Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture.
Gothic architecture is most familiar as the architecture of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys and churches of Europe.
Originating in 12th century France and lasting into the 16th century, Gothic architecture was known during the period as "the French Style," (Opus Francigenum), with the term Gothic first appearing during the latter part of the Renaissance. Its characteristic features include: 1) the pointed arch, 2) the ribbed vault and 3) the flying buttress.
1) The pointed or ogival arch
One of the defining characteristics of Gothic architecture is the pointed or ogival arch. Arches of this type were used in the Near East in pre-Islamic as well as Islamic architecture before they were structurally employed in medieval architecture, and are thus thought to have been the inspiration for their use in France, as at Autun Cathedral, which is otherwise stylistically Romanesque.
In Gothic architecture, ogives are the intersecting transverse ribs of arches that establish the surface of a Gothic vault. An ogive or ogival arch is a pointed, "Gothic" arch, drawn with compasses as outlined above, or with arcs of an ellipse as described. A very narrow, steeply pointed ogive arch (like the one in the construction above) is sometimes called a "lancet arch." The most common form is an equilateral arch, where the radius is the same as the width. In the later Flamboyant Gothic style, an "ogee arch," an arch delineating a void with a pointed head, like S-shaped curves, became prevalent.
2) The ribbed vault
The intersection of two or three barrel vaults produces a rib vault or ribbed vault when they are edged with an armature of piped masonry often carved in decorative patterns; compare groin vault, an older form of vault construction. While the mechanics of the weight of a groin vault and its transmission outwards to the supporting pillars remained as it had been, the new use of rib vaults demonstrates the skill of the masons and the grandeur of the new ideas circulating at the introduction of Gothic architecture in the end of the eleventh century. This technique was new in the late eleventh century, for example in the roofs of the choir side aisles at Durham Cathedral. Ancestors of the Gothic rib vault in the Romanesque vaults can be found at Caen and Durham, both sites of early Gothic constructions, and elsewhere.
3) The flying buttress
A flying buttress is a specific form of buttressing most strongly associated with Gothic church architecture. It serves to transmit the lateral forces pushing a wall outwards (which may arise from stone vaulted ceilings or from wind-loading on roofs) across an intervening space and ultimately down to the ground. Flying buttress systems have two key components - a massive vertical masonry block (the buttress) on the outside of the building and a segmental or quadrant arch bridging the gap between that buttress and the wall (the 'flyer').
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