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Square One: Good Home Design Starts Here

Square One: Good Home Design Starts Here

How to look at houses (like an architect): Top

comments (0) December 21st, 2011 in Blogs
KHS KHS, Contributor

Video Length: 6:05
Produced by: Katie Hutchison

Finishing with the Top

In this final installment of the exterior edition of How to look at houses… (like an architect) we're moving up from the base, beyond the middle, to the top of home. If we continue with the analogy comparing the structure of people to the structure of house exteriors, then the top of a house is likely the most expressive component, just as the head or face of a person is typically more expressive than their base (or legs) and their middle (or torso).

We generally associate the roof with the top of a home, and its form may be quite dynamic. An end elevation may complement a pronounced roof with an elaborate treatment which accents the ridge. Occasionally, an end elevation may resemble a face, with two windows suggesting eyes and a porch roof or other element recalling a nose. The eyes and nose of a person are associated with the middle third of the head or face. The figurative eyes and nose of an elevation are likewise often assigned to the house's middle zone. The forehead of a person defines the top third of the head. The figurative forehead, or top third, of an elevation is above its eye-like windows and is often finished differently than the lower zones. End elevations may also include parapet walls as alternative caps. "Flat" roofs (which are roofs with very low slopes) rely less on the roof itself to indicate the top and more on eave detailing.

Any discussion of the roof as the top wouldn't be complete without touching on some common, and maybe less common, roof features – some of which draw the eye, not only above the eave, but sometimes above the ridge. Such features include (among others) Nantucket-style dormers, widow's walks, wall dormers, eye-brow dormers, shed dormers, monitors, and turrets.

Something as simple as an implied datum line, extending from window heads across the various volumes of a house and topped by transoms, can signal the transition to top. Other devices, like balconies aligned with eaves, can do the same.

Hopefully, this video series has given you a sense of why and how house exteriors frequently express the three overall regions of base, middle and top, and often further contain local interpretations of each, as well. Look around your neighborhood to spot how well-designed houses near you make the most of their base, middle, and top. Find out more about meaningful residential architecture and design at

Watch more videos in the how to look at houses series.

More on Design:

Souped-Up Roof Energizes the Back of the House

Remodeling from the Top Down

Character-Defining Windows

Taking Oriels to a New Level

Reviving a Home's Exterior Style

posted in: Blogs, architecture, Design, exterior, houses, home, how to look at houses, dormers, elevations, top
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