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What Is a Cupola?

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  • Written By: A. Leverkuhn
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
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The cupola is a dome-like structure at the top of a building. This structure has its roots in both Roman and Greek architecture. It is also featured in some styles of Indian architecture and other customary building around the world. The cupola, derived from the Latin cupula or “kypellon” in Greek, takes its name from the concept of a dome formed like an upside down cup. As an architectural design choice, historians show that this type of structure succeeded a Roman device that was not similarly weatherproofed. Cupolas, often made of wood or metal, will be weatherproofed to provide for practical roofing.

The cupola is in many ways its own building. These dome structures are often added above a main roof. Some of them house functional items like a belfry or a lantern space. In other designs, such as those of many government buildings across the world, the cupola serves as more of a design element. They do provide for storage and adds interior space to a building, but it is not often used in the classical sense, where planar walls are desired for functional rooms in a building.

When it comes to providing materials for cupolas, copper is a popular source. Copper and other metal designs for cupolas take less maintenance in general than wooden ones, which may need painting on a frequent basis. Architects plan cupolas to complement existing exterior designs.

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Some people refer to this kind of construction as a belvedere or a gazebo. The word “belvedere” comes from the Italian for “beautiful view.” Architects might use it to describe a building addition that promises a nice view from the top of a building. Gazebo is another term used for a variety of round buildings including those with a cupola design.

In terms of technical style, a cupola can be either circular or polygonal. It can adorn a turret or spire in some kinds of architecture. Some experts focus on the idea that many cupolas are primarily ornamental.

Some cupolas might provide a point for inhabitants to walk out on a roof. These types of cupolas are sometimes referred to as a “widow’s walk.” Different kinds of cupolas fall into various functional and decorative categories. They are popular for both fixed buildings and small, ornamental portable buildings, which is why is helps to know what this architectural term really means.

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