How the White, Stepped Roofs of Bermuda Allowed Residents to Live Without Fresh Water Sources

Visitors to Bermuda are likely to notice one key feature about its architecture: across the islands, the pastel-painted houses all share a distinctive white, stepped roof style. A recent article on BBC News Magazine explores the original reason for, and subsequent history of, this unique roof design, showing how vernacular architectural elements often fit into a larger narrative of culture and geography.

The Chaplin Estate (formerly known as Spithead), an 18th-century home that once belonged to merchant and privateer Hezekiah Frith. Image © Wikimedia user Aodhdubh licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The original reason for the roofs is relatively simple: with no permanent fresh streams or lakes on the islands, early settlers had to rely entirely on rainfall for their water source. To ensure that none of the region's rainfall was wasted, builders developed the stepped roofs as a way to slow down heavy rain and prevent the building's gutters being overwhelmed. Being constructed of limestone, the roofs were also heavy enough to resist hurricanes, and the white color reflected UV light from the sun, which helped to purify the water.

The technique was later written into Bermuda law. Every new house in Bermuda is now designed for a certain level of self-sufficiency, as each one must have 8 gallons (36 liters) of tank space per square foot (0.1 square meters) of roof area to store water.

However, as Bermuda's residential and tourist populations grow, the islands are beginning to experience challenges relating to this water strategy. As the temptation to build upwards increases, the ability of these roofs to collect enough water for everybody is decreasing, and the islands now have 6 water desalination plants to cope with demand. Increasingly, the story of Bermuda's distinctive roofs is intertwined with the story of its water challenges. Find out more about these challenges, and the roofs themselves, over at BBC News Magazine.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "How the White, Stepped Roofs of Bermuda Allowed Residents to Live Without Fresh Water Sources" 27 Dec 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.