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Illustrations of cornices in different styles Corniches.png
Illustrations of cornices in different styles
Illustrations of various examples of ancient Egyptian cornices, all of them having cavettos Illustrations of various examples of ancient Egyptian cornices.jpg
Illustrations of various examples of ancient Egyptian cornices, all of them having cavettos

In architecture, a cornice (from the Italian cornice meaning "ledge" [1] ) is generally any horizontal decorative moulding that crowns a building or furniture element—for example, the cornice over a door or window, around the top edge of a pedestal, or along the top of an interior wall. A simple cornice may be formed just with a crown, as in crown moulding atop an interior wall or above kitchen cabinets or a bookcase.


A projecting cornice on a building has the function of throwing rainwater free of its walls. In residential building practice, this function is handled by projecting gable ends, roof eaves and gutters. However, house eaves may also be called "cornices" if they are finished with decorative moulding. In this sense, while most cornices are also eaves (overhanging the sides of the building), not all eaves are usually considered cornices. Eaves are primarily functional and not necessarily decorative, while cornices have a decorative aspect.

A building's projecting cornice may appear to be heavy and hence in danger of falling, particularly on commercial buildings, but often may actually be very light, made of pressed metal.

In classical architecture

Cornice of Maison Carree (Nimes, France), an ancient Roman temple in the Corinthian order Nimes maison carree.jpg
Cornice of Maison Carrée (Nîmes, France), an ancient Roman temple in the Corinthian order

In Ancient Greek architecture and its successors using the classical orders in the tradition of classical architecture, the cornice is the topmost element of the entablature, which consists (from top to bottom) of the cornice, the frieze, and the architrave.

In modern residential architecture


A rake is an architectural term for an eave or cornice which runs along the gable of the roof of a modern residential structure. It may also be called a sloping cornice, a raking cornice. The trim and rafters at this edge are called rakes, rake board, rake fascia, verge-boards, barge-boards or verge- or barge-rafters. [2] It is a sloped timber on the outside facing edge of a roof running between the ridge and the eave. [3] On a typical house, any gable will have two rakes, one on each sloped side. The rakes are often supported by a series of lookouts (sometimes also called strong arms) and may be trimmed with a rake fascia board (which is not a true fascia) on the outside facing edge and a rake soffit along the bottom.


The cornices of a modern residential building will usually be one of three types: a box cornice, a close or closed cornice, or an open cornice. [4] :p.63

Box cornice

A wide box cornice with lookouts Wide box cornice.jpg
A wide box cornice with lookouts

Box cornices enclose the cornice of the building with what is essentially a long narrow box. A box cornice may further be divided into either the narrow box cornice or the wide box cornice type. A narrow box cornice is one in which "the projection of the rafter serves as a nailing surface for the soffit board as well as the fascia trim." [4] :p.63 This is possible if the slope of the roof is fairly steep and the width of the eave relatively narrow. A wide box cornice, which is common practice on houses with gentle roof slopes and wide eaves, requires the use of lookouts to give it support and to provide a surface to which to securely attach the soffits. Box cornices often have ventilation screens laid over openings cut in the soffits in order to allow air to circulate within the cornice.

Close cornice

A close cornice Close cornice.jpg
A close cornice

A close, closed, or snub cornice is one in which there is no projection of the rafters beyond the walls of the building, and therefore no soffit and no fascia. This type of cornice is easy to construct, but provides little aid in dispersing water away from the building and is sometimes considered to lack aesthetic value. [4] :p.65

Open cornice

An open cornice Open cornice.jpg
An open cornice

In an open cornice, the shape of the cornice is similar to that of a wide box cornice except that both the lookouts and the soffit are absent. It is a lower-cost treatment that requires fewer materials, and may even have no fascia board, but lacks the finished appearance of a box cornice.

Cavetto cornice

Ancient Egyptian architectural tradition made special use of large cavetto mouldings as a cornice, with only a short fillet (plain vertical face) above, and a torus moulding (convex semi-circle) below. This cavetto cornice is sometimes also known as an "Egyptian cornice", "hollow and roll" or "gorge cornice", and has been suggested to be a reminiscence in stone architecture of the primitive use of bound bunches of reeds as supports for buildings, the weight of the roof bending their tops out. [5]

The cavetto cornice, often forming less than a quarter-circle, influenced Egypt's neighbours and as well as appearing in early Ancient Greek architecture, it is seen in Syria and ancient Iran, for example at the Tachara palace of Darius I at Persepolis, completed in 486 BC. Inspired by this precedent, it was then revived by Ardashir I (r. 224–41 AD), the founder of the Sasanian dynasty. [6]

