A cupola is a structure built on a roof’s ridge or on a rooftop dome. Cupolas were designed to provide light and ventilation to homes, businesses and public buildings like museums. The size and design of a cupola can vary greatly depending on the roof size and the building owner’s budget. Cupolas may also be non-functional to mimic older architectural design and be made of lightweight synthetic material like durable, low-cost vinyl. The cupola may be topped with a weather vane or lightning rod.
The lantern style of cupola is so named due to its nighttime glow meant to welcome approaching visitors. Made mostly of glass, the lantern cupola may be built of four or more triangular shaped pieces of framed glass secured together to create a pyramid-like shape. Interior lighting floods the structure. Larger lantern cupolas can have glass, wood, brick or metal bases. Base size can range from a few inches to several feet tall. The shape of the base may be rectangular, square, hexagonal or octagonal. It can be topped with a roof of glass. The glass panes may be hinged to open with the use of a long pole, electric motor or pull cords. Opening the glass provides an escape path for summer heat.
“Belvedere” means good or beautiful view in Italian, and this four-sided cupola comes from Italian architecture. A belvedere is large enough to be accessed from a stairway or ladder where visitors can look through windows on all four sides. The exterior walls the belvedere may match the building materials of the house, like wood or stucco. A pointed roof made from roofing materials like tile, copper or shingles will top the belvedere.
A belfry is a raised structure on a roof ridge such as one seen on a church roof. The belfry was designed to hold the church bell, used to signal the opening of church services or other events. The belfry may have open, arched sides exposing the bell, or the sides may be louvered to protect the bell from the weather. The belfry cupola is designed with four or more sides. A belfry style cupola with louvered sides may be used on residential homes as an attic vent. For commercial buildings, the belfry cupola may have a clock on one or all four sides of the structure.