reative flair and imaginative ideas are part of what defines architecture. But such structural freedom of expression can often be constrained by the practicalities of available materials, construction methods and, of course, budget. However, recent innovations are removing some of these limitations, allowing architects to be more daring than ever with shapes, colours and features. Modern manufacturing processes are putting a new generation of designs within reach for even the most everyday commercial or domestic projects. And this newfound freedom and flexibility is extending in a surprising direction: up on the roof.
In addition, with the increasing use of blue and green roof technologies to add both amenity and occupant experiential value to buildings, the roof’s overall visual qualities are becoming yet more critical, particularly if it is to achieve a seamless blend with features and components used across the external wall structures. But in doing this, it is important to ensure that the core waterproofing and drainage functions of the roofline are not impaired.
Dramatic shapes, smooth lines and excellent performance
Forget the straight lines of a standard flat or pitched roof. A roof can be any shape an architect can visualise. From a vast sweeping wave to a ‘butterfly wing’ inverted-pitch roof; anything is possible. Whatever the shape, fascia, soffits and copings have to work with the drainage system to ensure rainwater is effectively managed from roof to drain.
For example, the construction of the Greenfields assisted living complex in Leighton Buzzard involved creating an impressive curved roof over the entranceway. In the past, it may have proved problematic for contractor Tetraclad to find fascia and soffits to fit.
But significant advances in production techniques such as CAD and SolidWorks meant the products could be designed and supplied specifically for the project.
Unusual angles or curves in the roofline are no longer restricted by existing shapes of construction products. Indeed, fascia and soffits can do so much more than simply provide weatherproofing and a neat finish. They can be a central part of more creative designs, such as allowing the roof to overhang the exterior wall to achieve a dramatic effect. ‘Bullnose’ fascia go a step further by incorporating a curved outer edge to create a smooth finish that is pleasing to the eye and works particularly well with an overhang.
An example of roofline products extending beyond simple practicality can be seen in a recent luxury development in Jersey. The project – to build four £2m homes – involved roof-clad overhangs and a complex fascia/coping system. Architect, Scott Smith, specified exactly the look he wanted, knowing he could have products tailored to meet his design. The balconies required an unusually wide specification for the soffits and fascia, but new techniques allowed the bespoke design of the products to the exact dimensions needed – all within budget. The result is a strong look with clean, sweeping lines – and design elements that work harmoniously to perform their practical purpose. And this is a crucial point. While roofline and rainwater elements provide an exciting opportunity to achieve bold and striking aesthetics, it’s important to bear in mind the practical purpose they are there to serve. The most beautiful roof in the world is worthless if it doesn’t keep the rain out, so it’s vital for architects and contractors to work closely together to ensure designs can be easily and practically installed.
A perfect example of this is the development of rainwater systems that are integrated within fascia and soffits. Architects can achieve a smooth, seamless look from all angles without having to worry about where the guttering will go – and contractors are safe in the knowledge that rainwater will be safely and effectively dealt with.
‘Dressed’ for success
Roofline and rainwater components don’t need to be hidden away, however. There is a growing trend towards using fascia, soffits, copings, bargeboards, gutters, downpipes and windowsills to ‘dress’ a building. These humble construction elements are standing out for all the right reasons, with architects using different shapes and profiles, unusual materials, oversized components or adding a splash of colour.
In fact, roofline products are now available in pretty much any colour imaginable. These can be used to contrast other building elements – for example, a fascia in red, a soffit in white and gutters and downpipes in black. Alternatively, they can be made to complement the colours on existing building materials, such as on windowsills and doors.
A recent refurbishment project by Tatehindle Architects in Spitalfields in London required fascias to be colour-matched to other exterior features of the building for a seamless look that is appropriate for the building’s historic location. New window and door surrounds allow more natural light to filter through and create a striking entrance that has helped transform an ordinary 1980s office building into something stunning.
Sourcing the right products is no longer a barrier to creative architecture. Thanks to modern manufacturing techniques, roofs and rooflines offer the perfect platform to deliver building designs that are unexpected, bold and memorable.