Did Ramses II have awnings on his palace? We don’t know for certain, but we do know that ancient Egyptians had awnings on their buildings. These first versions were simple woven mats that provided shade on homes and public market stalls. Whether they’re facing the Nile or the Hudson River, awnings have a long and fascinating history.
Awnings Before the 20th Century
There’s documentation of awnings in ancient Egypt, but the first fabric versions come from Rome. During the first century B.C.E., the poet Lucretius mentions linen awnings cracking loudly during rough winds. Since then, they’ve become commonplace on buildings throughout the world.
Awnings began taking their familiar forms in 19th century America. The first ones were crudely constructed with posts on the sidewalk, a connecting crossbar and canvas fabric. Nails or hooks often linked these awnings to commercial storefronts like those on Broadway during the 1800s. You can imagine that awning cleaning New York was a difficult task at the time.
These old-school awnings gave way to the first retractable awnings, followed by roller awnings that could extend all the way over the sidewalk. During this time, the popular stripe design came into being. Recognizable as the quintessential awning style, the striped awning made the leap from commercial to residential buildings as people installed them on their homes. On the business side, awnings became personalized with text, company logos and other elements.
The Advent of Modern Awnings
You’ve seen modern awnings in their wide range of shapes, styles, colors and materials. Clean, minimalist mid-century aesthetics called for equally sleek awnings made from more durable materials such as aluminum, vinyl and plastic. Innovations in digital design and manufacturing led to backlit awnings and sophisticated graphics, but they’ve also helped resurrect the vintage striped awnings of the 19th century.
Awnings are a time-tested method for providing shade outdoors. Meanwhile, they also add curb appeal to home and commercial buildings. With proper upkeep, new awnings can last for years to come.