Looking at Buildings

Styles & Traditions


Walls and Windows

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Canterbury Cathedral, Kent

Building in stone became widespread from the late 11th century, when the NormanGlossary Term invaders asserted their power by building defensive castles and by reconstructing cathedral and abbey churches on an imposing scale inspired by Continental and ultimately ancient RomanGlossary Term precedent. The technique of thick wall construction which they employed was especially suitable for castles and towers, but was also adapted for major churches.

Outer skins of masonry enclose a rubbleGlossary Term core, resulting in a wall at least six feet thick, whose bulk gave it such stability that the core could be omitted in places to create upper passages or even small chambers.

How did masons make thick walls look less heavy?

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Ely Cathedral, Cambs.

The increasing size of church windows during the 12th century was a response to an enthusiasm for allowing more lightGlossary Term to enter the building. At the same time the developing skills of the glassmaker meant that windows could be used as a medium for illuminated pictorial imagery. In GothicGlossary Term buildings larger windows combined with stone vaulting could reduce the wall to a skeletal structure, with the weight of the vaults taken by projecting buttresses, sometimes with 'flying' arches anchored by tall pinnacles. The adoption of the pointed archGlossary Term - the most obvious signature of the GothicGlossary Term style - allowed for a more efficient handling of stresses and for greater versatility in design, as arches could be adapted to fit different widths.



Types include: Basket arch or Anse de Panier (French, lit. basket handle): three-centred and depressed, or with a flat centre. Chancel: dividing chancel from nave or crossing in a church. Crossing: spanning piers at a crossing in a church. Depressed or three-centred: with a rounded top, but curving inward more at the sides. Four-centred: with four arcs, the lower two curving inward more than the upper, with a blunt central point; typical of late medieval English architecture. Jack arch: shallow segmental vault springing from beams, used for fireproof floors, bridge decks, etc. Ogee (adjective ogival): a pointed arch with a double reverse curve, especially popular in the 14th century; a nodding ogee curves forward from the wall face at the top. Parabolic: shaped like a chain suspended from two level points, but inverted. Relieving or discharging: incorporated in a wall to relieve superimposed weight. Shouldered: with arcs in each corner and a flat centre or lintel. Skew: spanning responds not diametrically opposed. Stilted: with a vertical section above the impost i.e. the horizontal moulding at the springing. Strainer: inserted in an opening to resist inward pressure. Three-centred: see Depressed, above. Transverse: spanning a main axis (e.g. of a vaulted space). Triumphal arch: influential type of Imperial Roman monument, free-standing, with a square attic or top section and broad sections to either side of the main opening, often with lesser openings or columns. Tudor: with arcs in each corner joining straight lines to the central point. Two-centred: the simplest kind of pointed arch.


The style of the Middle Ages from the later 12th century to the Renaissance, with which it co-existed in certain forms into the 17th century. Characterized in its full development by the pointed arch, the rib-vault and an often skeletal masonry structure for churches, combined with large glazed windows. The term was originally associated with the concept of the barbarian Goths as assailants of classical civilization.


Compartment of a window defined by the uprights or mullions.


The English version of the Romanesque style, which predominated in Western Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries; so called because it was propagated after the Norman Conquest in 1066. It is associated especially with the expansion of monasticism and the building of large stone churches, and is characterized by massive masonry, round-headed arches and vaulting inspired by ancient Roman precedent, and by the use of stylized ornament.


The architecture of the Roman Empire, to which most of Britain belonged from 43 to c. 410 A.D. Our knowledge of Romano-British architecture depends mostly on archaeological reconstructions from foundations and fragments, though some notable fortifications and other military works survive above ground level in recognizable form.


Masonry whose stones are wholly or partly in a rough state. Coursed: coursed stones with rough faces. Random: uncoursed stones in a random pattern. Snecked: with courses broken by smaller stones (snecks).