Flying Buttresses & Pointed Arches: Defining Aspects of Gothic Architecture

Flying Buttresses & Pointed Arches: Defining Aspects of Gothic Architecture

Image for postNotre-Dame de Paris? Rose Window

Gothic is arguably one of the easiest architectural styles to recognize, the high level of intricate masonry and soaring heights (comparative to the times) stood out easily and continue to do so. Gothic originated as a nonsecular style, with edifices such as Notre-Dame de Paris and Westminster Abbey being among the most renown examples.

Profusion of Stained Glass

Compared to the previous Romanesque cathedrals, Gothic cathedral walls housed far more glass. Stained glass displays of saints and biblical stories became common themes, and as the Gothic style spread into more secular realms, crests and kings became popular iconography.

Flying Buttresses

Stained glass doesn?t hold up under weight-bearing pressure well, further complicated by the Gothic penchant for high ceilings to reach towards the lofty heavens. The solution was ingenious: reroute the weight off the walls onto exterior half arches called flying buttresses, sturdy stone constructs that moved the weight out and down, either to ground or lower-level exterior walls.

Image for postFlying buttresses of Notre-Dame de Paris

Pointed Arches

To further help redirect weight, instead of the Romans? half-circle arch used through Romanesque buildings (see any connection there?), Gothic structures used pointed arches. The half-circle arches directed weight coming down on them in angled direction, into the surrounding wall space, which was fine when they were solid rock. But, you know, Gothic stained glass. The pointed arch directed weight straight down along the edges, into the ground.

The three most common types are the equilateral arch, probably the one that comes to mind for ?pointed arch?; the lancet arch, a tall type commonly around stained glass windows; and the Tudor arch, a variant wider than it is tall.

Vaulted Ceiling

Vaulted ceilings share a similar concept to the pointed arch, moving weight along the ribs and down, therefore removing the full weight of the ceiling falling on the stained glass in the walls. Early gothic vaulting was done in the sexpartite style, with two crossing vaults forming an X and two side vaults dividing the roof into 6 parts; later this was simplified to the quadripartite vaulting, which include only the X. Fan vaulting was an especially intricate version where all ribs originated from the same point & shared the same curve, resulting in a fan appearance.

Image for postRib vaulted ceiling

Gothic architecture is an amazing engineering feat, drawing the weight of the building along set paths to free wall space from bearing the load, and doing so in an amazingly ornate way. That is the final key to Gothic architecture, it is a very lavish style, full of amazing stone carving and stained glass work.


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