|Frank Lloyd Wright's 1935 masterpiece: Spectacular,|
but they didn't call it Fallingwater for nothing.
Alas, it doesn’t always work out that way. One of the most common complaints I hear is, “Why can’t architects design buildings that don’t leak?"
The embarrassing fact is that leaky roofs are endemic to architecture, whether modern or traditional, and the caliber of the architect makes little difference. The occupants of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most celebrated houses have been obliged to drag out buckets, bowls, and soup cans in many a rainstorm. Or as a colleague of mine once put it: “They don’t call it ‘Fallingwater’ for nothing”.
|Le Corbusier: He didn't do us any|
favors by making flat roofs popular.
To the complaint of another waterlogged client, he shot back: “If it didn’t leak, it wouldn’t be a roof.”
At least Wright fessed up to these shortcomings, if nonchalantly; the same can’t be said for the famed International Style architect Le Corbusier. Early in his career, he designed a building with a conventional pitched roof. At the first snowfall, it leaked like a sieve—due, it seems likely, to his own inexperience. In a dazzling piece of Modernist logic, however, Corbusier concluded that the whole concept of pitched roofs must be flawed, and thereafter espoused flat roofs instead.
|Now that's an impressive collection of roof junctures, which, in a few|
years, will yield the widest possible selection of roof leaks.
Given that architects have such a hard time designing watertight roofs, what chance does a lay person have? You’d be surprised. Here are a few simple, common-sense suggestions that can help minimize the likelihood of leaks:
• Keep the roof design as simple as possible. Leaks seldom occur out in the middle of a roof’s flat surfaces—known as the "field" in roofing parlance. Rather, they tend to develop in the many nooks and crannies formed where roof planes intersect. Hence, the simpler the design, the fewer the intersections, and the less the likelihood of leaks. Be especially wary of those craggy alpine roofscapes favored by current architectural fashion. All those cute little peaks and dormers can become a major leakage headache a few years down the road.
|If your roof leaks, look at the|
penetrations and junctures,
You might well be able to fix it
with a three-dollar tube of sealant.
• Avoid built-up (“flat”) roofs whenever possible. Granted, built-up roofs are cheap, easy to construct, and great for covering oddly-shaped floor plans. However, without conscientious maintenance—which they seldom get—built-up roofs simply won’t stay watertight. A century of painful experience has borne this fact out, suggesting that our gable-roof loving forebears were probably right after all.
Sorry, Le Corbusier.