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.


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