Iconic roof of Thean Hou Temple
Design Inspiration

Unique and Interesting Roofs From Around the World


The world’s most beautiful landmarks are often topped off with unique roofs that embody not just beauty, but also their architect’s style and mastery of roofing technology. Those roofers who labored to install the intricate roofs on these buildings must have had equal skill.

Whether made to protect the homes of princes or the poor, roofs can shape history. Some of the roofs we have gathered here have broken world records, others have been knocked down by tyrants. Others have stood to inspire roof structure design for centuries.

Plus, unique roofing isn’t just about structure. Many experiment with unconventional materials such as glass, gold, reeds, sparkling ceramic tiles, and more. You will find unusual color, texture and even symbolism in these roofs. Join us as we travel the world of roofing to explore the most unique roof designs.

1. Wat Rong Khun

Location: Thailand
Style: Contemporary and traditional Buddist
Materials: Specialized plaster, glass, and mirrors

Wat Rong Khun Thailand

Wat Rong Khun is known in English as the White Temple. It is a personal project of artist and devout Buddhist Chalermachai Kositpipat. He began building the structure in 1997 and is still expanding it.

White Temple Thailand

Each element of the temple is full of intricate, hand-sculpted detail that Kositpitpat and his team labor over. The roof is no exception, with traditional religious elements, such as depictions of Buddha, hidden among the flourishes. There are also mythical creatures and modern pop culture figures sculpted throughout the several buildings that make up the temple.

hand-sculpted detail at Wat Rong Khun

Why make the structure all white? Kosipitpat says the white symbolizes Buddha’s purity. The glass and mirrors embedded in the sculptures represent Buddha’s wisdom. While the temple is a very popular tourist attraction, monks also practice Buddhism in its halls.

2. Hospice de Beaune

Location: Beaune, France
Style: Flamboyant Gothic
Materials: Traditional glazed tile

Built in the 15th century as a charity hospital for the poor of Beaune, this building now serves as a hotel and museum. To continue with the building’s charitable tradition, the owners hold an annual charity wine auction here.

Hospice de Beaune France

The carefully arranged brown, red, yellow and green tiles of this roof create striking geometrical patterns amid the building’s dormers and turrets. In the past, owning a building with such a roof became a status symbol for French princes and wealthy city dwellers. Since then, Burgundy (Bourgogne), France has become famous for this type of roofing.

geometrical patterns on the roof of the Hospice de Beaune in France

3. New York Life Building

Location: New York, USA
Style: Neo-Gothic
Material: Gold leaf tiles

New York Life Building

The New York Life Building has reigned in New York with a golden crown since 1928. The influential designer Cass Gilbert is the mastermind behind the golden cap. It is an 88 feet tall octagon, covered in thousands of 22-carat gold leaf tiles.

This exquisite roof is, no surprise, flashed with copper. Both the copper flashing and gold tiles do become tarnished by time, but New York Life continues to clean and restore the roof regularly.

The New York Life Building's golden crown

In fact, for the company’s 140th anniversary, the company lit up the building at night, making an impressive statement on the New York skyline.

4. Casa Batllo

Location: Barcelona, Spain
Style: Modernist
Materials: Stone, glass, ceramics

Casa Batllo Barcelona Spain

This fantastical, vibrant roof is part of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, the Casa Batllo or House of Bones. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a very popular tourist attraction in Barcelona.

Casa Batllo in Barcelona Spain

Though Gaudi never explained how he envisioned the building, the roof is widely believed to represent the back of a dragon. The iridescent ceramic tiles are the dragon’s scales, there is a window for the dragon’s eye and the ridge of the roof is the dragon’s spine.

dragon scales on the roof of Casa Batllo in Barcelona Spain

While some believe that the spire represents the dragon’s tail, others believe it represents the mythical spear of Saint George. As the patron saint of Gaudi’s hometown, Saint George slew a dragon to save a princess.

House of Bones roof in Barcelona Spain

No matter your interpretation of the building, the colorful sparkling ceramic tiles and fantastical shapes of this unique roof invite you to dwell in your own imagination as you walk on it.

5. Verdmont

Location: Smith’s Parish, Bermuda
Style: Bermudian
Materials: Limestone

Once a mansion, now a museum, the Verdmont is an excellent example of the vivid Bermudian roof style. As there are no sources of fresh water on the island, Bermudians use their roofs to collect rainwater. With this purpose in mind, they developed a stepped white roof style, cut from limestone and covered with either lime mortar or paint.

Verdmont Smith’s Parish, Bermuda

By Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Further, because the roof is white, the trim on much of the Verdmont is black, which is a very unusual stylistic choice. The former Verdmont slave quarters, pictured below, demonstrate that even Bermudian chimneys are cut from stone and painted that refreshing white.

Verdmont roof used to collect water Smith’s Parish, Bermuda

By Jerrye and Roy Klotz MD – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

More recent Bermudian buildings, modeled after this iconic style, choose other pastel colors for their facades. As a result, walking down Bermuda’s streets is a colorful architectural experience.

