Roofing in Romania: Lessons From the Past

[Editor’s Note: In May, Thomas W. Hutchinson presented a paper at the 2017 International Conference on Building Envelope Systems and Technologies (ICBEST) in Istanbul, Turkey, as did his good friend, Dr. Ana-Maria Dabija. After the conference, Hutchinson delivered a lecture to the architectural students at the University of Architecture in Bucharest, Romania, and spent several days touring Romania, exploring the country’s historic buildings and new architecture. Convinced that readers in the United States would appreciate information on how other countries treat roofing, he asked Dr. Dabija to report on roof systems in Romania in the first of what is hoped to be a series of articles on roofing in foreign countries.]

Photo 1. Sanctuary in Sarmizegetusa Regia. Photo: Oroles. Public Domain.

Photo 1. Sanctuary in Sarmizegetusa Regia. Photo: Oroles. Public Domain.

Romania is somewhere in the Southeastern part of Europe, in a stunning landscape: an almost round-shaped country, with a crown of mountains—Carpathians—that close the Transylvanian highlands, with rivers that flow towards the plains, that merge into the Danube and flow to the Black Sea.

Conquered by the Romans in 106 A.D, crossed by the migrators between the fourth and the eighth centuries, split in three historic provinces—Walachia, Moldova and Transylvania—and squeezed between empires, Romania absorbed features from all the people and civilizations that passed through or stayed in its territories.

The language—Latin in its structure—has ancient Dacian words that blend in with words from languages from other countries that had influence in our history: Greek, French, Turkish, English, Slavonic, Serbian, German, Hungarian. Traditional foods vary by region; for instance, in Transylvania you won’t find fish, while at the seaside, in the Danube Delta, on the banks of the rivers, fish is traditional. Each historic province uses different ingredients and developed recipes that can be found in Austria and Hungary, in Greece and Turkey, in Russia and Ukraine.

The same applies to buildings. In Transylvania, the Austrian Empire hallmarked the houses in the villages, the mansions, the palaces, the churches, the administrative buildings. One of the most popular sites for foreign tourists is the Bran Castle, infamous home of Dracula. In Walachia, the buildings have strong Balkan influences. Close to the Black Sea, the Turkish and the Greek communities that settled there brought the style of the countries they came from. Moldova was under the influence of the Russian Empire reaching back to Peter the Great.

Photo 2. Densuș church, Hațeg County, has a roof made of stone plates. Photo: Alexandru Baboș, Creative Common Attribution.

Photo 2. Densuș church, Hațeg County, has a roof made of stone plates. Photo: Alexandru Baboș, Creative Common Attribution.

Romania is situated in the Northern hemisphere, about halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. The climate features hot, dry summers with temperatures that can rise to 113 degrees Fahrenheit in the South, and cold winters, with temperatures that can drop to minus 22 degrees in the depressions of Transylvania, with heavy snow and strong winds. There are some spots with milder temperatures, close to the sea and in the western part of the country.

Why all this introduction? Because specific geographic conditions lead to specific building systems. People living in areas with abundant rain and snow need materials and systems that resist and shed water; after all, the steeper the slope, the faster the water is evacuated off the roof.

Cultural influences color the patrimony, but climatic conditions define the geometry and the materials that are used for roofs. As there are different climatic conditions as well as diverse cultural influences, the building typologies of the roofs are, in their turn, diverse.

Ancient Settlements

Photo 3. Below-ground cottage in the Village Museum in Bucharest. Photo: Ana-Maria Dabija.

Photo 3. Below-ground cottage in the Village Museum in Bucharest. Photo: Ana-Maria Dabija.

Although these territories were inhabited for millennia, the roofs did not “travel” in time as long as the walls. The six ancient citadels of the Dacians, located almost in the center of Romania in the southwestern side of the Transylvanian highlands, still preserve ruins of the limestone, andesite or wooden columns of the shrines, altars, palaces and agoras. No roofs survived. (See Photo 1.) We can only presume that the materials that were used for the roofing were wood shingles or thatch, which would explain both why artefacts of the roofs could not be found and also why the deterioration is so advanced.