The cavetto took the place of the cymatium in many Etruscan temples, often painted with vertical "tongue" patterns, and combined with the distinctive "Etruscan round moulding", often painted with scales. [7]

Additional more-obscure varieties of cornice include the architrave cornice, bracketed cornice, and modillion cornice. [8]

Cornice return

A gable roof with two cornice returns on the Harnosands radhus Harnosands radhus 08.jpg
A gable roof with two cornice returns on the Härnösands rådhus

A cornice return is an architectural detail that occurs where the horizontal cornice of a roof connects to the rake of a gable. [4] :p.67 It is a short horizontal extension of the cornice that occurs on each side of the gable end of the building (see picture of the Härnösands rådhus with two of these). The two most common types of cornice return are the Greek return and the soffit return (also called a boxed or box soffit return). The former includes a sloped hip-shape on the inside of the cornice under the eaves which is sheathed or shingled like the rest of the roof above it and is considered very attractive; the latter is a simple return without these features. [9]

As window treatment

The term cornice may also be used to describe a form of hard window treatment along the top edge of a window. When used in this context, a cornice represents a board (usually wood) placed above the window to conceal the mechanism for opening and closing drapes. If covered in a layer of cloth and given padding, it is sometimes called a soft cornice rather than a hard cornice.

See also

Related Research Articles

Pediment Element in classical, neoclassical and baroque architecture

Pediments are gables, usually of a triangular shape. They are found in ancient Greek architecture as early as 600 BC. Variations of the pediment occur in later architectural styles such as Classical, Neoclassical and Baroque. Gable roofs were common in ancient Greek temples with a low pitch. Pediments are placed above the horizontal structure of the lintel, or entablature, if supported by columns. The tympanum, the triangular area within the pediment, is often decorated with a pedimental sculpture which may be freestanding or a relief sculpture. The tympanum may hold an inscription, or in modern times, a clock face. A pediment is sometimes the top element of a portico. For symmetric designs, it provides a center point and is often used to add grandness to entrances.

Soffit Exterior or interior architectural feature

A soffit is an exterior or interior architectural feature, generally the horizontal, aloft underside of any construction element. Its archetypal form, sometimes incorporating or implying the projection of beams, is the underside of eaves. The vertical band at the edge of the roof is called a fascia.

Molding (decorative) Class of decorative elements in the ornamentation

Moulding, also known as coving(United Kingdom, Australia), is a strip of material with various profiles used to cover transitions between surfaces or for decoration. It is traditionally made from solid milled wood or plaster, but may be of plastic or reformed wood. In classical architecture and sculpture, the molding is often carved in marble or other stones.

Rafter Supporting structural member in roof construction

A rafter is one of a series of sloped structural members such as wooden beams that extend from the ridge or hip to the wall plate, downslope perimeter or eave, and that are designed to support the roof shingles, roof deck and its associated loads. A pair of rafters is called a couple. In home construction, rafters are normally made of wood. Exposed rafters are a feature of some traditional roof styles.

Canterbury railway station, Sydney Railway station in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Canterbury railway station is a heritage-listed railway station located on the Bankstown line at Canterbury in the City of Canterbury-Bankstown local government area of New South Wales, Australia. The station is served by Sydney Trains T3 Bankstown line services. The station was designed by New South Wales Government Railways and built from 1895 to 1915 by J. J. Scouller. It is also known as Canterbury Railway Station group. The property was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.

Eaves Protruding structure

The eaves are the edges of the roof which overhang the face of a wall and, normally, project beyond the side of a building. The eaves form an overhang to throw water clear of the walls and may be highly decorated as part of an architectural style, such as the Chinese dougong bracket systems.

Bargeboard Architectural element of a gable roof

Bargeboard or rake fascia is a board fastened to each projecting gable of a roof to give it strength and protection, and to conceal the otherwise exposed end grain of the horizontal timbers or purlins of the roof.

Attic Space or room below a pitched roof of house or other building.

An attic is a space found directly below the pitched roof of a house or other building; an attic may also be called a sky parlor or a garret. Because attics fill the space between the ceiling of the top floor of a building and the slanted roof, they are known for being awkwardly shaped spaces with exposed rafters and difficult-to-reach corners.


The ovolo or echinus is a convex decorative molding profile used in architectural ornamentation. Its profile is a quarter to a half of a more or less flattened circle.