6. Waldspirale

Location: Darmstadt, Germany
Style: Green roof with Russian elements
Materials: Recycled concrete

Waldspirale Darmstadt, Germany

By LearnGermanCoac 8 Mar 2016
Friedrich Hundertwasser house in Darmstadt, Germany

Waldespirale is German for “forest spiral.” This eccentric apartment building was named for its huge “U” shaped green roof. Some of the lucky inhabitants get their own slice of the roof garden, which is deep enough to grow trees, grasses, and vegetables.

Waldespirale inGermany

According to a documentary on the building, the building’s artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, wanted to connect people with nature. He believed that green roofs, or those roofs that support plant life, would become the norm for all buildings.

Darmstadt Waldspirale Hundertwasser

CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

His colorful vision, complete with Russian-style onion towers and wavy walls, ensures that the building looks beautiful even in the winter.

7. Thean Hou Temple

Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Style: Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist influences
Materials: Traditional glazed clay roofing tiles

Thean Hou Temple Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In Chinese tradition, Thean Hou is a goddess, called the heavenly mother, who protects fisherman. To honor her, the Hainanese people of Malaysia built this impressive temple in 1981. The tiered roof style is called a pagoda, and its typical of many religious buildings in Asia. The pointed corners may have originally meant to protect the outer wooden beams of the building from the rain.

Thean Hou Temple's roof in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Than Hou Temple is an unusual example of this style, with six tiers instead of the traditional three. Each tier is covered in traditional Chinese clay roofing tiles, which are pressed into a semi-circle shape on a wooden mold, dried and glazed. The edge tiles have angled faces to shed water better and, in this case, are pressed with detailed molds to add even more texture.

Thean Hou Temple's unique roof

The corners of several of the eaves support ornately carved dragons. Their vibrant color and sense of movement inspires worshipers as they light incense and let the smoke rise to the dragons’ level.

8. Kul-Sharif Mosque

Location: Kazan, Russia
Style: Tartar and Russian
Materials: Glazed ceramic tile

Kul-Sharif Mosque in Kazan, Russia

The mosque was rebuilt in 2005, after being destroyed centuries before, in 1552, by the Russian army led by Ivan the Terrible. It now serves as a museum, library, place of worship and memorial. Visitors have compared the mosque to a Disney castle. Some historians believe it may have even influenced the famous St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Kul-Sharif Mosque in Kazan, Russia

The teal blue roof makes quite a statement against the white stone and concrete used for the rest of the facade. The central dome and the four minarets are topped with gorgeous golden Islamic half-moons. The Kul-Sharif mosque demonstrates that sometimes simplicity makes for the most striking roofs.

9. House of Five Senses

Location: Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands
Style: Rumah Gadang
Materials: Reeds

roof of the House of Five Senses in Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands

Stefan Scheer, Wikimedia

The Efteling circus in the Netherlands was inspired by the traditional thatched roof style of Indonesia when they made this incredible roof. This building, the House of the Five Senses, the largest example of this kind of roofing in the world.

The Efteling circus roof in the Netherlands was inspired by traditional thatched roofs

A traditional thatched roof from Indonesia uses layers of reeds, supported by battens, to surge up to a delicate point on either side.

This particular roof has five points, one for each of the senses. Plus, each point is inlaid with lights, to show off the shape to night-time circus goers.

House of Five Senses circus roof lit up at night in Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands

By Hans Hagenaars, CC BY 3.0, Link

10. Matthias Church

Location: Budapest, Hungary
Style: Florid Late Gothic
Materials: Zsolnay ceramic tiles

Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary

The original Matthias Church was built in 1255. Over the years it decayed and was rebuilt several times by those from several different religions. Kings held their coronations in its halls. At other times the church was in serious disrepair. Legend says a wall in the church collapsed, revealing a long-hidden statue of the Madonna, which shamed an invading army into surrendering.

diamond patterned roof tile of the Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary

In 1896, the diamond patterned ceramic roof tiles were added by architect Frgyes Schulek. He also added gargoyles and restored other elements of the church to its original Gothic style.

roof detail of the Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary

The roof’s bright teal, orange, red, green tiles make intricate patterns on the rooftop including flowers, chevrons and crosses. The skill of the tile installers must have been immense. Between the extraordinary roof and the other incredible architectural details of this building, the church is awe-inspiring.

11. Vancouver Convention Center

Location: Vancouver, Canada
Style: Green Roof
Materials: Vegetation

the Vancouver Convention Center in Canada with its Green Roof

Behold the biggest non-industrial green roof in North America. It spans across six acres and is planted with over 400,000 grasses and other plants native to Vancouver. Four European honey bee hives are living on the roof. Plus, an extension of the building houses a marine habitat to help revive the ocean life nearby.

the Vancouver Convention Center in Canada

A green roof insulates and protects from summer heat like no other. The Vancouver Convention Center houses a lot of people though, so for its seawater heating and cooling system it also takes advantage of seawater to produce cooling for the building during warmer months and heating in cooler months. In no small part due to its extraordinary roof, the Convention Centre has been called the world’s most eco-friendly meeting venue.

