The Structural Engineer > Archive > Volume 84 (2006) > Issues > Issue 2 > Geometry and equilibrium: The gothic theory of structural design
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Geometry and equilibrium: The gothic theory of structural design

Medieval builders did not have a scientific structural theory, however gothic cathedrals were not built without a theory. Gothic masters had a ‘scientia’ and this scientia was firmly based on geometry. It is the form which guarantees a safe state of equilibrium. In many gothic sources we find rules to design the structural elements, with special emphasis in buttress design. These rules lead in most cases to a proportional design, independent of scale (the depth of a buttress as a fraction of the span). The late-gothic Spanish architect Rodrigo Gil formulated arithmetical rules which lead to non-proportional designs (the buttresses become more slender as the general size grows). Gothic structural rules were a means to register stable forms. Proportional rules are essentially correct and apply to most cases. Rodrigo Gil’s rules express a finer adjustment to some non-proportional problems: buttress design for thin late-gothic vaults or wall design for towers. Prof. Santiago Huerta, PhD Departamento de Estructuras. ETS de Arquitectura. Universidad Polit├ęcnica de Madrid, Avda. Juan de Herrera, 4. 28040-Madrid. Spain