Tented & Pitched Roofs in Architecture

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There are many ways to cover a building, but using the right roof is imperative. In this lesson, we are going to look at tented and pitched roofs and see how they relate to each other.

A Roof Over Your Head

Who doesn't like hats? It's really a shame that people don't wear them as much anymore; there's just something about the way that different styles of hats can really bring an outfit together.

Well, while hats may not be as common as they once were in fashion, they're still pretty popular in architecture. Of course, in architecture we more commonly refer to them as roofs. In essence, however, a roof is little more than the hat for your house. In practical terms, it provides shade and protection from the elements. Aesthetically, the roof plays a huge part in unifying an architectural style. It helps bring the windows, the façade, and the grounds together into a coherent and consistent aesthetic. So, it's important to make sure that you have the right kind of roof. Failure to do so could be a major architectural fashion faux pas.

The Pitched Roof

Let's start by looking at one of the most iconic and timeless styles of roofs in Western architecture: the pitched roof. Now, when we say that a roof is pitched, we are actually describing the steepness of the sides of the roof. Any roof that is not completely flat is therefore pitched; it's just a matter of how pitched (or how steep) it is. For example, Scandinavian architecture tends to have steeply pitched roofs, sheering at a dramatic angle. On the other hand, American ranch homes tend to emphasize lower-pitched roofs, many of which are so shallow that they're nearly flat.

We can think of a pitched roof sort of like a basic cap. Almost all hats are built around a basic cap that simply covers the head, which you can add onto in order to create different styles. Two of the most common ways to do this with roofs is to add sides to it. Take your hands, hold them straight up and parallel to each other, and then tilt them so that your fingers touch, making an upside-down V. You've just made a roof (of the same sort that kids usually draw on houses). Notice how steeply pitched it is? This kind of roof, with two sloping sides but open on the other sides, is called a gable roof.

A typical hipped roof
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The other common kind of pitched roof is a hipped roof. Whereas a gable roof has two open sides, a hipped roof does not. Hipped roofs have sloping sides extending in all directions. Most of the pitched roofs you see will be gable or hipped, but the degree of the pitch can change from style to style.

Tented Roofs

Imagine that a basic hipped roof is a fedora. It's classic. However, you can take any design to extremes, and that's how we end up with a ten-gallon cowboy hat. In essence, that's the relationship between the hipped roof and the tented roof.

See how this roof looks like a tent?
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A tented roof is a very sharply pitched hipped roof with a polygonal (generally octagonal base). Let's break that down. A traditional hipped roof has four sloping sides. A tented roof has at least four sides, but is most commonly built with eight. These numerous sides are very steep, culminating in a sharp spire. Imagine taking a tall pole and draping a sheet over it. It would make a shape that sort of resembles and old circus tent. That's what this sort of roof looks like and why it has that name.

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