It’s Halloween, and people are busy transforming their houses and apartments into ghoulish residences to mark the occasion. For the week that is in it, let’s take a look at Gothic architecture, a movement that changed the face of castles, churches, cathedrals, and the rest of Europe.
Gothic architecture attempted to solve the problem of dark and damp stone castles by designing light and airy buildings. The movement brought a paradigm shift in perspective about what architecture should do beyond the functional necessities. For buildings, there came a time for beauty and creativity more than just a place to shelter from the rain.
Before Gothic architecture, buildings were small as medieval architects did not have the expertise to spread the weight of heavy stone walls. Then came the flying buttress which allowed architects to balance the burden of higher walls and loftier towers. These advances in technical know-how paved the way for much taller castles and cathedrals; closer to the heavens as they sought to be.
The flying buttress
Perhaps the most widely recognized of all gothic characteristics is the flying buttress. But the buttress was not only a functional support for higher buildings it was also easy on the eyes and decorative. The buttresses were ornately designed to create an optical illusion of constant movement as they tangle their way around the outside walls.
The pointed arch
While the flying buttress defined the external Gothic architecture, the pointed arch was the hallmark of the interior. The arch supported substantially more weight compared to the simple pillar. Vertical heights were from then more achievable with the additional weight bearing. However, it was not just merely for function as the arches were decorated with great detail.
Light and bright interiors
The medieval epoch was marred with dark and damp interiors. Stale air and unpleasant smells were the common experiences. This progressed with the gothic building principles that prioritized brightness and fresh air. The large stained glass windows were a big part of this. The light illuminating profile transformed dank old churches into pleasant places to worship in.
Leveraging the weight bearing advantages of the vaulted arches the vaulted ceiling ensured a much larger spread of the weight from upper floors. This created an illusion of height and grandeur, given an elegant touch to churches of the time. This new distribution of force under the vaulted ceilings made it possible for vaults to be constructed in different shapes and sizes, where before they could only be rectangular or circular.
One element that everyone will recognize is the scary looking gargoyle; which became a prominent feature of all gothic churches. They are as monstrous as they are decorative and were positioned on the roof peering down on enemy forces below. But it was not just to petrify the enemy, as the gargoyles also had a purpose as they facilitated rainwater to drain from the roof before reaching the ground. In a time where they firmly believed in witchcraft, black magic, and evil spirits, many local villagers would have been convinced to seek solace in a church rather than face the wrath of an angry gargoyle.