Flying buttress

Last updated
Arching above a side aisle roof, flying buttresses support the main vault of St. Mary's Church, in Lubeck, Germany. Lubeck Marienkirche Strebebogen.jpg
Arching above a side aisle roof, flying buttresses support the main vault of St. Mary's Church, in Lübeck, Germany.

The flying buttress (arc-boutant, arch buttress) is a specific form of buttress composed of an arch that extends from the upper portion of a wall to a pier of great mass, in order to convey to the ground the lateral forces that push a wall outwards, which are forces that arise from vaulted ceilings of stone and from wind-loading on roofs. [1]

Contents

The defining, functional characteristic of a flying buttress is that it is not in contact with the wall at ground level, unlike a traditional buttress, and so transmits the lateral forces across the span of intervening space between the wall and the pier. To provide lateral support, flying-buttress systems are composed of two parts: (i) a massive pier, a vertical block of masonry situated away from the building wall, and (ii) an arch that bridges the span between the pier and the wall — either a segmental arch or a quadrant arch — the flyer of the flying buttress. [2]

History

The 4th-century Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki, Greece, showing an early example of flying buttresses. Aside 00348.JPG
The 4th-century Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki, Greece, showing an early example of flying buttresses.

As a lateral-support system, the flying buttress was developed during late antiquity and later flourished during the Gothic period (12th–16th c.) of architecture. Ancient examples of the flying buttress can be found on the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna and on the Rotunda of Galerius in Thessaloniki. The architectural-element precursors of the medieval flying buttress derive from Byzantine architecture and Romanesque architecture, in the design of churches, such as Durham Cathedral, where arches transmit the lateral thrust of the stone vault over the aisles; the arches were hidden under the gallery roof, and transmitted the lateral forces to the massive, outer walls. By the decade of 1160, architects in the Île-de-France region employed similar lateral-support systems that featured longer arches of finer design, which run from the outer surface of the clerestory wall, over the roof of the side aisles (hence are visible from the outside) to meet a heavy, vertical buttress rising above the top of the outer wall. [3]

The flying buttresses of Notre Dame de Paris, constructed in 1180, were among the earliest to be used in a Gothic cathedral. Flying buttresses were also used at about the same time to support the upper walls of the apse at the Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, completed in 1163. [4]

Flying buttress of Reims Cathedral, as drawn by Villard de Honnecourt VillardButtressReims.jpg
Flying buttress of Reims Cathedral, as drawn by Villard de Honnecourt

The advantage of such lateral-support systems is that the outer walls do not have to be massive and heavy in order to resist the lateral-force thrusts of the vault. Instead, the wall surface could be reduced (allowing for larger windows, glazed with stained glass), because the vertical mass is concentrated onto external buttresses. The design of early flying buttresses tended to be heavier than required for the static loads to be borne, e.g. at Chartres Cathedral (ca. 1210), and around the apse of the Saint Remi Basilica, which is an extant, early example in its original form (ca. 1170). [5] Later architects progressively refined the design of the flying buttress, and narrowed the flyers, some of which were constructed with one thickness of voussoir (wedge brick) with a capping stone atop, e.g. at Amiens Cathedral, Le Mans Cathedral, and Beauvais Cathedral.

The architectural design of Late Gothic buildings featured flying buttresses, some of which featured flyers decorated with crockets (hooked decorations) and sculpted figures set in aedicules (niches) recessed into the buttresses. In the event, the architecture of the Renaissance eschewed the lateral support of the flying buttress in favour of thick-wall construction. Despite its disuse for function and style in construction and architecture, in the early 20th century, the flying-buttress design was revived by Canadian engineer William P. Anderson to build lighthouses. [6]

Construction

Architectural drawing of a Neo-Gothic flying buttress for the late 19th-century Votive Church, in Vienna Die Votivkirche in Wien; Denkschrift des Baucomit'es veroffentlicht zur Feier der Einweihung am 24. April 1879 (1879) (14597612677).jpg
Architectural drawing of a Neo-Gothic flying buttress for the late 19th-century Votive Church, in Vienna

Given that most of the weight-load is transmitted from the ceiling through the upper part of the walls, the flying buttress is a two-part composite support that features a semi-arch that extends to a massive pier far from the wall, and so provides most of the load-bearing capacity of a traditional buttress, which is engaged with the wall from top to bottom; thus, the flying buttress is a lighter and more cost-effective architectural structure.

