In the heart of a suburb just east of London stands an incongruous red brick villa. With its pointed arched window frames and towering chimneys, the house was designed to appear like a relic of the Middle Ages. In reality, its vintage dates to the 1860’s. This is Red House, the Arts and Crafts home of artist William Morris and his family. Built as a rebuttal to an increasingly industrialized age, Red House’s message has been both diminished by the passage of time and, over the course of the centuries, been cast in greater relief against its context.
With the intention of maximizing available space and avoiding steep construction costs, researchers from ETH Zurich’s Department of Architecture have devised a concrete floor slab that with a thickness of a mere 2cm, remains load bearing and simultaneously sustainable. Inspired by the construction of Catalan vaults, this new floor system swaps reinforced steel bars for narrow vertical ribs, thus significantly reducing the weight of construction and ensuring stability to counter uneven distributions on its surface.
As opposed to traditional concrete floors that are evidently flat, these slabs are designed to arch to support major loads, reminiscent of the vaulted ceilings found in Gothic cathedrals. Without the need for steel reinforcing and with less concrete, the production of CO2 is minimized and the resulting 2cm floors are 70% lighter than their typical concrete counterparts.
This article was originally published on Atlas Obscura as "Five Architectural Easter Eggs Hiding on Gothic Cathedrals."
The modern use of the term “easter egg”—not the holiday treat but rather a hidden joke or surprise item inserted in a piece of media—originated with Atari in 1979, when a developer snuck his name into a game hoping to get some recognition as the creator. But these surprise treats, hidden to all but those who look closely enough, aren’t only lurking in the digital world. Some of the best easter eggs are snuck into the physical architecture around us.
The excellent thing about architectural easter eggs, be they tongue-in-cheek, carved out of spite, or simply placed as a fun treat awaiting an observant eye, is that they endure in the landscape around us, becoming a sneaky and often confusing part of history. Here are five hidden carvings that dot historic structures with a bit of human nature.
While the Roman Catholic Church is synonymous with the Eternal City (and Italian capital), the greatest monument from its medieval heyday actually stands in southern France. The relic of the Papacy’s brief departure from Rome, the Palais des Papes (“Palace of the Popes”) in Avignon is the largest Gothic palace ever built. Constructed in two main phases by two of its residents, the Palais des Papes is a grandiose architectural expression of the wealth and power of the eleven popes who called Avignon their home and base of power.
The origin of Gothic architecture, a style which defined Europe in the later Middle Ages, can be traced to a single abbey church in the northern suburbs of Paris. The Basilique royale de Saint-Denis (Royal Basilica of Saint-Denis), constructed on the site of an abbey and reliquary established in Carolingian (800-888 CE) times, was partially rebuilt under the administration of Abbot Suger in the early 12th Century; these additions—utilizing a variety of structural and stylistic techniques developed in the construction of Romanesque churches in the preceding centuries—would set medieval architecture on a new course that would carry it through the rest of the epoch.
In a short but prodigious career Raymond Mathewson Hood (March 29, 1881 – August 14, 1934) had an outsized influence on twentieth century architecture. Born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Hood was the son of a box manufacturer in an affluent Baptist family. He attended Brown University before studying at MIT School of Architecture, later graduating from the École des Beaux-Arts in 1911. While in Paris, Hood met John Mead Howells, who in 1922 would select him as a partner for the design of the Chicago Tribune Tower. The team would beat out many more avant-garde entries by the likes of Walter Gropius, Adolf Loos, and Eliel Saarinen, with their own Neo-Gothic edifice that mimicked the Butter Tower of Rouen Cathedral.
Sitting on the northern bank of Venice's Grand Canal is a great house whose ornately carved marble facade only hints at its original splendor. The Palazzo Santa Sofia—or the Ca D’Oro (House of Gold), as it is also known—is one of the most notable examples of late Venetian Gothic architecture, which combined the existing threads of Gothic, Moorish, and Byzantine architecture into a unique aesthetic that symbolized the Venetian Republic’s cosmopolitan mercantile empire. Built to serve as the grand residence of wealthy Venetian businessman and politician Marin Contarini, the palazzo has seen a number of owners and renovations over its lifetime before ultimately coming to serve as a museum for medieval painting and sculpture.
Ryan McAmis, an artist from Brooklyn, New York, is designing and building a miniature, scale model of a late Gothic Italian Cathedral, recreating everything from the stained glass windows to the vaulted ceiling, wall tombs and paintings. He first creates the pieces from a variety of materials, ranging from hand scribed brickwork on treated paper, to clay and wood. He then combines the materials together and creates a silicon mold, casting each piece in white plastic to be hand painted later. See more photos and read about his process after the break.
The Gothic cathedrals of the middle ages have long been respected as sites of significant architectural and structural experimentation. Hoping to reach ever closer to God, the master masons of the period took increasingly daring structural risks, resulting in some remarkably durably buildings that are not only timeless spaces for worship but miraculous feats of engineering. However, according to new research by a team of French archaeologists and scientists, we still haven't been giving these historic builders enough credit.
Though iron components feature in many Gothic buildings, often forming structural ties to stabilize tall stone buttresses, it was previously assumed that these were later additions to shore up precarious structures. However, thanks to a highly sophisticated carbon dating technique, the team consisting of the Laboratoire archéomatériaux et prévision de l'altération, the Laboratoire de mesure du carbone 14 and "Histoire des pouvoirs, savoirs et sociétés" of Université Paris 8 have shown that iron fixtures were an integral part of cathedral construction techniques from as early as the late 12th Century - meaning that many buildings from the period were essentially hybrid structural systems.
(Almost) everything you need to know about 20th century design has been synthesized into 6 brightly-colored, easily-digestible videos (all narrated by the sweet Scottish tones of one Ewan MacGregor).
From the Gothic Revival to Post-Modernism, this series of shorts from The Open University’s OpenLearn website just touches the surface of these design movements; however, they act as a great introduction for the un-design-initiated (indeed, The Open University sees them as an intro to their free course on Design Thinking) or, for design-aficionados, a fun refresher.
We're particular to the video on the Bauhaus (after all, we also tackled the movement in a brilliant infographic) and the Modernist video (after the break) - but you can find all 6 at OpenLearn. Enjoy!
Since the remains of Richard III were discovered beneath a car-park near Leicester Cathedral last year, the local church has been left with a perplexing question: what to do with him now? The King's remains are an important part of English history, and an important tourist attraction, but how should they mark his final resting place?
In response to this issue, Cathedral authorities have launched a design competition asking selected architects to submit ideas for a new tomb for King Richard that will be located in the Gothic Cathedral. The brief is an unusually delicate one; the architects submissions will have to consider appropriate symbolism and practicality in their design, not to mention the challenge of designing, in a modern age, the grave of someone who lived centuries ago. They also need to be mindful of the controversy surrounding the King, as the brief states: "Richard demonstrated both the honorable and dishonorable characteristics of human beings." Some consider him a great English King, while others, a bloodthirsty tyrant.
Read more about the brief and see an early submission after break...