Groin Vault Ceiling: Definition & Construction

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever thought about the ways architects create ceilings? Ever seen a curved ceiling? In this lesson, learn what a groin vault ceiling is and how it's constructed.

What is a Groin Vault?

If you've ever stood in a building and looked up at a ceiling with a pattern of curves, you might have been looking at a groin vault ceiling. And to understand a groin vault ceiling, first you need to know what a groin vault is.

A groin vault is an arched structure normally made of brick or stone that's designed to support a ceiling or covering of a room. To make a groin vault, builders create two barrel vaults, shaped like a half circle (or top of a barrel), and cross them in the middle at a perpendicular or right angle to form an X. This style of vault is sometimes also known as a cross vault because the intersected sections resemble the shape of a squat cross.

Example of a groin vault
groin vault example

Where the edges of the vaults meet they create sharp lines. These lines are known as an arris. Because a groin vault is a merger of two barrel vaults, several arrises meet to form a V, similar to how a person's legs are connected to their torso. In fact, that's why it's called a groin vault! We begin to see groin vaults used in architecture around 1050 AD. Scholars think the style developed in Rome and gradually spread to Byzantine and Islamic architecture.

When you look up at a groin vault, you see four curving surfaces that meet in the center. This adds strength to the ceiling because all four corners of the vault help distribute weight and support the ceiling. But how do you use groin vaults to make a whole ceiling?

Construction of a Groin Vault Ceiling

A groin vault ceiling is simply the construction of several groin vaults in a row. By repeating a series of groin vaults, builders realized they could form a ceiling over long rectangular areas of space like a hallway. Each groin vault tends to be square in shape, and the longer the ceiling, the more groin vaults needed to cover it.

Example of a groin vault ceiling
example of a groin vault ceiling

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