15 Butterfly Roofs That Set the Heart Aflutter
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15 Butterfly Roofs That Set the Heart Aflutter

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By Jen Woo
Since its invention by Le Corbusier in 1930, the butterfly roof has endured as a dramatic architectural feature.

Popularized in the 1950s, the butterfly roof is an inverted gable whose V-shape resembles that of two lifted wings. We have French architect Le Corbusier to thank for the distinctive feature; in 1930, he proposed it for a Chilean vacation home for heiress and arts patron Eugenia Errazuriz, but she went bankrupt before it could be built. The butterfly roof would become a reality in 1933, however, in Karuizawa, Japan, where Czech architect Antonin Raymond built a home for himself and his wife based on Le Corbusier’s design—a residence featured by Architectural Record in 1934.

The butterfly roof made its way to the States in 1945 with Marcel Breuer’s Geller House in Lawrence, Long Island. Breuer placed long windows under the roofline to let in light without sacrificing privacy, a key advantage of the butterfly roof. Finally, in 1957, architect William Krisel would propose the design to the Alexander Construction Company, a development company that built over 2,500 homes in Palm Springs, California. From there, the butterfly roof spread through the rest of Southern California.

A striking break from flat or gable roofs, the butterfly roof has clear appeal. Take a look at some of our favorite examples below. 

TWA Hotel by Lubrano Ciavarra, INC., Beyer Blinder Belle, and Stonehill Taylor

An abandoned airport terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was reborn as the TWA Hotel, a stylish stay that harkens on the romance of flying when it was still a novelty. Paying homage to the original architecture of the 1962 building designed by architect Eero Saarinen, JFK's only on-airport hotel is complete with midcentury modern guest rooms, a 10,000-square-foot rooftop deck with pool, and immersive experiences.

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A modest, gabled 1965 hut on the outskirts of Guatemala City was transformed into an expansive 4,467-square-foot getaway. Blurring the indoors and out, architect Alejandro Paz adhered to the original architectural elements while adding modernized touches. The roof maintains the same angle as the original hut, but reversed, while new modules give the space a new identity. With floor-to-ceiling glazing, the home allows for the residents to take in the Guatemalan forest from all angles.

Once owned by musician, producer, and DJ Moby, this midcentury dwelling in Pound Ridge, New York, was restored to preserve its original architectural elements by David Henken, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1956, the two-story home was originally created by renowned local builder Vito Fosella to embrace the wooded landscape with an exterior clad in teak, mahogany, and stone. The roof is tar and gravel.

WDA demolished a 1950s tract home to built a brand new, two-story, 4,898-square-foot oasis with five bedrooms and four-and-a-half-baths. Topping off this Silicon Valley home is an asymmetrical, Le Corbusier-style butterfly roof that gives the home its distinctive form while creating soaring spaces on the second floor. 

This 1954 split-level ranch on the Chicago's Near North Side was renovated, including raising the ceiling, converting the wood-paneled rec room and bar on the lower level into a master suite, and moving the kitchen into what had was a breezeway and part of the garage. When they discovered part of the original roof needed replacing, Delano referred to a butterfly design to suit the abode's midcentury lines. 

This classic owned by writer Susan Orlean and her husband John Gillespie was updated by architect Jeff Fink, who specializes in restoring homes by Austrian-born architect Rudolph W. Schindler. The couple has previously owned his Los Angeles Roth house, buying it even though they lived in New York. Then, they sold it for the Kallis-Sharlin House, known for its butterfly roof—which allowed Schindler to add clerestory windows, and more light to the home. For the exterior, they ordered a custom hue from Behr, channeling the grey-green of a Martini olive.

Law Estates Wines spans 55 acres with full panoramic views of the Paso Robles countryside. The building reflects that of their varietals—showcasing natural characteristics in minimalist style. The design is a direct response to the natural materials of the site, its hillside topography, and climatic influences of the sun and wind. 

This eco-friendly extension in Melbourne was designed by Ben Callery Architects. The light-filled space incorporates renewable features including high levels of insulation, double glazing, and recycled and locally sourced materials. A corrugated metal roof was designed to glide over the 1,650-square-foot home.

Designed by New York firm Desai Chia Architecture in collaboration with Michigan firm Environment Architects, Michigan Lake House was dramatizes the experience of dark and light as the sun moves through the day. 

Built by Robert Marx for the inventor/founder of Tastee-Freez in Rancho Mirage, the Maranz Residence is one of the most iconic homes in Rancho Mirage, a desert resort just east of Palm Springs. Designed by Val Powelson, the plans were based the hyperbolic paraboloid roof, a principle that was at the peak of engineering innovation in the late 1950s.

This 1920s four-story brick home in the Rock Creek neighborhood of Washington, D.C., fits into the neighborhood with a row of conservative homes, but the back presents a more unique facet—a line of windows, and a series of glass boxes jutting out from the main house. Inside is equally unique with unconventional forms in wall panels, deep window frames, and built-in shelving, all made from plywood. 

After a 40-year-old pine tree fell over on a Brentwood estate in Los Angeles, the owner let it lie, and the continued to grow from its newfound horizontal position. He decided to incorporate it into a 172-square-foot office and guest house with the structure floating above the tree. Around the perimeter of the butterfly roof is a clerestory that gives the illusion that the roof is floating.

Perched above a pond on 14 acres in Champaign, Illinois, this hut was designed for enjoying tea and meditation. Dominating the 97-square-foot structure is a butterfly roof, which channels rainwater to a central spout to be directed to the pond. Adding to the zen experience are water reflections that are projected onto the soffit throughout the day.

Within this home, vaulted skylights are carved within the original roof, expanding several spaces to the sky. The two-story pavilion is swathed in natural materials like wood and stone paired with inky hues for a soothing, modern palette. 

Built with a 15-degree bend in the center, the design helps the home conform to the lot while also enveloping outdoor decks. The south and east rooflines cantilever dramatically, offering shade over the 21-foot-high windows in the summer.