The Gothic Cathedral: The greatest creations of all
Updated: Feb 3
People often ask why am I so obsessed by Gothic cathedrals and my answer is, “how could you not be?”
But it wasn’t always the case. As a technology obsessed architecture student, I was most inspired by the soaring steel and glass skyscrapers of the High-Tech style with its bold, futuristic structure wrapped in shimmering glass. I chose this as the subject of my dissertation, excited by the buildings pioneered by Foster, Rogers and Grimshaw, that drew inspiration from car manufacture and space exploration.
But during my studies, a single line caught my eye that left me perplexed...
“Gothic is the precursor to High- Tech architecture”
In my mind Gothic was the domain of hunchbacks and the Inquisition and I just could not make the connection. It took a chance visit to Canterbury Cathedral for the penny to finally drop. As I entered its vast nave, light poured in through its enormous windows, and rows of columns raised up like stone trees to a canopy of delicate tracery. This was cutting edge.
The significance of this building cannot be overstated. The nave, completed in 1405, is for me the apogee of the Gothic style, where the master builders perfected their art. Keep on walking however, and you enter the Choir, much older and the first example of Gothic architecture in the land. You can tell; the style lacks the same coherence, however it is by far more ground-breaking.
Before the Gothic style was the Romanesque. Characterised by its monumental bulk and the famous semi-circular Roman arch. Structurally, walls had to be thick with small windows and with that came an atmosphere that was darker and introspective.
The transition to the new Gothic style was both technical and symbolic. The pointed Gothic arch much more closely followed the lines of force that transfer the weight to the ground and as such, unnecessary stone could be chipped away, leaving more and more space for windows. Flying buttresses too took even more bulk away from the walls and by the time the new nave was built the windows were so large that they could be described not as buildings of stone, but of glass.
And with this change in architecture came a change in symbolism; cathedrals were no longer dark and introspective, but full of light, drawing your eyes up into the heavens. The same light that now floods our modern buildings is of a different meaning; clarity, health, egalitarianism. Whatever it means, they owe their lineage to these great ancient buildings, surpassed by the needs of a new age, but never rivalled in their magnificence.