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A Brief History of Awnings

These fabulous architectural appendages are not only retro and decorative, but also help reduce energy cost while maintaining comfortable interior temperatures.

November 10, 2014

Colorful Window with AwningThere’s more to awnings than just providing shade.

These fabulous architectural appendages are not only retro and decorative, but also help reduce energy cost while maintaining comfortable interior temperatures.

By keeping the sun’s heat and damaging UV radiation out of your home or patio, these products cool your environment while protecting your valuable furniture pieces, furnishings, floor coverings and window treatments from being damaged.

A Brief History of Awnings

Awnings would seem to be a recent invention, but they actually have a long, interesting history of gracing homes since the ancient times. The first documented awnings were used in Syria and Egypt in ancient times. These awnings typically consisted of hides and woven mats that were hung on poles to create an oasis from the burning sun.

Among the most captivating and significant awnings used in ancient times was the one referred to as the velarium. This huge complex of retractable structures was used to provide shade to arena and seating areas of the Roman Colosseum. It was made of linen shade cloths, timber framing, pulleys, iron sockets and ropes; and could effectively provide protection against the sun’s heat to one-third of the Colosseum’s arena and seating. According to historians sailors were employed to build, maintain and operate this massive “awning” because they had skills and knowledge in sailmaking and rigging required for the project.

At first awnings were generally utilised for domestic purposes. It was not until the middle of 1800s that awnings started to become a common feature in both homes and businesses. They were used in many storefronts to attract customers as they would provide protection against heat or rain during shopping.

In the early days (18th and 19th centuries), awnings were generally made from canvas duck fabric or sail cloth, which was widely available and cheap. These awnings were typically simple utilitarian shading devices. They consisted of cast iron or timber posts set along the sidewalk, verandah, or patio edge and linked by a front cross bar. Angled rafters would be used to link the front cross bar to the building’s facade to lend support to larger assemblies. The canvas fabric would be connected to the facade using nails, or grommets and hooks, or by lacing it to a head rod bolted to the facade.

Colorful Window with AwningBut as time passed and technology advanced during the mid-century industrialization, simple canvas awnings were replaced by sturdy, long lasting and easy-to-maintain awnings featuring an array of frame and fabric options. First, the timber framing was replaced by metal piping in the late 1800’s. Specialized awning hardware was also developed, permitting a better fit and look and making it easy to take down the awning covers in the winter and reinstalling them when spring arrived. As the same time there were major advances in painting of the traditional canvas duck fabric, which spurred the aesthetic use of canvas awnings for homes and businesses.

In the early 1900s, retractable awnings were invented in the United States and became very popular all over the world, since they provided a great deal of convenience in the raveling-unraveling and the luxury of protection. The early retractable awnings had extension arms that were hinged onto the facade, where the awnings joined the facade. The arms would be raised to retract the awning or lowered to project the awning using a simple rope and pulley system.

But this arrangement had its own drawbacks. First, the awnings bunched up against the facade when retracted and therefore remained exposed to the elements. Secondly, the retracted awning would obscure a portion of the window or door opening, and also produced an unkempt appearance. This necessitated the development of new roller retractable awnings that would retract fully, with only the valance remaining visible.

Today retractable awnings are widely utilised as a practical and aesthetic part of many homes and businesses. Modern retractable awnings come in a variety of shapes, sizes, frames and fabrics. Powder-coated aluminum is the most common material used in these structures since it’s more lightweight, longer-lasting and lower-maintenance than iron plumbing pipes or other traditional materials.

Tough and durable synthetic fabrics such as acrylics, vinyl laminates and polyesters have been developed, and have become the choice fabrics for these products. Because these fabrics enjoy a broader color range and lifespan than traditional cotton fabrics, awnings have started moving into the fashion market. Many property owners are choosing awnings largely based on color and design, though these products are still sold basically as a functional home accessory. In designing buildings and homes, awnings are now considered an important architectural feature.