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What is a buttress?

A buttress is an architectural element designed to transmit a structure’s transverse loads directly to the foundations.

Generally, buttresses are built in the shape of prisms, but they can also be cylindrical. They are usually on the outer face of walls; they’re sometimes topped with pinnacles and occasionally work with flying buttresses

What are buttresses used for?

While buttresses have been known and used since ancient times, their use peaked in the Middle Ages; that was when the most ambitious architectural projects of the classical era began to be devised.

The construction of large domes exerted too much transverse load on the load-bearing walls, pushing them outwards; this required extra support. Buttresses were fundamental for shoring up the walls and preventing their collapse, but they were also praised as aesthetic elements in Gothic and Romanesque architecture, becoming characteristic of these styles.

What is a flying buttress?

This structural element connects the vault with the buttress and is a half-arch in shape. It was first used in 1180 in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Flying buttresses are one of the most iconic features of Gothic architecture.

These flying buttresses are not attached to the wall, but are erected as independent pillars attached to the structure through the buttresses.

What is a pinnacle, and why is it important?

The pinnacle is a conical or pyramidal architectural element that tops off the buttress.

At first glance, the pinnacle may look like am ornamental element, and it indeed adds decoration to the building; it also creates an illusion of height with its pointed shape. While the pinnacle plays an aesthetic role, it also has a structural function. Its weight creates a vertical force that counteracts the lateral thrusts of the flying buttresses, and it gives the buttress stability.

What types of buttresses are there?

Buttresses located along the walls of a building can be cylindrical or prismatic. In corners, depending on their position relative to the parameters (or faces) of a building, buttresses can be any of the following types:

  • Angled.
  • Clamped.
  • Diagonal or French.
  • Setback.

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