pitch is steeper than the upper pitch and sometimes it can be curved upwards, curve inwards, or be straight. Mansard roofs also can go by the name French roof or curb roof. These roofs are seen on Second French Empire, Beaux Arts, and Richardsonian Romanesque style buildings.i

Let’s get a visual!

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This is the Nolan House and it is located at 24 Circular Street and is part of the East Side Historic District of Saratoga Springs, NY. This is an example of the Second French Empire style. This mansard roofs flares out a little and has really nice dormer windows and even iron cresting on the top of the roof. It was built in 1872.

Mansard roofs have a long history. They were first recorded “Mansard Roof” was way back in the 16th century on the Louvre. They were popularized by the French architect François Mansart, who lived in France during the 17th century. Monsieur Mansart’s last name was used to name these roofs that he had made popular.

The mansard roof allows for the attic space to be used as a living area. In Paris a law had been passed during the 1700’s that limited the height of a building beneath the roof line. The mansard roof allowed a way around the height restriction.ii

Plus, adding a mansard roof to an existing building is an easy fix when it comes to needing more living space instead of masonry work. Most mansard roofs have windows, called dormer windows (we’ll check those out on another day) and those windows allow light for the living space.

Check out these other examples of mansard roofs:

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This home is located in Potsdam, NY. It’s interesting that the roof does not actually have windows, so it is unclear if the attic area is used for a living space or not.
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This building is located at 165 Wellington Street in Kingston, Ontario. It is a former Merchant’s Bank and is currently going through renovations to add two more stories for future condos. It was constructed around 1876 and up until the redevelopment, the commercial block had been vacant.
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This is another home in Potsdam, NY located on Main Street. I don’t know a lot about the history of the building but it has a small mansard roof. Just like the previous home photographed in Potsdam, this roof does not have windows. It makes me wonder if the roof was added at a later date when mansard roofs were in vogue.
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Look at all those windows! This beauty is located in Troy, NY at the corner of Broadway and Third Streets. It was constructed in 1856 and for most of its existence was a department store. Recently it has been redeveloped and is now the home to Tech Valley Center of Gravity.

Now you know what mansard roofs are and can point them out to everyone you know!

If you are interested in learning more on this type of roof visit the following links:

“Buffalo as an Architectural Museum.” This website has a lot of great information about the architecture of Buffalo. The following link goes to their Mansard Roof page and has a bunch of photos you can look at of mansard roofs in Buffalo NY: http://www.buffaloah.com/a/DCTNRY/m/mansard.html

Mansard Roofs and the Second French Empire Style: http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/portal/communities/architecture/styles/second-empire.html

While researching the history of mansard roofs, I stumbled across this article from the New York Times, “The Heyday of Mansard Roofs,” : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/06/realestate/06streetscapes-mansard-roofs.html?_r=0

If you’re interested in the Second French Empire Style in Canada, check out this website: http://parkscanadahistory.com/series/chs/24/chs24-1q.htm

End Notes:

i My description of the Mansard Roof comes from two sources: The Historical Architecture of Vermont: Guide to Vermont Architecture, Curtis B. Johnson, editor and Elsa Gilbertson, Prinicpal Author, (Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1996), 26 and Virginia and Lee McAlester, A Field Guide to American Houses, (Alfred A. Knopp, Inc., 1991), 241.
ii I found this information by starting at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansard_roof. Accessed 06/07/2016. Wikipedia is not the greatest source ever but it can be a good way to start research. The footnote in the Wikipedia article points to European Cities & Technology Reader: Industrial to Post-Industrial City by David C. Goodman; Colin Chant, 1999. I did some more research and found another source confirming that Paris did have a law limiting the height of buildings to 65 feet: Cities of the World: World Regional Urban Development, Ed. Stanley D. Brunn, Maureen Hays-Mitchell, Donald J. Zeigler, 5th Edition, 2012. https://books.google.com/books?id=9wega8tQ_wMC&pg=PA211&lpg=PA211&dq=building+tax+on+height+paris+france+18th+century&source=bl&ots=1z6q8xvgVv&sig=pFAZDRDdzZA-EX1RzLfnZJ91tks&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj9_rb6vZjNAhXMRyYKHXZcDhUQ6AEISTAG#v=onepage&q=building%20tax%20on%20height%20paris%20france%2018th%20century&f=false, Accessed through 06/08/2016.
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. I enjoy mansard roofs of all ages. 1870s or 1970. I was unfamiliar with the term Curb Roof, so thank you for the introduction! Very interesting to see those hood moldings that break the cornice line from the first Potsdam example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thomas, thank you so much for the comment! Potsdam, NY has a lot of cool little architectural gems and elements like you see on that home. To me it seems people in Potsdam were just taking different elements that they liked and mashing them together tot he best of their ability, which makes for fun looking buildings. Glad you enjoyed the post and photographs!

      Liked by 1 person

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