Roof domes are one of the most visually striking and appealing architectural structures around. Domes have been around for thousands of years. Ancient cultures constructed mostly corbel or arched dome dwellings using locally available materials such as mud, clay or adobe. The earliest discovered domed structures may date from around 15,000 to 20,000 years ago in the Ukraine, constructed from mammoth bones and tusks. In ancient times people lived in such domed structures and in more modern times Native Americans constructed wigwams from curved branches and hides and much farther north, igloos from compressed blocks of snow. Pygmies in Africa used mango leaves to cover their similar dome shaped structures. Ancient domes discovered in the Middle East were used for modest structures, such as tombs. The early Romans while constructing smaller domed structures for villas, palaces, baths and tombs also constructed very large, advanced true domes over large interior spaces such as temples and public buildings. True domes are traditionally considered to be a self-supporting hemi-spherical shape structure or roof. Half a hemispherical dome is called a semi-dome and other variations of that are generally called false domes. All of the different types of domes essentially still have a curving or rounded top. Over hundreds of centuries domes have been constructed from a large variety of building materials including mud, clay, stone, brick, wood, concrete, metal, glass and in recent times even plastic. Next we look at some early, historic or notable domed buildings and feature especially those with copper roof domes.
Pantheon – Rome, Italy
(photo credits: courtesy of uncp.edu/home/rwb/lecture_med_civ.htm)
While much earlier domed structures have been discovered as noted above, the Pantheon in Rome, Italy was one of the earliest buildings with a large roof dome, that is still in existence today, situated above ground and structurally stable. The Pantheon is considered by many to be the grandest dome in existence and still nearly as magnificent today as when it was constructed 19 centuries ago. The Pantheon at 142 feet – 43.3 meters inside diameter and height, was the largest dome ever built for about 1700 years and is still the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome in existence. The Pantheon, originally built in 27 BC, was destroyed in both 80 AD and 110 AD and rebuilt both times. From it’s last completion in 126 AD it still stands today as a monument to grand architecture. The Pantheon’s concrete dome used to be covered with copper plates which in turn were finished with copper or bronze tile. The Pantheon, originally a pagan temple to all the Roman Gods, was taken over by the Catholic Church and consecrated by Pope Boniface IVI in 609 AD as a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs and informally known as Santa Maria Rotunda. The beautiful copper tiles adorning the dome’s exterior were stripped off and stolen by Constans II in 663 AD to be carted back to Constantinople. Then almost a thousand years later, Pope Urban VIII had the original copper plating removed, yielding about 200 tons of copper sheets and 4 tons of copper nails, which were subsequently used mostly to construct cannon or bombards and remaining for assorted church projects. Large amounts of fine marble on the Pantheon’s exterior were also unfortunately removed and used elsewhere over the centuries.
Florence Cathedral – II Duomo – Florence, Italy
(photo credits: MarcusObal – CCbySA, courtesy en.wikipedia.org)
The largest roof dome built in Western Europe since the Pantheon is Brunelleschi’s octagonal brick roof dome for the Florence Cathedral or II Duomo in Florence, Italy, completed in 1436. This double dome, with seperate inside and outside shells, is still the largest masonry dome ever built, constructed with bricks and mortar, 42 feet from face to face. Duomo of Florence has eight vertical stone ribs with red tile roofing in between. Slightly smaller in diameter than the Pantheon and Florence Cathedral is the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Italy. This double walled dome with inner hemispherical dome and outer vertically ovoid shaped dome, was completed in 1590 and remains today the tallest dome in the world, rising to a total height of about 452 feet from the ground. The drum or base of the dome alone is over 65 feet tall rising to 240 feet from the ground. The style which St. Peter’s Basilica introduced became known as Baroque architecture and had a large influence on subsequent designs and buildings. St Peter’s Basilica influenced other famous domed buildings, including St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, which in turn heavily influenced the United States Capitol Building dome, which similarly inspired many subsequent state capitol domed roof buildings. Mounting a cupola or lantern on top of the dome became popular in medieval times to admit light, provide venting and also serve as added visual interest on both the outside and inside.
