The secret behind the origins of the mansard roof: a French story

mansard roof

A mansard is a type of roof, easily identifiable by its two slopes at different angles that allows for better use of the interior space. It is said that was named by François Mansart but…was this French architect the true inventor of the design?

In 1546, almost half a century before Mansart’s birth, Pierre Lescot designed the Southwest wing of the Louvre’s main square. And… what he did propose as a roof? Yes, a doble pitch with the same characteristics that later became popular with another name.

Nevertheless, it is true that this roof is strongly tied to Mansart’s family name. It was Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the great-nephew of François, took the step to bring this design to the mainstream, as he included it in the Palace of Versailles.

mansard roof french

The key to the mansard’s success is the perfect combination of the visual element with high functionality. It is externally beautiful and is simultaneously the ideal solution to gain space on the top floor. That’s why we can see it on different buildings types, from palaces to residential.

The main element of the design is characterised by the two slopes on each of its sides with the more prominent lower slope, usually at 70 or 80 degrees often includes dormer windows whilst the upper slope is at a greater angle, around 35 degrees pitch and is often not visible from the street. These are the main features, but then there is a wide range of possibilities, as you can see in the picture:

mansard roof types

Natural slate is the perfect material for a mansard. That is because it can be easily adapted to different pitches through changing the installation method and the overlap. The dark shade of the natural slate also provides a sober and elegant touch in line with its historic origins. Furthermore, the double pitch enables the rainwater drainage.

mansard windows roof

Even if the mansard was popularised by its use on palaces, it also sharpened the wits of the architects and designers. In the XVIII century, some city’s ruled a limited on a building’ height  including the ridge, so excluding a traditional roof and using the mansard design allowed to build an extra floor and avoid some municipal taxes.

Despite its French origins, the mansard quickly travelled worldwide, adapting to new countries and cultures. This journey even reached Hollywood, where it was a trademark of John Elgin Woolf’s designs, also known as the architect to the stars.

roof mansard

The mansard is one of the most used roof types around the world. If you want to know more about the classic roof designs, we have a comprehensive list here. Do you prefer a gable roof? In this article we reviewed why it’s never old fashioned.