This page is a glossary of architecture.


A cavetto is a concave moulding with a regular curved profile that is part of a circle, widely used in architecture as well as furniture, picture frames, metalwork and other decorative arts. In describing vessels and similar shapes in pottery, metalwork and related fields, "cavetto" may be used of a variety of concave curves running round objects. The word comes from Italian, as a diminutive of cave, from the Latin for "hollow". A vernacular alternative is "cove", most often used where interior walls curve at the top to make a transition to the roof, or for "upside down" cavettos at the bases of elements.

Fascia (architecture)

Fascia is an architectural term for a vertical frieze or band under a roof edge, or which forms the outer surface of a cornice, visible to an observer.


Geison is an architectural term of relevance particularly to ancient Greek and Roman buildings, as well as archaeological publications of the same. The geison is the part of the entablature that projects outward from the top of the frieze in the Doric order and from the top of the frieze course of the Ionic and Corinthian orders; it forms the outer edge of the roof on the sides of a structure with a sloped roof. The upper edge of the exterior often had a drip edge formed as a hawksbeak molding to shed water; there were also typically elaborate moldings or other decorative elements, sometimes painted. Above the geison ran the sima. The underside of the geison may be referred to as a soffit. The form of a geison is often used as one element of the argument for the chronology of its building.


Roofline is used to describe the fascia, soffits, bargeboards, antefixes and cladding that forms the frontage immediately below the roof and the eaves of many homes and buildings. These are traditionally made from wood, but can be made of a variety of different materials, including plastic, such as polyvinyl chloride.

Hip roof Type of roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls

A hip roof, hip-roof or hipped roof, is a type of roof where all sides slope downwards to the walls, usually with a fairly gentle slope. Thus, a hipped roof house has no gables or other vertical sides to the roof.

The Geelong Synagogue is a former synagogue at the corner of McKillop and Yarra Streets, Geelong, Victoria, Australia. It was designed by John Young and built in 1861 by Jones and Halpin. It is no longer used as a synagogue, but has been refurbished and is in use as offices. It was listed on the Victorian Heritage Register on 14 September 1995.

Etruscan architecture Architecture of the Etruscan civilization

Etruscan architecture was created between about 900 BC and 27 BC, when the expanding civilization of ancient Rome finally absorbed Etruscan civilization. The Etruscans were considerable builders in stone, wood and other materials of temples, houses, tombs and city walls, as well as bridges and roads. The only structures remaining in quantity in anything like their original condition are tombs and walls, but through archaeology and other sources we have a good deal of information on what once existed.

Muswellbrook Post Office is a heritage-listed post office at 7 Bridge Street, Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia. It was added to the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List on 08 November 2011.

Temora Post Office

Temora Post Office is a heritage-listed post office at 173 Hoskins Street, Temora, New South Wales, Australia. It was added to the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List on 8 November 2011.


  1. Compare Harper, Douglas. "cornice". Online Etymology Dictionary . Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  2. Christy, Wyvill James (1879). "Bargeboard" in A universal dictionary for architects, civil engineers, surveyors, sculptors ... London: Griffith and Farren.
  3. Allen, Edward; Thallon, Rob (2011). Fundamentals of Residential Construction. John Wiley & Sons. p. 251. ISBN   9780470905128.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Anderson, Leroy Oscar (2002) [1970]. Wood-frame house construction. New York: Books for Business. ISBN   0-89499-167-1.
  5. Brier, Bob, Hobbs, A. Hoyt, Daily Life of the Ancient Egyptians, p. 200, 2008, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN   0313353069, 9780313353062, google books
  6. Dominique Collon, et al. "Iran, ancient, II, 3." Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online, Oxford University Press, accessed 5 January 2017, subscription required
  7. Winter, Nancy A., "Monumentalization of the Etruscan Round Moulding in Sixth Century BCE Central Italy", pp. 61–67, in Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture: Ideology and Innovation, edited by Michael Thomas, Gretchen E. Meyers, 2012, University of Texas Press, ISBN   0292749821, 9780292749825, google books; Example in the reconstructed Etruscan temple at Villa Giulia
  8. Harris, Cyril M. (2003). American Architecture: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 77. ISBN   978-0393731033 . Retrieved 13 January 2014.
  9. Spence, William P. (1999). Neumann, Rodman P. (ed.). Carpentry & Building Construction: A Do-It-Yourself Guide. New York: Sterling. p. 273. ISBN   978-0-8069-9845-9.