St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City – Rome, Italy
(photo credits: Wolfgang Stuck, courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org)
Modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Basilica of St. Josaphat shown below is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin landmark, featuring one of the largest copper dome roofs in the world and is also listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Another Basilica, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Brussels, Belgium had it’s initial construction begin in 1905, then was interrupted by two world wars and was not completed until 1969. This church with it’s sturdy brick and concrete reinforced structure, features a large copper roof dome and two slender towers with smaller copper roof domes. A landmark in the Brussels skyline, the apex of it’s green patinated copper dome roof rises up to 292 feet – 89 meters above the ground.
Basilica of St. Josaphat – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
(photo credits: Sulfur – CCbySA, courtesy en.wikipedia.com)
Basilica of the Sacred Heart – Brussels, Belgium(Markus Koljonen – CCbySA, courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)
For thousands of years, architects have designed domes made from a wide variety of materials and colors. No other style of roof creates such a feeling of openness, spaciousness and attractiveness. Copper has been the metal most frequently specified by architects. Copper domes make a most memorable and visually arresting statement in any building design, whether it is governmental, religious, commercial, residential, cultural, industrial or institutional. Copper roof domes add an unsurpassed air of richness, sophistication and natural beauty, while also providing more than a century or even centuries of durability along with very low required maintenance. A sampling of buildings with copper dome roofs from around the world continues below.
Berliner Dom Am Lustgarten – Berlin, Germany
Opera Garnier – Paris, France(photo credits: courtesy wikimediacommons)
Perth Museum and Gallery – Perth, Scotland(photo credits: Paul McIlroy – CCbySA, courtesy geograph.org.uk)
Waterfront Hall – Belfast, Ireland (large copper saucer dome)(photo credit: Architect Robinson and McIlwaine, courtesy copperinfo.co.uk)
Macon Auditorium – Macon, Georgia (largest true copper dome)(photo credit: Architect Robinson and McIlwaine, courtesy copperinfo.co.uk)
While domes have historically been seen on government capitols, courthouses, churches, temples, museums, auditoriums and stadiums, roof domes have also found favor on many types of commercial buildings including hotels, resorts, pavilions and farm structures and ever increasingly in residential architecture as well. Roof domes continue to be featured and incorporated into modern architectural design as dome roofing provides both functional and visual benefits. Roof domes provide a feeling of spaciousness, allow high sculpted ceilings and a distinct feeling of sophistication, elegance and luxury. Dome roofs will elevate and distinguish a building’s appearance and directly increase it’s value as well. Many different styles of roof domes can readily be adapted and incorporated into modern homes and commercial properties of quality and distinction.
The Rainbow Hotel Domes – Torquay, Devon UK(photo credits: Derek Harper, CC-by-SA courtesy of geograph.org.uk)
Late 1800’s Dome Roof Home – Logansport, Indiana(photo credits: labontebuddy43, courtesy esperanto.wunderground.com
Rancho Adolfo Camarillo – Gazebo Copper Roof Dome
(Salvaged from Mary Magdaline Church)
(photo credits: CA1S.org, courtesy pbase.com)
Copper Dome Roof – Domical Vault – Rutland Construction
Sandals Resort Caribbean – Dome Roof Work by Rutland
Residential Copper Dome Roof – Construction by Rutland
Copper Dome – Hexagonal – Under Construction – Rutland
Frame Construction for Copper Tile Dome Roof – Rutland
Copper Polygonal Roof Dome – Pineapple Finial – Rutland
Conical Roof – Large Copper Dome Roof – Pyramidal Roof
(all constructed by Rutland Architectural Copper Work Craftsmen)
Rutland Architectural Copper will custom build or fabricate any style of metal roof dome, including hemispherical domes, semi-domes, arched domes, corbel domes, polygonal domes, octagonal domes, hexagonal domes, ovoid or oval domes, saucer domes and other dome variations to architect’s, builder’s and customer’s specifications. Rutland fabricates roof domes from heavy weight copper panels, custom copper tile and copper sheets. When a copper tile roof dome is desired, Rutland will construct sturdy framing including a layer of waterproof membrane over the sheathing. Rutland can custom build roof domes from a variety of metals including pure or coated copper and produce polished, very strong TIG welded joints or seams for a very attractive seamless look. Rutland also fabricates ancillary roof dome accessories such as cupolas, finials and vents. Copper is the ideal metal for roof domes and other architectural metal structures due to copper metal’s excellent workability, very long life, durability, natural corrosion resistance, weatherability, environmentally friendly, recyclability, green building material, sustainability, natural beauty and timeless elegance. Rutland Roof Domes