Contemporary Uses for Arches and Pergolas

Discover why today's arches and pergolas are no more than a new look at an old type of structure.

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In many ways, a pergola with overhead beams is more satisfactory than a structure with either a solid canopy or a glass roof. A solid roof can run the risk of providing too much shade and appearing too heavy; it casts no interesting patterns of light and shadow and allows little air circulation. Glass roofs, while letting in more light, may become too hot and cause glare, requiring some form of screening and again casting too much shade. A roof such as this will, of course, protect you from rain, but the noise in a storm may prove too loud for you to remain comfortable, anyway.

Modern pergolas are really no more than a new look at a very old type of structure, designed to be inexpensive and easy to build. The do-it-yourself pergola kits currently available come with prenotched crossbeams and posts, corner braces (often with waterproof glue), and planed posts with a beveled edge, all made from lumber treated against rot.

The use of today's structures has spread to encompass more contemporary functions such as carports: a wooden framework with a roof of slatted wood and climbing plants is far more attractive than utilitarian corrugated plastic roofing. This slatted wooden construction has also been used to good effect in the building of shadehouses, which allow you to grow shade-loving plants in gardens with no natural shade.

Pergolas have truly replaced traditional arbors as shaded walkways, even in small gardens. The traditional Italianate theme of a cloister-like shaded walkway around a central, open courtyard can be very successful today in small city gardens.

Here, a walkway around the garden can have the effect of making the space feel bigger — and that the overhead beams offer some privacy from surrounding tall buildings is a bonus.

Pergola Beam ShadowsEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Arches & Pergolas © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Modern pergolas offer a new look at shading sitting areas, too. Indeed, some pergolas offer a far stronger statement than one of pure function and practicality. Overhead beams in minimalist designs or posts in painted steel or wood become arresting focal points; the intricate pattern of light and shade may even be their sole purpose.

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Arches & Pergolas © 2000 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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