Modern Gothic Architecture: Homes & Buildings

Instructor: Amy Jackson

Amy has a BFA in Interior Design as well as 19 years teaching experience and a doctorate in education.

When you think of Gothic do you think of dark castles and creepy things that go bump in the night? Gothic architecture is much more than that. In this lesson we will look at the origins of Gothic architecture and how that style is incorporated into buildings today.

History of Gothic Architecture

To understand the modern use of Gothic architecture, we have to look back to its origins. The Gothic style is a substyle of the medieval period in art history. The Gothic style was prominent in northern Europe from the mid 12th century until the 16th century. The term Gothic was adapted from the term ''Goth,'' introduced in 1500 by Giorgio Vasari, an Italian artist and architect. He was referencing the Germanic tribe of the Goths, who he considered to be an inferior barbarian culture. He believed that Gothic architecture was nothing more than ''monstrous and barbarous'' ''disorder.''

Characteristics of Gothic Architecture

Gothic architecture consisted of massive stone constructions primarily used for cathedrals and castles. New construction methods allowed for larger and more spacious buildings than was possible during the Romanesque period. Romanesque buildings had thick stone walls to support the weight of rounded ceilings also made of stone. Because the walls were so thick, the windows were small, so as not to compromise the strength of the walls. This made interiors dim and uninviting.

The introduction of the flying buttress allowed architects to construct taller buildings with thinner walls. The flying buttress was an arched beam on the exterior of the wall that transferred the weight of the ceiling into the walls with a downward or vertical thrust, rather than pushing out on the walls as they did in Romanesque buildings. This, as well as the introduction of ribbed, vaulted ceilings, enabled architects and builders to create stone structures with tall, open interiors which had tall windows with pointed arches. Architecture was not always symmetrical. Stained glass was introduced in rose windows that had tracery, or ornamental stonework, that outlined the pieces of colored glass. Detailing, inside and out, was elaborate. Gargoyles became a common exterior decoration. Gargoyles were stone representations of a creature or person's head with open mouths, and were created as water spouts to direct water off the roofs and away from the walls of the buildings.

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Reims Cathedral; Reims, France

The image of the cathedral at Reims, France shows many elements of Gothic architecture. This cathedral has a symmetrical facade, or front. Note the pointed arches at the doorways and the rose window.

Arundal cathedral

Arundel Cathedral; West Sussex, England

Arundel Cathedral has an asymmetrical facade; pointed arches; tall, narrow windows; and rose windows.

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Detail of the flying butresses of Westminster Abby; London, England

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Interior of Cologne Cathedral; Cologne, France

This is the interior of the Cologne Cathedral. Note the soaring ceilings with the ribbed vaulting; the tall, narrow, pointed, arched windows; the use of stained glass; and the ornate detailing.

paisley abby

Gargoyle detail of Paisley Abbey; Paisley, Scotland

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Gargoyle detail of Cologne Cathedral; Cologne, France

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Exterior detail of the rose window at Bordeaux Cathedral; Bordeaux, France

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