Examples And Characteristics Of Gothic Architecture

A gothic cathedral in Leon, Spain.
A gothic cathedral in Leon, Spain.

Gothic architecture is generally characterized by the use of a pointed arch. This kind of architecture flourished in the Middle Ages between the 5th and the 15th century. The other common features of this type of construction are buttresses, rib vaults, and large windows. This kind of design originated from France, and it was popularly used in building big cathedrals and churches.

Gothic Architecture Features

  • Flying buttresses: The function of these buttresses is to spread the weight of the tall walls so that the structure becomes stable by transferring force to the ground. Apart from its purpose of moving the force to the ground, these buttresses were used as decoration.
  • Pointed arch: This design had practical and decorative benefits. The pointed arch was used to distribute the force of massive ceilings and walls that were bulky. By so doing, it enabled the architects to build taller buildings because of the stability. This pointed arch was also decorative and beautiful to the eye.
  • Vaulted ceilings: This design utilized the pointed arch feature to spread the weight from the upper floors.
  • Light and airy interior: The Gothic design emphasized the need for sufficient light and the free circulation of air from the interior of these buildings. Earlier, before Gothic architecture, the interior of buildings used to be stuffy and dark.

Another common characteristic of Gothic architecture is the height. Most Gothic churches are built with the nave protruding taller than the rest of the building, which is meant to symbolize the heavens.

From Romanesque To Gothic Architecture

The characteristics exhibited by Gothic architecture were developed from Romanesque architecture over different geographical locations. Ribbed vaults were used in making naves of Romanesque churches. Features such as plate tracery, vertical shafts and compound piers had been copied from the Romanesque period. The Basilica of Saint-Denis is thought to be the first Gothic building that used all the signature features ranging from pointed arch to ribbed vaults.

Regional Differences In Gothic Architecture

In France, the one distinctive character of Gothic architecture compared to other countries is the vertical nature. Unlike other countries, in France, the chapels are known to be unified in that there are no major projections to the sky.

The differentiating feature of English Gothic architecture is the length and often overemphasis on the interior compared to the horizontal. English Chapels have a stylistic interior when compared with those from France and Germany.

In Poland and Germany, Gothic architecture is characterized by tall towers and spires that are projected to the skies but are often not completed to offer a beautiful look.

In Spain and Portugal, the distinctive feature of Gothic architecture is its complex nature. The structures are relatively wide with different parts leading to each other, and this makes it complicated. They are often flanked by tall arcades and a spacious interior giving a similar resemblance to the German chapels.


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