By relieving the load-bearing walls of excess weight and thickness, in the way of a smaller area of contact, using flying buttresses enables installing windows in a greater wall surface area. This feature and a desire to let in more light, led to flying buttresses becoming one of the defining factors of medieval Gothic architecture and a feature used extensively in the design of churches from then and onwards. In the design of Gothic churches, two arched flyers were applied, one above the other, in which the lower flyer (positioned below the springing point of the vault) resists the lateral-thrust forces of the vault, whilst the upper flyer resists the forces of wind-loading on the roof. [7] The vertical buttresses (piers) at the outer end of the flyers usually were capped with a pinnacle (either a cone or a pyramid) usually ornamented with crockets, to provide additional vertical-load support with which to resist the lateral thrust conveyed by the flyer. [8]

A flying buttress as remedial support for a church wall in the English village of Chaddesley Corbett Chaddesley Corbett 07.jpg
A flying buttress as remedial support for a church wall in the English village of Chaddesley Corbett

To build the flying buttress, it was first necessary to construct temporary wooden frames, which are called centring. The centering would support the weight of the stones and help maintain the shape of the arch until the mortar was cured. The centering was first built on the ground, by the carpenters. Once that was done, they would be hoisted into place and fastened to the piers at the end of one buttress and at the other. These acted as temporary flying buttresses until the actual, stone arch was complete. [9]

Remedial support application

Another application of the flying-buttress support system is the reinforcement of a leaning wall in danger of collapsing, especially a load-bearing wall; for example, at the village of Chaddesley Corbett in Worcestershire, England, the practical application of a flying buttress to a buckled wall is more practical than dismantling and rebuilding the wall.

Aesthetic style of the Gothic period

The early-Gothic Notre-Dame de Paris (shown here with buttresses as later modified) features flying buttresses with blocky porticoed pinnacles, surrounding tall nave, a clerestory, a wide triforium, and two side aisles. Arrows show structural forces (details) Notre-Dame de Paris transverse section.svg
The early-Gothic Notre-Dame de Paris (shown here with buttresses as later modified) features flying buttresses with blocky porticoed pinnacles, surrounding tall nave, a clerestory, a wide triforium, and two side aisles. Arrows show structural forces (details)

The desire to build large cathedrals that could house many followers along multiple aisles arose, and from this desire the Gothic style developed. [10] The flying buttress was the solution to these massive stone buildings that needed a lot of support but wanted to be expansive in size. Although the flying buttress originally served a structural purpose, they are now a staple in the aesthetic style of the Gothic period. [11] The flying buttress originally helped bring the idea of open space and light to the cathedrals through stability and structure, by supporting the clerestory and the weight of the high roofs. [11] The height of the cathedrals and ample amount of windows among the clerestory creates this open space for viewers to see through, making the space appear more continuous and giving the illusion of there being no clear boundaries. [11]

It also makes the space more dynamic and less static separating the Gothic style from the flatter more two dimensional Romanesque style. [11] After the introduction of the flying buttress this same concept could be seen on the exterior of the cathedrals as well. [11] There is open space below the arches of the flying buttress and this space has the same effect as the clerestory within the church allowing the viewer to view through the arches, the buttresses also reach into the sky similar to the pillars within the church which creates more upward space. [11] Making the exterior space equally as dynamic as the interior space and creating a sense of coherence and continuity. [12]

In fiction

The architecture and construction of a medieval cathedral with flying buttresses figures prominently into the plot of the historical novel The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (1989).

See also

Notes

  1. Curls, James Stevens, ed. (1999). A Dictionary of Architecture. Oxford. pp. 113–114.
  2. For the functional mechanics of the flying buttresses, see Borg, Alan; Mark, Robert (1973). "Chartres Cathedral: A Reinterpretation of its Structure". The Art Bulletin . 55 (3): 367–372. doi:10.1080/00043079.1973.10790710.
  3. James, John (September 1992). "Evidence for flying buttresses before 1180". J. Soc. Archit. Hist. 51 (3): 261–287. doi:10.2307/990687.
  4. Watkin, David, "A History of Wesern Architecture" (1986), page 130
  5. Prache, Anne (1976). "Les Arcs - boutants au XIIe siècle". Gesta . 15 (1): 31–42. doi:10.2307/766749.
  6. Russ Rowlett, Canadian Flying Buttress Lighthouses, in The Lighthouse Directory.
  7. Mark, R.; Jonash, R. S. (1970). "Wind Loads on Gothic Structures". Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. 29 (3): 222–230. doi:10.2307/988611.
  8. Curls, James Stevens, ed. (1999). A Dictionary of Architecture. Oxford. p. 501.
  9. Alex Lee, James Arndt, and Shane Goldmacher, Cathedral Architecture Archived 2005-08-29 at the Wayback Machine .
  10. Moore, Charles H. (1979). Development + & and character of gothic architecture. Longwood. pp.  19-20. ISBN   0893413585. OCLC   632226040.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Frankl, Paul (1962). Gothic Architecture. Baltimore: Penguin Books. pp. 54–57.
  12. Mark, Robert (2014). Experiments in Gothic Structure. Bibliotheque McLean. ISBN   0955886864. OCLC   869186029.

