Post 398 – by Gautam Shah 



Awnings are sun and snow shading devices of flexible fabric or sheet material that can be rolled or folded back when not required. Awnings are as old as human civilization. First awnings were of hides or woven mats to provide shade at select locations against solar and rain exposure. In ancient Egyptian, Syrian and many other ancient civilizations, awnings were used for shading market stalls.

outside an Indian dyer’s house

One of the earliest awnings like shading device was the Roman Velarium over the Colosseum. It provided both shade and slight protection from rain, although the main use of the Velarium was to create ventilation updraft, creating circulation and a cool breeze. Velarium effectively shaded one-third of the arena and seating and another third was shaded by the high surrounding walls. It could be extended or retracted with ropes and pulleys according to the position of the sun. To hold the Velarium 250 sockets were provided on the outer structure of Colosseum. The fabric panels were of triangular shape, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, for easy retraction. Awnings were also a common feature of all Roman theatres and amphitheatres.

Concept model of Colosseum Velarium

From the word Velarium (from velare to cover) it is believed that sailors, with their background in sail-making and rigging were employed to build, maintain and operate the structure. Roman poet Lucretius (50BC) describes ‘Linen-awning, stretched, over mighty theatres, gives forth at times, a cracking roar, when much ’tis beaten about, betwixt the poles and crossbeams.

Marriage Mandap or Shamiyana

Ancient Indian texts describe a form of Mandapa (or Mantapa)of temporary nature with four corner supports of wood or bamboo. Chandani (literally moon-shade, or chandarava) is an Indian shading structure, tied by four stretched strings, has been described in ancient Jain literature.

Indian Miniature painting

Mughal miniature paintings show Shamiana or Pandal is a tent shelter for daytime and evening entertainment. Shamiana was used as temporary resting place by royals when on the move. The external fabrics of velvet were multicoloured with exquisite designs. Shamiana are supported with four wooden poles, and often an extra central one like a tent.

visit of Viceroy to Maharaja of Kashmir under a shamiana

Awnings are shading devices placed over openings like doors, windows and shop fronts. Awnings are also used for forming the entrance spaces like porch, verandah or porticoes. Awnings permit shop keepers and restaurant owners to stretch their premises. It shades the glass fronts, keeps away the glare and allows greater visibility to goods displayed in deep interiors. Awnings allow personalization of the shop or restaurant by its form and colour. In Asia awnings or shades create a place of merchandising on any open grounds, and so fairs, festivals and holiday markets are entirely formed of such temporary structures.

Ritz Hotel Paris


Awnings, have been consistently used in various climates of the world. In Asian bazars awnings have been in use for many centuries, for summer sun shading and rain shading during monsoons, but became very popular during the early 1900’s when shop windows or shop fronts became possible with the economic availability of clear large sized glass.


Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fourth Inaugural Address, shows the White House’s south face before the Truman Balcony was built

Awnings are used to extend the buildings. Early awnings had hard wood or bamboo as front cross bar, whereas the support edge was secured by grommets (eyelets) and hooks, or tied by laces to the head rod or support bar. The front end was supported either by inclined spears or metal posts.


Awnings as Hard awnings are made from stiffer sheet materials and have rigid and permanent support system. Awnings with column or bracket supports are canopies. In India hard awnings are also called Chhajjas.

Awning Shangrila hotel in Paris


A canopy is a fixed awning like structure, supported on all sides. Canopies are used to extend the shaded space near an opening system. Canopies are used to cover the passageways or car drive bays. Canopies are demountable and foldable but not necessarily retractable or collapsible like an awning. Dutch type or canopy awnings are similar to a perambulator hood, with an umbrella like folding frames.

Structure of an awning is very light. It has a flexible cover and a very light weight support frame that can be retracted or folded. The cover is made with a canvas or similar heavy duty fabric of cotton, polyester or polypropylene fibres. Layered composites of fabrics and polymer sheets, and coated fabrics are also used. Modern awnings are of single colour or with stripes of two or more colours. Awnings often have a festoon, valance or Toran like borders at its front edge. Awnings on shops, restaurants and hotels have their name and logo on the roof face and on the front edge.




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