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The gable is the wall created from a gable roof. When you close up a two-planed roof, triangular walls result on each end, defining the gables. The wall gable is similar to a Classical pediment, but more simple and functional - like a basic element of Laugier's Primitive Hut. As seen here, a front gable became the perfect entryway to a suburban garage in the age of the private automobile.
Then architects had some fun with the gable roof, piecing together multiple gable roofs. The resultant cross-gable roof, with multiple planes, created multiple gable walls. Later on, architects and designers began to decorate these gables, making architectural statements about a building's function. Eventually, gables themselves were used as decorations - where the gable became more important than the roof. The newly constructed homes shown here use gables less as a function of the roof and more as the architectural design of the home's facade.
Today's gables can give voice to a homeowner's aesthetic or whimsy - one trend has been to brightly color the gables of Victorian homes. In the following photo gallery, explore the different ways gables have been presented throughout architectural history, and get some ideas for your new home or remodeling project.
Side-Gabled Cape Cod HomeSide Gable Cape Cod House in Dublin, Ohio with a Red Truck in the Driveway. Photo by J.Castro / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)
Besides the shed roof, the gable roof is one of the most simple types of roofing systems. It's found throughout the world and used for all types of shelters. When you look at a home from the street and you see roofing in one plane above the facade, the gables must be on the sides - it is a side-gabled home. Traditional Cape Cod homes are side-gabled, often with gabled dormers.
Modernist architects of the 20th century took the concept of the gable roof and upturned it, creating the complete opposite butterfly roof. Although gable roofs have gables, butterfly roofs do not have butterflies - unless they're nervous…
Cross GablesSimple Cross-Gable American Country Home. Photo by Hans Palmboom / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)
If the gable roof was simple, the cross-gabled roof gave more complexity to a structure's architecture. An initial use of cross gables is found in ecclesiastical architecture. Early Christian churches, like the Medieval Chartres Cathedral in France, could replicate the floor plan of a Christian cross by creating cross-gabled roofs. Fast forward to the 19th and 20th centuries, and rural America becomes filled with unadorned cross-gabled farmhouses. Home additions would shelter a growing, extended family or provide a singular space for updated amenities like indoor plumbing and more modern kitchens.
Front Gable With Cornice ReturnBlue House, Front Gable, Cornice Returns. Photo by J.Castro / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)
By the mid-1800s, wealthy Americans were building their houses in the style of the day - Greek Revival homes with large columns and pedimented gables. The less affluent working families would mimic the Classical style by simple adornment in the gable area. Many American vernacular homes have what are called cornice returns or eave returns, that horizontal decoration that begins to transform a simple gable into a more regal pediment.
The simple open gable was evolving into a more box-like gable.
Victorian AdornmentYellow Victorian American Suburban House. Photo by Lori Greig / Moment Mobile / Getty Images (cropped)
The simple cornice return was just the beginning of gable ornamentation. American homes from the Victorian era often display a variety of what are called gable pediments or gable brackets - traditionally triangular decorations of varying degrees of flamboyance made to cover the peak of a gable.
Even Folk Victorian homes would display more ornamentation than the simple eave return.
Maintenance of Trim:
For today's homeowner, replacing gable pediments is as inevitable as replacing a roof or the columns of a porch. Property owners are faced with many choices not only of design but also of materials. Numerous replacement gable pediments are made from urethane polymers that can even be bought from Amazon. Homeowners will be told that at the height of a roof peak, nobody will be able to tell the difference between the synthetic and natural wood ornamentation. Unlike columns and roofs, gable pediments are less structurally necessary and need not be replaced at all - another choice is to do nothing. If your home is in a historic district, however, your decisions are more limited - and sometimes that's a blessing in disguise. Historic preservation experts give this advice:
" It is the wooden trim on the eaves and around the porch that gives this building its own identify and its special visual character. Although such wooden trim is vulnerable to the elements, and must be kept painted to prevent deterioration; the loss of this trim would seriously damage the overall visual character of this building, and its loss would obliterate much of the closeup visual character so dependent upon craftsmanship for the moldings, carvings, and the see-through jigsaw work. " - Lee H. Nelson, FAIA
As the US entered the 20th century, the traditionally front-gabled American bungalow became a popular style home. As we also see on the 21st century Katrina Cottage, the front gable on this bungalow is less decorative and more functional, its purpose being as the ceiling and roof of the front porch.