Related Research Articles

Romanesque architecture Architectural style of Medieval Europe

Romanesque architecture is an architectural style of medieval Europe characterized by semi-circular arches. There is no consensus for the beginning date of the Romanesque style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the 11th century, this later date being the most commonly held. In the 12th century it developed into the Gothic style, marked by pointed arches. Examples of Romanesque architecture can be found across the continent, making it the first pan-European architectural style since Imperial Roman architecture. The Romanesque style in England is traditionally referred to as Norman architecture.

Gothic architecture Architectural style of Medieval Europe

Gothic architecture is an architectural style that flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. It originated in the 12th century, in the Île-de-France region of northern France as a development of Norman architecture. Its popularity lasted into the 16th century, before which the style was known as opus Francigenum ; the term Gothic was first applied contemptuously during the later Renaissance, by those ambitious to revive the Grecian orders of architecture.

Chartres Cathedral Medieval Roman Rite Catholic cathedral

Chartres Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, is a Roman Catholic church in Chartres, France, about 80 km southwest of Paris and is the seat of the Bishop of Chartres. Mostly constructed between 1194 and 1220, it stands at the site of at least five cathedrals that have occupied the site since the Diocese of Chartres was formed as an episcopal see in the 4th century. It is in the High Gothic and Romanesque styles.

Triforium Area of a church or cathedral

A triforium is an interior gallery, opening onto the tall central space of a building at an upper level. In a church, it opens onto the nave from above the side aisles; it may occur at the level of the clerestory windows, or it may be located as a separate level below the clerestory. Masonry triforia are generally vaulted and separated from the central space by arcades. Early triforia were often wide and spacious, but later ones tend to be shallow, within the thickness of an inner wall, and may be blind arcades not wide enough to walk along. The outer wall of the triforium may itself have windows, or it may be solid stone. A narrow triforium may also be called a "blind-storey", and looks like a row of window frames.

Pinnacle

A pinnacle is an architectural ornament originally forming the cap or crown of a buttress or small turret, but afterwards used on parapets at the corners of towers and in many other situations. The pinnacle looks like a small spire. It was mainly used in Gothic architecture.

Clerestory

In architecture, a clerestory is a high section of wall that contains windows above eye level. The purpose is to admit light, fresh air, or both.

Rib vault

A rib vault or ribbed vault is an architectural feature for covering a wide space, such as a church nave, composed of a framework of crossed or diagonal arched ribs. Variations were used in Roman architecture, Byzantine architecture, Islamic architecture, Romanesque architecture, and especially Gothic architecture. Thin stone panels fill the space between the ribs. This greatly reduced the weight and thus the outward thrust of the vault. The ribs transmit the load downward and outward to specific points, usually rows of columns or piers. This feature allowed architects of Gothic cathedrals to make higher and thinner walls and much larger windows.

Barrel vault Architectural element formed by the extrusion of a single curve

A barrel vault, also known as a tunnel vault or a wagon vault, is an architectural element formed by the extrusion of a single curve along a given distance. The curves are typically circular in shape, lending a semi-cylindrical appearance to the total design. The barrel vault is the simplest form of a vault: effectively a series of arches placed side by side. It is a form of barrel roof.

Cathedral Church of St. James (Toronto) Church in Toronto, Ontario

The Cathedral Church of St. James is an Anglican cathedral in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is the church of the oldest congregation in the city, with the parish being established in 1797. The cathedral, with construction beginning in 1850 and opening for services on June 19, 1853, was one of the largest buildings in the city at the time. It was designed by Frederick William Cumberland and is a prime example of Gothic Revival architecture.

