A pediment is the highly visible and memorable “triangle” found above porticos — two-story porches — doorways, windows and dormers. Developed by ancient Greeks as the decorative end to a gable roof, the pediment is widely used in classical, neoclassical, baroque and revival styles of architecture.

The Parthenon, 432 B.C., is the most recognizable example among the classic temples of ancient Greece to showcase the pediment design. The Romans expanded the use of the distinctive pediment shape to decorate door and window openings as well as niches.

The pediment, however, is not limited to a pure triangular profile. Variations to the rigid lines include replacing the angular rake with arched, scrolled or segmental shapes.

Further development of the traditional pediment includes “breaking” or stopping the angled rake elements short of the peak, a detail known as a “broken” pediment. Additional refinements of the broken pediment include the “swan neck” pediment, which introduces two “S”-shaped profiles resembling a swan’s neck.

Decorative pediments can be found on dormers and furniture designs as well; most notably Chippendale. The postmodern architecture movement of the 1980s reintroduced the strong geometric form the pediment in new and different ways. Pediments are timeless in their use and continue to find a place in architectural styles past, present and future.

  • What are the pediment variations called? Broken, open, closed, swan’s neck, segmental and arched.
  • Where can you find non-triangular pediments? These variations are most often found over doors, windows and porches.
  • What’s an example of a postmodern pediment? One example is Philip Johnson’s AT&T building (now Sony Tower) in New York City, with its towering “broken neck” pediment 37 stories above street level.
  • For more images of pediments in Lancaster County and beyond, scroll through the photo gallery above.
  • This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, AIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. Email GScott@rlps.com.