Side-Gabled Montrésor, FranceMedieval village houses in Montrésor, France. Photo by Richard Baker / Corbis Historical / Getty Images
The gable, of course, is not an American invention nor is it an innovation of today's architectural design. Medieval villages would often have side-gabled structures with gabled dormers facing the narrow streets. Towns would develop around the fancier cross-gabled church, as shown here in Montrésor, France.
Front-Gabled Frankfurt, GermanyRathaus Römer, City Hall in the old town of Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by Markus Keller / imageBROKER / Getty Images
Medieval towns were just as often designed with front-gabled dwellings as side gables. Here in Frankfurt, Germany, the old city hall is a three-gabled structure that was once the grand mansions of Roman nobility. Partially destroyed by air bombings during World War II, Das Frankfurter Rathaus Römer was reconstructed with crow-stepped or corbie parapets typical of the 16th century Tudor period.
Römer City Hall in the historic district is promoted as the Best of Frankfurt by the Frankfurt Tourist+Congress Board.
Spout Gable DistinctionSpout Gabled Warehouses Along the Entrepotdok canal in Amsterdam. Photo by Dorling Kindersley / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images (cropped)
In 17th century Amsterdam, the Netherlands, tuitgevels or spout facades were used to define the warehouse function of buildings. Architecture along the Dutch canal system was sometimes two-faced - a spout gable on the "delivery entrance" and a more ornate Dutch gable on the street side.
Neck Gables or Dutch GablesDutch Gable Houses, Holland. Photo by Tim Graham / Getty Images News / Getty Images (cropped)
Dutch Gables or Flemish Gables are common ornamentations on the steep gable roofs of Amsterdam. From the 17th century Baroque period of European industrialization, a Dutch gable is characterized by a small pediment at its top.
In the US, what is sometimes called a Dutch gable is really a type of hipped roof with a small gable that is not a dormer. Home software programs like Chief Architect® provide special instructions for creating a Dutch hip roof.
Gaudi GablesGables Designed by Antonio Gaudi c. 1905. Photo by Patrick Ward / Corbis Historical VCG / Getty Images (cropped)
The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) used gable ornamentation to define his own style of modernism. Touring Barcelona, Spain, the casual observer can experience the architectural competition of early modern design.
For Casa Amatller (c. 1900), architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch expanded on the corbie step parapet, making it even more ornate than the gables found in Frankfurt, Germany. Next door, however, Gaudi went rogue when he remodeled the Casa Batlló. The gable is not linear, but wavy and colorful, making what was once a rigid structural architecture into an organic beast.
Butterfly GableA Gable Formed as a Mosaic Butterfly, Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Patrick Ward / Corbis Historical VCG / Getty Images (cropped)
Perhaps the most playfully ironic gable is this mosaic butterfly in Barcelona, Spain. It's well-known that some California modernist architects reversed the concept of the gable roof to create an opposite design known as the butterfly roof. How utterly charming, then, to take a front gable and adorn it with a butterfly design.
Art Deco Gables at Université de MontréalUniversité de Montréal. Photo by Archive Photos / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)
The gable was once a simple byproduct of a gable roof. Today, the gable is an expression of architectural design and individual expression. While Gaudi was bending the shape of the gablein Barcelona, Canadian architect Ernest Cormier (1885-1980) was expressing art deco styling in Montreal. The main buildings at the University of Montreal express a modern vision of North America. Begun in the 1920s and completed in the 1940s, the Pavillon Roger-Gaudry displays an exaggerated verticality that is both traditional and futuristic. The gable is functional and expressive in Cornier's design.
- Preservation Brief 17 by Lee H. Nelson, FAIA, Technical Preservation Services (TPS), National Park Service accessed October 21, 2016
- Spout Gables, Amsterdam for Visitors, //www.amsterdamforvisitors.com/spout-gables accessed October 21, 2016