Many people have asked us what the difference is between gazebos and pergolas, not to mention other structures such as summerhouses, belvederes, pavilions, follies, kiosks, conservatories, and even pagodas.
This short article will clarify the differences (and similarities) between these various structures.
So, let’s start with gazebos.
A gazebo is a type of pavilion structure, which is sometimes hexagonal or octagonal, but often round, and it usually has a domed roof.
They can be either freestanding, or attached to a garden wall, and they are, traditionally, open on all sides, such as the Victorian gazebo, in England, shown above.
In terms of their purpose, then, they provide shade and shelter, and larger ones, e.g. in public parks, can even be used as bandstands. However, some are purely ornamental.
Now, the problem comes because “gazebo” is a catch-all term for other structures too – such as pergolas, kiosks, belvederes, folies, rotundas, pagodas, and probably more.
However, there are differences, so let’s examine them, one by one.
A pergola is lattice-type framework, consisting of uprights and crossbeams, which support climbing plants, especially vines.
Some may be attached to the side of a house, while others are freestanding. They can be quite small, or they can be long, covered walkways, sometimes connecting two pavilions.
Although traditionally made of wood, you will also find metal ones (e.g. wrought iron) and ones where the supporting pillars are made of brick.
You need to know too that pergolas can also be known as arbours or bowers.
A belvedere therefore refers to any architectural structure that is situated so as to take advantage of such a view. The one shown here is the Potsdam Belvedere, in Germany
They might be built as standalone structures, or they can also form the upper part of a building – as long as they command a beautiful view.
Moving on, we come to the folly, and once again, the name gives you a good clue.
Follies are buildings (or parts of building), that are deliberately purely ornamental (e.g. Connolly’s Folly, in Ireland, picture to the right) – that is, they serve no useful function, even though some might give the appearance of being useful.
People often assume that a folly has to be extravagantly eccentric, but this needn’t be true. In a similar vein, they may often, but not always, contain some element of “fakery” (e.g. they may look like a bunch of old ruins, whereas they were actually built to look like that).
Another term you may come across, and which has taken on a different meaning these days, is kiosk.
In the Middle East, a kiosk is actually a small, separated garden pavilion that is open on some, or even all, sides, whereas in Swahili, it has a meaning closer to its current one, i.e. a booth with an open window on one side, used to sell, for example, newspapers.
The one shown here is known as Trajan’s Kiosk, and it can be found in Egypt, near Aswan.
Talking of pavilions, this is yet another related type of structure that can refer to several different buildings, including, confusingly, gazebos.
However, a pavilion is normally a free-standing structure situated some way away from a main residence. They can be both large or small, but there is usually a connection with relaxation and pleasure in its intended use.
At the smaller end of the scale, then a pavilion, especially one designed to take advantage of a beautiful view, is often called a gazebo; at the larger end, you might be talking about something as grandiose as the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, England, which is basically a lavish oriental-style palace.
But in both cases, the intention is pleasure.
Next, we have conservatories, and as with some of the other structures we’ve mentioned, they can be large (e.g. the one at Syon Park, London) or small.
Historically, they’ve been made of metal and glass, but nowadays, they are frequently made of PVC instead.
Larger ones were mainly used for growing delicate and/or rare plants, and are, when used to house citrus trees, for example, also known as orangeries.
Smaller ones are usually built on to houses these days, as small sunrooms.
In fact, these are close to what would be known as summerhouses – i.e. somewhere to relax in warmer weather.
There are even more types of structure, such as rotundas, chalets, poolhouses, dachas, and pagodas (which, by the way, are oriental multi-storey religious towers, whose only connection to pergolas is the similar-sounding name).
We guess that’s why, to make sense of all these confusing and overlapping terms, many people simply use the word gazebo (which also has a nice sound to it anyway, even if nobody is exactly sure where this word came from).
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