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The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals: A Study of Medieval Vault Erection [Paperback]

John Fitchen
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: £14.50 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

28 April 1997
John Fitchen systematically treats the process of erecting the great edifices of the Gothic era. He explains the building equipment and falsework needed, the actual operations undertaken, and the sequence of these operations as specifically as they can be deduced today. Since there are no contemporary accounts of the techniques used by medieval builders, Fitchen's study brilliantly pieces together clues from manuscript illuminations, from pictorial representations, and from the fabrics of the building themselves.

"Anyone who has caught the fascination of Gothic Churches (and once caught, has almost necessarily got it in the blood) will find this book enthralling. . . . Clearly written and beautifully illustrated." —A. D. R. Caroe, Annual Review, Central Council for the Care of Churches

"Fitchen's study is a tribute to the extraordinary creative and engineering skills of successive generations of mediaeval builders. . . . This study enables us to appreciate more fully the technical expertise and improvements which enabled the creative spirit of the day to find such splendid embodiment." —James Lingwood, Oxford Art Journal

"Fitchen, in what can only be defined as an architectural detective story, fully explores the problems confronting the medieval vault erectors and uncovers their solution. . . . This is a book that no serious student of architecture will want to miss." —Progressive Architecture


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The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals: A Study of Medieval Vault Erection + The Cathedral Builders of the Middle Ages (New Horizons) + Medieval Masons (Shire Archaeology)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Phoenix ed edition (28 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226252035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226252032
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.1 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 409,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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THE PRIMARY STRUCTURAL PROBLEM IN BUILDING IS THAT OF spanning space. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
In this book, originally published in 1961, John Fitchen describes and explains the falsework (i.e. scaffolding) that was used to build Gothic Cathedrals. The main focus is on the construction and use of the centering (which is the formwork used to build arcs and vaults). The chapters: 1. Sources of information - 2. Constructional means - 3. Medieval types of vaulting - 4. Gothic formwork - 5. Gothic centering - 6. Erection of rib vaulting without formwork. The text is clearly written and accompanied by excellent drawings, a very good glossary and an extensive bibliography. For everyone interested in medieval building techniques this book is a must.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy Going 14 Feb 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book as I am interested in how medieval people managed to build enormous cathedrals using very simple technology.

This book discusses the methods used to construct Gothic vaulting in cathedrals concentrating on the wooden structures, scaffolding, centering etc, used to support the vaulting while under construction. However there is very little written evidence on how these wooden structures were built and much of the book is supposition on how the structures were probably built. Lots of diagrams but only two photos so sometimes its hard to understand what the author is trying to describe.

Its rather heavy going too and I get the impression that the book was probably written either as a doctorial thesis or as a text book for Professor Fitchen's students. In particular he often refers to photos which are not in this book but in book referenced in the bibliography to which most of us don't have access.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Highly technical - not for the beginner 8 Oct 2013
By Wilkin
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book will tell you all you need to know about vault erection. The problem is that the author uses highly technical language throught (presumably in the interests of accuracy), which makes it more suitable to the advanced reader than the layman.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
51 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good description of medieval building techniques 31 July 1999
By Peter Gugerell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this book, originally published in 1961, John Fitchen describes and explains the falsework (i.e. scaffolding) that was used to build Gothic Cathedrals. The main focus is on the construction and use of the centering (which is the formwork used to build arcs and vaults). The chapters: 1. Sources of information - 2. Constructional means - 3. Medieval types of vaulting - 4. Gothic formwork - 5. Gothic centering - 6. Erection of rib vaulting without formwork. The text is clearly written and accompanied by excellent drawings, a very good glossary and an extensive bibliography. For everyone interested in medieval building techniques this book is a must.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maximum height and maximum light 6 Aug 2006
By Mario Mitas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Good introduction to medieval building techniques. Being a devoted admirer of Gothic cathedrals, this was one of the first books I red about the subject and it served well. If you wish to know why was pointed arch so important, or procedures used to erect butresses or types of scaffoldings used at that times... you will find the answers here. There is one drawback - it seems to me that author was repeating some ideas from the first half of the book in the second one, but still, it deserves 5 stars. Kind regards, Mario.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars needs more figures and graphics. Assumes you already know what the different areas in a cathedral are called. 28 Dec 2009
By J. Reese - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've read about a third of this book so far, and I'm finding myself wishing the author had included more figures, sketches, and diagrams. There are already quite a few figures, sketches, and diagrams in it, but they lack callouts and arrows pointing to specific items of interest with a description, and they feel very disconnected from the text. The main reason I wish he had used even more sketches is that the author seems to assume the reader knows what all the parts of a cathedral are called. He randomly tosses out references to "triformiums" and "diaphragm wall" (there are lots of walls, which one is he considering the diaphragm wall?). The glossary at the back offers a written description of SOME of these confusing terms, but architecture and structural engineering are by nature graphical and visual fields... he needs an overall plan and section of a typical cathedral with each area and piece identified... a visual glossary. I've been so distracted trying to figure out what he is referring to that I haven't had a chance to evaluate anything else about his book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very repetitious. 29 April 2014
By L. D. Griffith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book started out to be interesting, and parts of it were. However, it rapidly became dull and did not explain well a device called a circe used to build arches. I had hoped for more, but I understand there is little written on this subject. Mostly it is conjecture. This book aided my understanding of complexities involved in building Gothic cathedrals but did little to satisfy my curiosity and left much still a mystery.
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How did they do it? 17 Jun 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The builders of Gothic vaults left few clues (written or pictorial) about their actual construction methods. John Fitchen employs induction as well as the skills of a detective to figure out how the vaults were designed and built. Nevertheless, he fails the inquisitive reader at one critical point.
Fitchen states that the stone ribs supporting the Gothic vaults conform to a curve called, in mathematics, a catenary. The mathematics of catenary curves was first described by Robert Hooke in the late 1600s. This was no less than 150 years *after* the Gothic builders completed their last work.
In the absence of a knowledge of the mathematics of catenaries, how did the Gothic builders discover the *only* rib curvature that was self-supporting?
(It's not good enough to say the Gothic builders arrived at the correct catenary curve empirically, that is, by trial and error. There was simply no room for error. All would have come tumbling down.)
How did they do it?
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