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Structural form in architecture: domes, arches and shells. (This and the next several slides.)


January 2008 issue of STRUCTIRE. A Joint Publication of NCSEA | CASE | SEI

The following was written by Horst Berger about Medieval Cathedral Construction:

"The cathedral builders of the Middle Ages based their designs not on scientific knowledge, as the Romans had done at least in part, but on the experience of their craftsmanship. Therefore, the basic structural components were small in number, but there was an unending variety of actual structural forms used. The cathedral master, himself a mason by schooling and training, made no detailed drawings. He transmitted only the principal concepts of his design and relied on his fellow masons to fill in the actual details, thereby empowering them to rise to the level of artists themselves. It was this concert of artists - similar to a modern jazz performance - that created the lasting beauty of the medieval cathedrals.

"Structurally, the vertical elements were walls, piers and columns. The horizontal elements were always arches. Horizontal flexural elements did not exist in these stone structures, since stone has a low tensile capacity. However, there is clear evidence that the master builders understood the flexural capacity of the vertical elements, and knew how to use it. In fact, in spite of their lack of explicit theoretical knowledge, they clearly had an amazing grasp of the structural behavior of their creations.

"While they could not handle curves other than the circle, they liberated themselves from the straightjacket of circular geometry by introducing the pointed arch. It allowed them to vary the ratio of span to rise. By mixing orthogonal ribs with radial ribs, a rich variety of vault configurations became available. The vaults themselves, shaped by masons in a largely freehand approach, further enriched the astonishing wealth of sculptural forms used to create the ceilings of their great churches."

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