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Characteristics of Gothic Architecture


Gothic architecture is important to be able to identify because there are so many cathedrals with gothic elements all over Europe. The Gothic style was a totally new style in its day that transformed castles, churches, and cathedrals. Before, builders had common problems such as limited building skill that made their designs cold, dark, and damp. In the Gothic period architects tried to solve these issues by making their designs airy, pleasant, and light. This period transformed the design and concept of churches and cathedrals by inventing new elements that enhanced the design of the building.

Below are seven characteristics that are important to gothic architecture.

1. Heavy and tall designs

Before the gothic period, Early Medieval architects struggled to spread weight of heavy stone walls. This meant that architecture before the gothic architecture was smaller. Towers needed to be shorter and walls needed to be thinner, otherwise the wight of the upper floors would collapse.

One of the fundamental characteristics of gothic architecture is its height. This was made possible by new building techniques such as flying buttresses. This helped to spread the weight of taller walls and heavier towers.

2. Flying buttresses

The flying buttress, like stated above, helped spread the height of the new designs. They helped take the weight off the walls and transferred it into the ground. Buttresses were used in earlier architecture however, they took up space and did no leave room for windows to let in light. The flying buttresses were different from buttresses because they are basically an arch with negative space. A buttress has the same concept of a flying buttress however, it is almost like a wall of stone.

Flying buttresses were also very decorative. Architects used them to create movement throughout the exterior of the cathedrals. They were also decorated with ornate and flamboyant design.

3. Pointed arches

The innovation of the pointed arches was a very important characteristic to the gothic style. Other than Islamic art, the gothic period was the first to really utilize the design of the pointed arch. The pointed arch served both as a decorative and practical purpose. The new arch helped distribute heavier ceilings and bulkier designs, and it could hold more wight than the previous simple pillars.

4. Vaulted ceilings

The vaulted ceiling was another invention that cam out of the gothic period. After seeing the success of the pointed arches architects started to form a new concept on how to make the ceilings more efficient and more beautiful. Irregular, vaulted ceilings utilised the technology of the pointed arch to spread force and weight from upper floors. The new design was very impressive because it gave ceilings an impression of hight and beauty. This new concept allowed vaulted to be created in new shapes and sizes. Previously vaults could only be circular or rectangular. 

5. Windows

Before the gothic period, churches and cathedrals often had small windows because the design could not handle the weight of bigger windows. Because of flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings gothic architecture could afford to have giant windows. This was important to gothic architects because they wanted to create airy interiors with bright windows to let in light. It is also important to note that this was when stained glass was invented. Stained glass became very popular within cathedrals because they could serve many purposes. The colorful glass let in light while giving the cathedrals color. Also stained glass was used as a canvas for biblical narratives. Unlike previous period, cathedrals during this period did not paint narratives on the wall. Instead the windows would illustrate important narratives and messages.

6. Gargoyle’s

Gargoyle’s are decorative, monstrous creatures that are perched on the roofs of gothic buildings. Gargoyle’s aren’t found on all gothic building however, they were common during this time. They were meant to act like gutters and drain rainwater off the roofs. Gargoyle’s were meant to drain the water away from the cathedral walls so the water would not leave stains on the stone. The little creatures were also meant to scare people so they would enter the church or cathedral.

7. Decorative style

During this period architects began to value the design of the exterior. Before, churches tended to have simple exteriors so there would be more money to decorate the interior. However, in the gothic period architecture was no longer just functional- it began to have merit and meaning. Builders began to create ambitious and ornate designs, using different techniques and styles. A popular style was the flamboyant style that gave cathedrals a flamelike appearance.

It is important to note that different region handled gothic architecture in different ways. The Italians are famous for hating the gothic style. Even though they participated in this period there “gothic” is very different from the rest of Europe. There cathedrals tend to have an emphasis on color in the interior and exterior. For the most part the seven characteristics above do not apply to their gothic period.


One comment on “Characteristics of Gothic Architecture

  1. crashandburn13
    May 16, 2014

    Reblogged this on crashandburn13.

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This entry was posted on May 16, 2014 by in Ellis, Gothic.
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