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A mansard or mansard roof (also called a French roof) refers to a style of hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its four sides with the lower slope being much steeper, almost a vertical wall, while the upper slope, usually not visible from the ground, is usually pitched at the minimum needed to shed water. In more modern buildings, a mansard roof may mate a steep lower slope with a flat roof.

Identifying a mansard

distinct traits of the mansard roof – steep sides and a double pitch – sometimes lead to it being confused with other roof types. Since the upper slope of a mansard roof is rarely visible from the ground, a conventional single-plane roof with steep sides may be misidentified as a mansard roof. The gambrel roof style, commonly seen in barns, is a close cousin of the mansard. Both mansard and gambrel roofs fall under the general classification of "curb roofs" (a pitched roof that slopes away from the ridge in two successive planes). However, the mansard is a curb hip roof, with slopes on all sides of the building, and the gambrel is a curb gable roof, with slopes on only two sides. (The curb is a horizontal heavy timber directly under the intersection of the two roof surfaces.)

In France and Germany, no distinction is made between gambrels and mansards – they are both called "mansards".

History and use

Early use

style was popularized in France by architect François Mansart (1598–1666). Although he was not the inventor of the style, his extensive and prominent use of it in his designs gave rise to the term "mansard roof", an adulteration of his name.

Second Empire

The mansard roof became popular once again during the 1850s rebuilding of Parismarker, in an architectural movement known as "Second Empire".

Second Empire influence spread throughout the world, most frequently adopted for large buildings such as government halls and hotels. In New Englandmarker, the Second Empire influence spread to family residences and mansions, often intermixed with Italianate or Gothic Revival elements. In many cases, the Second Empire influence was incorporated in the form of a mansard-topped tower.

Modern use

Starting in the 1960s in North America, a mansard-influenced look became popular for single-storey commercial buildings. One of the most notable adopters of this look is McDonald's, which used a so-called "double mansard" for its new line of sit-down restaurants. The McDonald's roof style is more accurately called a double-hip parapet roof; although the look approximates a mansard with an exaggerated sprocket (a flare at the base of a roof forming an eave), in reality the mansard portion of the roof is usually a parapet functioning as a façade, concealing ventilation equipment on top of a flat roof.
 One especially exaggerated example of this style is the "Pizza Hut" roof, where the mansard is little more than a shell for ventilation equipment and a backdrop for signage, mounted on top of a conventional hip roof.

Advantages of the mansard

The Mansard style makes maximum use of the interior space of the attic and offers a simple way to add one or more storeys to an existing (or new) building without necessarily requiring any masonry. Often the decorative potential of the Mansard is exploited through the use of convex or concave curvature and with elaborate dormer window surrounds.

One frequently seen explanation for the popularity of the mansard style is that it served to shelter its owners against taxes as well as rain. One such example of this claim, from the 1914 book, How to Make a Country Place, reads, "Monsieur Mansard is said to have circumvented that senseless window tax of France by adapting the windowed roof that bears his name." This is improbable in every respect: Mansart was a profligate spender of his clients' money, and while a French window tax did exist, it was enacted in 1798, 132 years after Mansart's death, and did not exempt mansard windows.

Later examples suggest that either French or American buildings were taxed by their height (or number of storeys) to the base of the roof, or that mansards were used to bypass zoning restrictions. This last explanation is the nearest to the truth: a Parisianmarker law had been in place since 1783, restricting the heights of buildings to 20 meters (65 feet). The height was only measured up to the cornice line, making any living space contained in a mansard roof exempt. A 1902 revision of the law permitted three or even four storeys to be contained in such a roof.

The 1916 Zoning Resolution adopted by New York Citymarker also promoted the use of mansard roofs; rules requiring the use of setbacks on tall buildings were conducive to the mansard design.

See also


  1. Dictionary of Architecture & Construction, C.M. Harris.

External links

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