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Ode of a Mansard Roof

As I've mentioned previously, I have a passion for history—historical architecture to be exact. One of my favorite architectural features can be found in Paris, crowning the most charming buildings and has been my main source of inspiration to begin my own blog for a number of years.

Some of you may know of a song called "Mansard Roof" by Vampire Weekend. The song starts out:

"I see a Mansard roof through the trees,

I see a salty message written in the eaves…"

Aside from inspiring a funky indie pop tune, you may be wondering what exactly a Mansard roof is. The Mansard roof, also known as the French roof, is a four-sided gambrel style hip roof, which is characterized by a slope that rests on top of gorgeous dormer windows as you can see in these photos.

If you’ve ever been to Paris, you may have passed by hundreds of these unique beauties without even realizing it. Or if you someday plan to visit “the City of Lights”, as it is often referred, you’ll be one step ahead of your travel mates by being able to point out this architectural wonder among the multitudes of roofs in both the city and the countryside.

To fully understand the significance of this stylish yet functional design, let’s start with a brief history lesson.

In the mid 1800s, Napoleon Bonaparte III (Nephew to the original Napoleon), was the President of France. Along with master architect Georges-Eugene Haussman, he played an instrumental role in changing the face of Paris. Perhaps these two fellows were a bit ahead of their time due to the fact that the buildings they designed were the first green, sustainable designs. Although we cannot say that they would have been LEED certified by any means, they did have the health and happiness of the Parisians in mind. The result was three design components that have stood the test of time and continue to benefit residents to this day.

The first objective was to make sure that no building was taller than the street was wide. This allowed sunlight in, which we all know is the best source of vitamin D. The second was to add green space between buildings, creating a more inviting area for citizens to sit and play in the fresh air and sunshine. The third characteristic Haussman integrated was the Mansard roof. This roof style permitted third floor attics to have dormer windows, which brought in more light to an otherwise dark space that was rarely utilized.

The Mansard roof proved to be much more than just an attractive way to top a building and these two influential men changed the health and well being of thousands of people by simply designing spaces that brought in light and air to a disease infested city. Who knew that design could play such a huge role in history?

If you're as intrigued with the Mansard roof as I am, there's good news! You don’t have to hop on a plane and travel thousands of miles to admire one. You can find several in your very own city if you keep your eyes peeled. And when you do spot one, give Bonaparte and Haussman a nod for creating such a beautiful and functional design that had our health in mind!


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