Flying buttress

Flying buttress

A flying buttress, or arc-boutant, is a specific type of buttress usually found on a religious building such as a cathedral. They are used to transmit the horizontal thrust of a vault across an intervening space (which might be an aisle, chapel or cloister), to a buttress outside the building. The employment of the flying buttress means that the load bearing walls can contain cut-outs, such as for large windows, that would otherwise seriously weaken them. Flying buttresses are often found in Gothic architecture.

The purpose of a buttress is to provide horizontal strength to a wall. The majority of the load is carried by the upper part of the buttress, so making the buttress as a semi-arch provides almost the same load bearing capability, yet in a much lighter and cheaper structure. As a result, the buttress seemingly flies through the air, rather than resting on the ground and hence is known as a "flying buttress".

Though employed by the Romans in early Romanesque work, it was generally masked by other constructions or hidden under a roof. However, in the 12th century it was recognized as rational construction and emphasized by the decorative accentuation of its features, such as in the cathedrals of Chartres, Le Mans, Paris, Beauvais, and Reims.

Sometimes, for the great height of the vaults, two semi-arches were thrown one above the other, and there are cases where the thrust was transmitted to two or even three butts across intervening spaces. Normal buttresses would add significantly to the weight of the overall structure, so the flying buttress is an essential aspect of the architecture. Because a vertical buttress, placed at a distance, possesses greater power of resistance to thrust than if attached to the wall carrying the vault, vertical buttresses like those at Lincoln Cathedral and Westminster Abbey were built outside the chapterhouse to receive the thrust. Vertical buttresses are usually weighted with pinnacles to give greater power of resistance.

This technique has also been used by Canadian architect William P. Anderson to build lighthouses at the beginning of the 20th century. [Russ Rowlett, [ Canadian Flying Buttress Lighthouses] , in [ "The Lighthouse Directory"] .]


"To build the flying buttress, it was first necessary to construct temporary wooden frames which are called centering. The centering would support the weight of the stones and help maintain the shape of the arch until the mortar was dry. The centering were first built on the ground by the carpenters. Once that was done, they would be hoisted into place and fastened to the piers at the end of one buttress and at the other. These acted as temporary flying buttresses until the actual stone arch was complete." [Alex Lee, James Arndt, and Shane Goldmacher, [ Cathedral Architecture] .]

See also

* Gothic architecture
* Cathedral architecture



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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Flying buttress — Flying Fly ing, a. [From {Fly}, v. i.] Moving in the air with, or as with, wings; moving lightly or rapidly; intended for rapid movement. [1913 Webster] {Flying army} (Mil.) a body of cavalry and infantry, kept in motion, to cover its own… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Flying buttress — Buttress But tress, n. [OE. butrasse, boterace, fr. F. bouter to push; cf. OF. bouteret (nom. sing. and acc. pl. bouterez) buttress. See {Butt} an end, and cf. {Butteris}.] 1. (Arch.) A projecting mass of masonry, used for resisting the thrust of …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • flying buttress — n. a buttress connected with a wall at some distance from it by an arch or part of an arch: it serves to resist outward pressure …   English World dictionary

  • flying buttress — n a curved line of stones or bricks that are joined to the outside wall of a large building such as a church, and help to support it …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • flying buttress — noun count a curved structure that supports the wall of a building …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • flying buttress — arc boutant arc bou tant ([aum]r b[ooma] t[aum]N), n. [F.] (Arch.) A buttress that stands apart from the main structure and connected to it by an arch; same as {flying buttress}. Gwilt. Syn: flying buttress [1913 Webster + WordNet 1.5] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • flying buttress — Archit. a segmental arch transmitting an outward and downward thrust to a solid buttress that through its inertia transforms the thrust into a vertical one. See illus. under buttress. [1660 70] * * * Masonry structure typically consisting of an… …   Universalium

  • flying buttress — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms flying buttress : singular flying buttress plural flying buttresses a curved structure that supports the wall of a building …   English dictionary

  • flying buttress — noun a buttress that stands apart from the main structure and connected to it by an arch • Syn: ↑arc boutant • Hypernyms: ↑buttress, ↑buttressing …   Useful english dictionary

  • flying buttress — noun Date: 1669 a masonry structure that typically consists of a straight inclined bar carried on an arch and a solid pier or buttress against which it abuts and that receives the thrust of a roof or vault …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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