After Rome conquered Dacia, emperor Trajanus built a citadel that was supposed to represent continuity with the previous civilization: the Sarmizegetusa Ulpia Traiana. It seems to have had an active life, considering the temples, palaces and dwellings that we inherited, including an amphitheater for 5,000 people. Still, no roofing traces survived.

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Creating Visual Impact with Copper and Silver Roofing Membranes

Whether you’re re-roofing a historic building that needs to maintain its aesthetics or you’re working on a new roof construction that has to make a statement, there are many instances in which a building owner would want his or her roof to generate a specific architectural appeal. The most difficult part of this is balancing durability and beauty with cost. Roof systems today have evolved to solve this conundrum. Now, copper and silver synthetic PVC membranes are being used to achieve the desired appearance of a metal standing-seam roof at a fraction of the cost without sacrificing performance.

Alternatives to Metal Roof Systems

Michigan State University replaced the existing slate roof system with SOPREMA SENTINEL Copper Art to provide the desired appearance and required long-term performance.

Michigan State University replaced the existing slate roof system with SOPREMA SENTINEL Copper Art to provide the desired appearance and required long-term performance.


Copper and silver synthetic membranes are great cost-effective alternatives to metal roofs. As flexible synthetic systems, these roof membranes are economical and easy to install by conforming to complex geometries.

Certain synthetic PVC roof membranes on the market today are offered in a variety of colors, some of which can mimic the look of metal roofing. While these roof membranes offer the proven long-term performance of flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC), they provide the metal appearance via the addition of pigments that can chalk or fade as the pigmented membrane ages, therefore losing the desired aesthetic feature.

Conversely, SOPREMA SENTINEL Copper and Silver Art PVC membranes incorporate copper or aluminum metallic powder into the PVC formulation, producing an enhanced metallic look. Unlike pigmented membranes, SENTINEL Copper Art provides the same weathering capabilities as traditional standing seam copper—the SENTINEL Copper Art will patina as a traditional copper roof would. Silver Art is unique because the color will not fade due to the addition of metallic powder, and its surface layer is factory embedded with an acrylic shield treatment to resist dirt pickup and chalking. Copper Art and Silver Art membranes provide the long-lasting aesthetic appearance and waterproofing abilities of a metal roof.

Applications for Copper and Silver Membranes

Copper and silver roof membranes are often used on buildings where aesthetics are important. Historic buildings, churches, schools, government buildings and army bases are a few examples of where this type of roof membrane has been installed. These buildings may require a particular appearance or designers may simply wish to update the appearance or provide some panache. Mansards or other areas of visible existing light-gauge metal roof systems may be present on these buildings and flexible copper and silver roof membranes may be used as an alternative aesthetic solution.

SENTINEL Silver Art met Glenside Public Library’s leak-free and architectural needs, plus the roofing contractor liked that the SENTINEL membrane was easy to install and looked great upon completion.

SENTINEL Silver Art met Glenside Public Library’s leak-free and architectural needs, plus the roofing contractor liked that the SENTINEL membrane was easy to install and looked great upon completion.

For example, since 2007, the slate roof of the Snyder-Phillips residence hall at Michigan State University had been leaking. The university needed to replace the existing slate roofing system with a new system that would meet the aesthetic requirements of the historic building. SOPREMA SENTINEL Copper Art was installed as a cap sheet to provide the desired appearance and the required long-term performance.

In addition, the Glenside Public Library had an existing standing-seam roof that was tied-in to a low-slope ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) roof. The tie-in between the two materials was problematic and continuously leaked. The library wanted to preserve the standing-seam appearance, but the noise created by wind and rain on the metal roof was a concern.

SOPREMA SENTINEL Silver Art was selected because it could provide the desired look while eliminating the tie-in issues between the steep- and low-slope roofing materials. SENTINEL Silver Art met the library’s leak-free and architectural needs, plus the roofing contractor liked that the SENTINEL membrane was easy to install and looked great upon completion. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, SENTINEL Silver Art also offered the benefit of significant noise reduction when compared to the former metal roof system.

Roofing Technology Advancements

As roofing technology advances, the options for creating a desired aesthetic have evolved. SENTINEL PVC Copper and Silver Art are high-performance roof membranes that provide the appearance of metal with the flexible, long-term performance of PVC, without the weight, expense or complexity of a traditional metal roof.