What is the Difference Between a Pergola and a Pagoda

Last Updated on October 4, 2022

The words “pergola” and “pagoda” are sometimes misconstrued as being similar structures. Maybe it is because the words are rather similar, but a pagoda versus pergola comparison is a difficult line to draw. Sure, both are freestanding structures and they share a linguistic flare, but the similarities really end there. That said, pagodas can be a great design inspiration for a pergola project.

What is a pergola?

A pergola is an outdoor living structure featuring a roof supported by columns. Pergola designs range from solid fixed roof designs to more advanced motorized louvered roofs that adjust to control shade, and block out the rain. Our modern pergolas are fabricated from lightweight-yet-strong aluminum, and powder coated for long-term durability. The most advanced pergolas feature integrated technology ranging from retractable screens to embedded lighting, and smart sensor arrays to automate its operation.

What is a pagoda?

A pagoda is a multi-level structure featuring wide overhanging eaves at each level. Most pagodas have an internal staircase to reach its uppermost floor. Each level often has lookouts on all four sides where visitors can enjoy sweeping views. Most often seen in East Asian cultures, such as China, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Vietnam, pagodas are often considered spiritual places to pray or reflect. While towering pagodas have an interesting history, the structure itself has also come to reflect a sense of spirituality. Small pagodas can be seen in landscape design often accenting gardens and water features.


What are the origins of the pagoda?

The origin of the pagoda is traced to ancient India. In Buddhist literature, pagodas were created to preserve the remains of Sakyamuni, the originator of Buddhism. As Buddhism spread throughout East Asia, the design of pagodas evolved from bell-shaped structures in India to more intricate and inelaborate multi-level designs. Pagodas became places to keep an array of relics, and were often destinations for reflection and prayer. Many of the pagodas of Japan and China are particularly recognizable. The oldest surviving pagoda in China, and one of the world’s most recognizable, is the Songyue Temple, situated near the Shaolin Temple. 

How are pergolas and pagodas similar?

Comparing a pagoda versus pergola highlights plenty of differentiation between these structures. Pergolas are open on the sides, while pagodas are enclosed. Pergolas are single story structures, while pagodas soar multiple stories. Obviously, building a multi-story pagoda will require quite an investment compared to a louvered pergola cost. But there are also some similarities, mainly in the use of both structures. For instance, both are places for people to reflect on life’s journeys, and to seek solace from a bustling world. Both can also be truly beautiful architectural structures. 

Pergola Ideas To Evoke the Pagoda

While a multi-story pagoda is unlikely to be the ideal outdoor home addition, the ancient structure can serve as a powerful design inspiration for an outdoor living space. A few pagoda-inspired accents  you should consider include:

  • Double-vented roof – Solid fixed roof pergolas can evoke some pagoda inspiration with a double-vented roof design to improve airflow while keeping the patio beneath it dry during rain showers.
  • Decorative corbel end caps – Accenting the pergola frame with decorative end caps, like corbel ends, can evoke the overhanging eaves of elaborate pagodas.
  • Pergola as a place for reflection – Create an outdoor meditation space to relax and recenter in the natural world.


While a structural comparison of a pagoda versus pergola finds plenty of differences, ancient pagodas can serve as a wonderful design inspiration for your pergola project. If you would like to explore the design possibilities for a new pergola project in your own backyard, contact us today.

Share This Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *