What is the difference between a port cochere, a canopy, a portico, and a baldachino? Each one of these terms describes a structure that is usually subsidiary to the main building and that serves both an ornamental and practical function. The practical functions include protection from the weather; the ornamental functions include providing aesthetically pleasing architectural features.
From the times of ancient Greece to the present, a portico (from Italian) has served as a walkway and/or porch in the front of a building. The roof structure can be supported by columns or walls.
Often larger than a portico, a porte-cochère (English and French: “coach gate”; also called a “carriage porch”) is a covered structure at the primary or secondary entrance to a building that allows occupants to exit a horse and carriage (or motor vehicle) while being protected from the weather. The picture below shows the porte-cochere at the Rice House in Richmond VA designed by Richard Neutra. The rectilinear design complements the lines of the exquisite home.
We are all familiar with canopies which often have a metal or fabric covering to provide shade or shelter from the elements. The word “canopy” comes from the Ancient Greek meaning “cover to keep insects off.” Unlike a portico or porte-cochere, a canopy can stand alone, apart from a building. A canopy can be used as a gazebo, a cabana, or simply a tent. A popular trend in architecture today is to combine curved steel elements with high-tech fabric to create efficient and beautiful structures.
Lastly, A baldachin, or baldaquin (from Italian: baldacchino), is most commonly found over high altars in cathedrals. What began as a cloth canopy of state over an altar or throne has evolved into a more permanent feature within larger buildings.
Architectural curved steel often provides the structural support for these features. At times the steel is exposed; at times it is covered. In either case, curved steel allows architects to design architectural elements that are both functional and beautiful.