Roofing Fixtures: Spires, Turrets, Cupolas and Gargoyles

Fairytale Castle in Germany . Neuschwanstein Castle . 19th-century historical palace with ornate roofing fixtures like turrets and spires

Some of the fun in being Las Vegas roofers includes building custom roof fixtures for clients who want to add interesting features to their roof. Some roof fixtures have practical usage, such as vents and chimney caps, but others are purely decorative. We’ve had the pleasure of building a number of interesting roof fixtures over the years and will share a few of those below. But first, what types of roof fixtures are there and what are they for? While many fixtures today are just decorative, roof fixtures have a long and interesting history that is fun to explore. Let’s start with those old favorites of castle owners, turrets.

Turrets

Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal - Rooftop of the keep of the Castle. Turrets, battlements and crenellations

A turret is a small extension of a building roof that projects upward. We find turrets on medieval castles where they were used to defend the castle compound from invaders. A turret may be circular with crenellations, that is small regular openings which allowed defenders to safely deploy arrows or shots on their enemies from safety behind the turret walls. Turrets may be accessible by a stairway from below. Turrets also often grace classic civic and other buildings with an enclosed windowed tower, adding distinctive variety and interest to the roof line. Turrets are essentially a small tower atop a building and are limited in size, as they add weight to the roof and have to be supported.

The top of a modern building with a turret against the blue sky with white clouds.

Turrets don’t have a defensive function these days, being mainly decorative features that also provide interesting interior space and let extra light into the room. They may be large and windowed, providing a panoramic view, or be simply a small decorative vertical fixture on the corners of the building.

Spires

St. Alban Church - Anglican church in Copenhagen, Denmark with church spire including lantern and belfry

A spire is a tall, pointed structure on a roof pointing skyward. Spires give a building a sense of vertical lift, looking upward toward the heavens. Spires are commonly seen on cathedrals and churches, of course, but also grace civic and office buildings and stately homes and gothic or later castles for the dramatic vertical lift they give the structure. Spires add beauty, but also make the building look taller and more dramatic. In practical terms, spires may act as lightning rods or hold telecommunication equipment.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, France view of roof with spires and gargoyles

There are many variations of spires. For example, pinnacles are miniature spires that are purely decorative, such as the ones used on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, now being reconstructed to include some of the original architectural features.

Similarly, a steeple is a tall, thin tower topped by a spire, commonly found on churches. A steeple will have vertical layers, starting from the bottom with a tower, sometimes containing a clock, the belfry that holds the church bells and the lantern that is usually a decorative section that holds the spire at the top.

Cupolas

The cupola of the reconstructed City Palace in Berlin just before sunset

Cupolas date back to the 8th century, topping minarets on mosques, and eventually evolving into the larger architectural dome, whose complex design helped to advance the science of architecture, making larger, more durable and beautiful buildings possible. They became crowning symbols of beauty and power for religious and government buildings, and for stately palaces of monarchs and rulers. 

Greece, the island of Ios. A view of the main church, and a series of small chapels on the hillside with blue cupolas over white walls

Cupolas, just as they sound, look like inverted cups on a building. However, they can be masterful architectural features and they provide a number of benefits. One of the uses is ventilation. Especially in warmer climates, as hot air naturally rises, it is useful to have ventilation in the roof of a building. Like turrets, many cupolas are accessible by stairway. They provide a panoramic view of the area and were useful for defense purposes in earlier times. Smaller cupolas, called “lantern cupolas”, contain windows and help bring more light into buildings. These are still popular for homes and buildings today for their ability to let in the sunlight and their attractive design.

Gargoyles

Stone demons gargoyle on the Notre Dame - Paris

Last, but one of our favorites, are gargoyles. Who doesn’t love staring in wonder at the strangeness of an ancient gargoyle atop a very old building? Some of the most famous gargoyles are those of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, recently damaged by fire and now being rebuilt. The photo above is before the infamous fire.

roof fixture green shaded gargoyle on Ulm Munster church, Ulm, Germany

In practical terms, going back to early times, gargoyles served as spouts to carry water away from the building to protect it from damage. Carving fantastical creatures added interest to the building and they became more ornate over time. These carvings often represented local pagan beliefs and legends. Often found on cathedrals, they served as moral messages to parishioners to adhere to church teachings to avoid such fearful creatures in the afterlife. That may not be so true today, but they sure are a fun roof feature that even had their own TV series!

Custom Roof Fixtures for Las Vegas

Finished copper cupola with gold figure atop on roof at the Nevada Supreme Court buidling in Las Vegas

Prestige Roofing hasn’t had many requests for gargoyles, but we do offer a range of custom roof fixtures, including rain gutters, custom cupolas, turrets, spires, chimney caps, skylights and louvered vents. We specialize in quality custom metal roofing, using highly durable and versatile copper, zinc and other metal selections, as well as new or reclaimed classic tiles, slate and other materials. Below are just a few of our local roof fixture projects. 

We were pleased to design and build a custom copper cupola for the Nevada Supreme Court in Las Vegas and we built a custom copper spire for a local fire station. We also have installed a variety of other roof fixtures and custom copper gutters. You can see more of those in the gallery on our website.

roof fixture firehouse custom copper spire

custom copper chimney cap roof fixture on tile roof by Prestige Roofing in Las Vegas

Quality roofing is important to protect our inside spaces, whether it’s a cathedral or a modest home, from damage from the elements and adds to the comfort and safety of our buildings. The sight of beautiful roofing enriches our cities, towns and neighborhoods. We always enjoy helping bring quality roofing to our neighbors in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada with custom roofing just right for them.