Huerta Fernández, Santiago
Technical Challenges in the Construction of Gothic Vaults: The Gothic Theory of Structural Design.
"Construction Techniques in the Age of Historicism. From Theories of Gothic Structures to Building Sites in the 19th Century".
Hirmer, Munich, pp. 162-195.
The construction of a Gothic vault implied the solution of several technical challenges. The literature on Gothic vault construction is quite large and its growth continues steadily. The main challenge of any structure is that, during and after construction, it must be "safe", that is, it must not collapse. Indeed, it must be amply safe, able to support different loads for long periods of time. Masonry architecture has shown its structural safety for centuries or millennia. The Pantheon of Rome stands today after almost 2,000 years without having needed any structural reinforcement (of course, the survival of any building implies continuous maintenance) . Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, finished in the 6th century AD, has withstood not only the dead loads but also many severe earthquakes . Finally, the Gothic cathedrals, with their appearance of weakness, are• more than a half millennium old.
The question arises of what the source of this amazing strength is and how the illiterate master masons were able to design such daring and safe structures . This question is usually evaded in manuals of Gothic architecture. This is quite surprising, the structure being a fundamental part of Gothic buildings. The present article aims to give such an explanation, which has been studied in detail elsewhere. In the first part, the Gothic design methods "V ill be discussed. In the second part, the validity of these methods wi11 be verified within the frame of the modern theory of masonry structures . References have been reduced to a minimum to make the text simpler and more direct.