Take it from the Top!
One of the most basic human needs, shelter, drives architecture. Roof systems from different geographic regions and cultures often have a particular "look" that may help with identification.
Dome: prehistoric design based on naturally-occurring forms; used in architecture throughout eras for structural advantages of runoff, interior aesthetics, and engineering considerations of construction methods and long-term support.
Conical: prehistoric design based on materials and ease of construction. Used throughout different architectural periods for exterior visual impact, practical runoff and wind resistance considerations. Disadvantage or limitation on the use of interior space.
Gable: Offers quick runoff of rain or snow, takes advantage of the strength and rigidity of triangular forms, and is often visually pleasing due to change, symmetry, and repetition of multiple gables.
Hipped: Emphasizes horizontal impact of exterior, usually utilizes a shallower angle than gable construction but still runs off well. Combination of triangular and trapezoidal planes disperses runoff more equally around perimeter of structure, often incorporated with deep overhanging eaves, porches, or colonnades.
Flat: Easy to build and requires minimal material possible, visual impact of straight lines in design, in practical concerns the waterproofing of the materials used will be critical for a successful structure.
Shed: Variation combining flat roof as "half a gable," offering advantages of drainage with simplicity for unskilled builders or minimal use of materials.
Mansard: French variation combining elements of the gable and flat roofs. The external impact is a stylistic concern, often linked with a consideration of the use of the internal space created.
Saltbox: Variation usually combining a gabled roof line with an extension offering an asymmetrical shed-like profile to one side of the structure. Provides additional storage or living space with minimal materials and construction effort.
Inverted Gable or Butterfly: Allows two shed-style roofs to be joined to maximize natural light if incorporated with windows; striking external impact; requires careful engineering to ensure runoff drainage is handled well.
Flying Gable: Extends the apex vertices beyond the lower eaves to create a pointed or wing-like effect. Provides deep eaves on the ends of the structure for increased shade or shelter from precipitation or intense sunlight; creates interior space for a loft or second story. Disadvantage in windy or tornado-prone areas due to leverage to cause damage during storms.
Jerkin or Clipped Gable: Combines the elements of a gable roofline with partial hipping, "softening" the straight line for exterior impact and allowing architects a variety of planes and surfaces to balance interior space considerations and exterior aesthetics.
Gambrel: Commonly associated with Dutch (Netherlands) and English influences; usually consisting of a flattened gable at apex, then steeper slope, finishing with a flared eave for a "bell-like" profile. Alternatively, may begin with a flattened gable at apex, progress through steepening slopes, finishing with a very steep eave section for a "barn-like" effect.
Monitor: A more contemporary design which combines elements of shed roof profile with an "interrupted" gable, usually incorporating a bank of windows on a second story or split-level (for increased interior sunlight exposure or enhanced landscape view by inhabitants) between the shed roof below and the half-gable above.
Sculpted: Makes use of a variety of materials--especially modern use of concrete, metals, and fiberglass--to allow architects to consider interior effects and exterior impact.