Parapets: From Medieval Siege Defence to Decorative Guard Rails

Guard Rails on the RoadArchitecture is a continuously evolving art form, which is why it is no surprise that the function of parapets has changed throughout the years.

A parapet is an architectural structure that refers to a low, protective wall that hugs the side of a roof or a bridge. They usually jut out vertically from the top of the wall, forming a type of barrier around the home. Contemporary parapet copings are made of aluminium, such as the ones produced by Contour. Their function has greatly changed from the parapets of the past.

Medieval Siege Defence

During the Medieval period, around the 5th to 15th century, wars between kingdoms were extremely common. Though the middle ages were not particularly known for their technological innovations, the need to protect lands and kingdoms nevertheless gave way to the rise of fortified castles.

These structures featured thick stone walls, heavy gates and watch towers to look out for dangers. During a siege, these fortresses were pelted with arrows, and stones fired from siege engines. Parapets soon began appearing on castles, which served as cover from fire for the soldiers on top of the wall.

The parapets often had gaps between them, which provided enough space for archers and, later, cannons to shoot back at the invaders. These parapets are what gave castles their distinctive crown-like silhouette, which is usually the first thing people think of when imagining a castle.

Contemporary Parapets

Now that people no longer have to shoot arrows at each other, contemporary parapets serve a different purpose.

Many buildings use parapets purely for aesthetic purposes. They can make a sloped roof appear flat when viewed from the ground. This maintains the slant of the roof, which prevents rain from pooling on top of the building.

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Parapets can also be used as a type of decorative guard rail, for people who have accessible rooftop areas. It prevents people from falling, without changing the overall silhouette of the building with a separate guard rail.

This only shows that as people change, the objects we interact with change as well. Though parapets were an important feature of fortresses in the past, today it has a more benign purpose.