Amiens Cathedral Church in Amiens, France

The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, or simply Amiens Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church. The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Amiens. It is situated on a slight ridge overlooking the River Somme in Amiens, the administrative capital of the Picardy region of France, some 120 kilometres north of Paris.

Rayonnant

In French Gothic architecture, Rayonnant is the period from about the mid-13th century to mid-14th century It was characterized by a shift away from the High Gothic search for increasingly large size toward more spatial unity, refined decoration, and additional and larger windows, which filled the space with light. Prominent features of Rayonnant include the large rose window, more windows in the upper-level clerestory; the reduction of the importance of the transept; and larger openings on the ground floor to establish greater communication between the central vessel and the side aisles. Interior decoration increased, and the decorative motifs spread to the outside, to the facade and the buttresses. utilizing great scale and spatial rationalism towards a greater concern for two dimensional surfaces and the repetition of decorative motifs at different scales. The use of tracery gradually spread from the stained glass windows to areas of stonework, and to architectural features such as gables.

Groin vault

A groin vault or groined vault is produced by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults. The word "groin" refers to the edge between the intersecting vaults. Sometimes the arches of groin vaults are pointed instead of round. In comparison with a barrel vault, a groin vault provides good economies of material and labour. The thrust is concentrated along the groins or arrises, so the vault need only be abutted at its four corners.

This page is a glossary of architecture.

Vault (architecture)

In architecture, a vault is a self-supporting arched form, usually of stone or brick, serving to cover a space with a ceiling or roof. The simplest kind of vault is the barrel vault, which is generally semicircular in shape. The barrel vault is a continuous arch, the length being greater than its diameter. As in building an arch, a temporary support is needed while rings of voussoirs are constructed and the rings placed in position. Until the topmost voussoir, the keystone, is positioned, the vault is not self-supporting. Where timber is easily obtained, this temporary support is provided by centering consisting of a framed truss with a semicircular or segmental head, which supports the voussoirs until the ring of the whole arch is completed. With a barrel vault, the centering can then be shifted on to support the next rings.

French architecture

French architecture consists of numerous architectural styles that either originated in France or elsewhere and were developed within the territories of France.

English Gothic architecture Architectural style in Britain

English Gothic is an architectural style which flourished in England in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. The style was most prominently used in the construction of churches and cathedrals. Gothic's defining features are pointed arches, rib vaults, buttresses, and extensive use of stained glass. Combined, these features allowed the creation of buildings of unprecedented height and grandeur, filled with light from large stained glass windows. Important examples include Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. The Gothic style endured in England until the early 16th century – much longer than in Continental Europe.

French Gothic architecture

French Gothic architecture is an architectural style which emerged in France in 1140, and was dominant until the mid-16th century. The most notable examples are the great Gothic cathedrals of France, including Notre-Dame Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, and Amiens Cathedral. Its main characteristics were the search for verticality, or height, and the innovative use of the rib vault and flying buttresses and other architectural innovations to distribute the weight of the stone structures to supports on the outside, allowing unprecedented height and volume, The new techniques also permitted the addition of larger windows, including enormous stained glass windows, which filled the cathedrals with light. The French style was widely copied in other parts of northern Europe, particularly Germany and England. It was gradually supplanted as the dominant French style in the mid-16th century by French Renaissance architecture.

High Gothic Refined and imposing style of Gothic architecture

High Gothic is a particularly refined and imposing style of Gothic architecture that appeared in northern France from about 1195 until 1250. Notable examples include Chartres Cathedral, Reims Cathedral, Amiens Cathedral, Beauvais Cathedral, and Bourges Cathedral. It is characterized by great height, harmony, subtle and refined tracery and realistic sculpture, and by large stained glass windows, particularly rose windows and larger windows on the upper levels, which filled the interiors with light. It followed Early Gothic architecture and was succeeded by the Rayonnant style. It is often described as the high point of the Gothic style.

Early Gothic architecture

Early Gothic is the style of architecture that appeared in northern France, Normandy and then England between about 1130 and the mid-13th century. It combined and developed several key elements from earlier styles, particularly from Romanesque architecture, including the rib vault, flying buttress, and the pointed arch, and used them in innovative ways to create structures, particularly Gothic cathedrals and churches, of exceptional height and grandeur, filled with light from stained glass windows. Notable examples of early Gothic architecture in France include the ambulatory and facade of Saint-Denis Basilica; Sens Cathedral (1140); Laon Cathedral; Senlis Cathedral; (1160) and most famously Notre-Dame de Paris.

References