12. Kizhi Pogost Church

Location: Kizhi Island, Russia
Style: 18th century Russian
Materials: Wood

Kizhi Pogost Church in Kizhi Island, Russia

This sparkling silver roof sits atop the world’s largest wholly wooden building. The Kizhi Pogost Church’s roof was constructed out of Scot’s pine and spruce in the 18th century. Fire, lightning, and time have worn at the wood, but the community has continued to repair it.

Kizhi Pogost Church with its unique wooden roof - Kizhi Island, Russia

The 22 roof domes, called cupolas, are the only part of the building with nails. Every wooden shingle is finely textured, and there are over 60,000 of them. Legend has it that the man, Master Nestor, who built the church used a single axe throughout the whole project. When it was done, he threw the axe in the lake, saying “there was not and will be not another one to match it.” He was talking about the building.

13. Himeji White Heron Castle

Location: Himeji, Japan
Style: Feudal Japanese
Materials: Wood, tile, plaster

Himeji White Heron Castle in Himeji, Japan

The White Heron Castle is so named because it reminds visitors of a white egret (a kind of heron) taking off into the sky. The building looks quite modern, but only because it has been meticulously maintained and renovated over the years. It was actually first built in 1609, during Japan’s feudal period.

Himeji White Heron Castle roof in Himeji, Japan

The new tiles are still made by traditional methods. The black edge tiles are carefully placed and pressed down to make the rippling texture.

restored roof of the Himeji White Heron Castle in Himeji, Japan

The roof tiles had once faded to grey, but they were restored to a brilliant white most recently in 2010. In the image above you can see the faded grey tiles on the left and the bright white restored tiles on the right.

14. Faisal Mosque

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan
Style: Contemporary
Materials: Concrete, marble

Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan

The newest trends in Islamic architecture have focused on new roof shapes, in part thanks to the Faisal mosque. Instead of the traditional dome, the mosque’s geometrical center is inspired by a Bedouin tent. The roof’s exterior is made of polished marble, with a unique texture that makes it look like large stone slabs.

marble roof of the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan

A competition was held to choose the design for the building. Turkish architect Vedat Dalokey submitted the winning design and King Faisal of Saudia Arabia funded the project. Those in the Islamic community who have traditional tastes took some time to warm up to the design, but the mosque is now widely acclaimed for its beauty.

15. Shwedagon Pagoda

Location: Yangon, Myanmar
Style: 6th to 10th century Buddhist
Materials: Bricks, gold

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

This Buddhist shrine has been standing for centuries, prompting visitors to wonder how people of limited technology could have collected such wealth. Today the shrine is hailed as the best place for tourists to visit in Myanmar.

Shwedagon Pagoda's gold roof - Yangon, Myanmar

The traditional layered roof on the left is a pagoda. The tall, golden point of the roof to the right is called a stupa. The structure was built in brick, but real gold plates cover its entire 99-meter length. At the very point of the roof is a massive diamond.

gold stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

The public is not allowed to enter the main stupa, but legend has it that monks that guard the stupa also guard eight hairs from Buddha’s head and other prized relics.

16. California Academy of Sciences

Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Style: Green roof
Materials: Glass, solar panels, vegetation

green roof of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California

The rolling green roof at the California Academy of Sciences looks both high-tech and natural at the same time, an impressive feat. 1.7 million trays hold the vegetation, a variety of native plants that provide habitat for local insects and animals.

Beneath the seven raised domes of this green roof are aquariums, planetariums and a rainforest all designed for research, learning and exploration. Plus, the roof keeps the building temperature regulated and captures 100 percent of the excess storm water that pours onto it. This design proves that a cutting-edge roof isn’t just about looks. Roofs can also contribute to our knowledge about the world around us.

inside the raised dome roof of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California

Source: Wikimedia

Ever since humans constructed buildings, we have developed unique roofs to shelter them. Across the world, different societies cultivated roofing traditions that speak of their culture, climate, values, art and religion. Over time, new roofing techniques and materials have pushed whole societies in new directions.

green roofs on top of apartment buildings

While once religious figures and organizations built the most impressive roofs, increasingly private companies, governments and even homeowners are harnessing roofs to meet their needs. The roofs on this list that were most recently constructed are all geared to a purpose. They save energy, connect us with nature, entertain us and help us learn something new. Of course, they accomplish all of that while being beautiful and sheltering us from the elements. Roofs will always protect us, but they have the potential to do so much more.

At IKO, we look forward to the future of roofing and hope to inspire you to share it with us. Keep your eye on the skyline. You never know what fantastical roofs will pop up next.

If you’re interested in seeing the passion IKO puts into our own roofing products, take a look at our shingles.