We have now arrived at a style of architectural construction and expression which seems so different from that of Greek architecture, which we considered in the last lecture, that it is difficult to realize at first that the one is, in regard to some of its most important features, a lineal descendant of the other. Yet this is unquestionably the case. The long thin shaft of Gothic architecture is descended, through a long series of modifications, from the single cylindrical column of the Greek; and the carved mediaeval capital, again, is to be traced back to the Greek Corinthian capital, through examples in early French architecture, of which a tolerably complete series of modifications could be collected, showing the gradual change from the first deviations of the early Gothic capital from its classical model, while it still retained the square abacus and the scroll under the angle and the symmetrical disposition of the leaves, down to the free and unconstrained treatment of the later Gothic capital. Yet with these decided relations in derivation, what a difference in the two manners of building! The Greek building is comparatively small in scale, symmetrical and balanced in its main design, highly finished in its details in accordance with a preconceived theory.

The Gothic building is much more extensive in scale, is not necessarily symmetrical in its main design, and the decorative details appear as if worked according to the individual taste and pleasure of each carver, and not upon any preconceived theory of form or proportion. In the Greek building all the predominant lines are horizontal; in the mediaeval building they are vertical. In the Greek building every opening is covered by a lintel; in the Gothic building every opening is covered by an arch. No two styles, it might be said, could be more strongly contrasted in their general characteristics and appearance. Yet this very contrast only serves to emphasize the more strongly the main point which I have been wishing to keep prominent in these lectures - that architectural design, rightly considered, is based on and is the expression of plan and construction. In Greek columnar architecture the salient feature of the style is the support of a cross lintel by a vertical pillar; and the main effort of the architectural designer is concentrated on developing the expression of the functions of these two essential portions of the structure.

The whole of the openings being bridged by horizontal lintels, the whole of the main lines of the superstructure are horizontal, and their horizontal status is as strongly marked as possible by the terminating lines of the cornice - the whole of the pressures of the superstructure are simply vertical, and the whole of the lines of design of the supports are laid out so as to emphasize the idea of resistance to vertical pressure. The Greek column, too, has only one simple office to perform, that of supporting a single mass of the superstructure, exercising a single pressure in the same direction. In the Gothic building the main pressures are oblique and not vertical, and the main feature of the exterior substructure, the buttress, is designed to express resistance to an oblique pressure; and no real progress was made with the development of the arched style until the false use of the apparent column or pilaster as a buttress was got rid of, and the true buttress form evolved. On the interior piers of the arcade there is a resolution of pressures which practically results in a vertical pressure, and the pier remains vertical; but the pressure upon it being the resultant of a complex collection of pressures, each of these has, in complete Gothic, its own apparent vertical supporting feature, so that the plan of the substructure becomes a logical representation of the main features and pressures of the superstructure.

The main tendency of the pointed arched building is toward vertically, and this vertical tendency is strongly emphasized and assisted by the breaking up of the really solid mass of the pier into a number of slender shafts, which, by their strongly marked parallel lines, lead the eye upward toward the closing-in lines of the arcade and of the vaulted roof which forms the culmination of the whole. The Greek column is also assisted in its vertical expression by the lines of the fluting; but as the object of these is only to emphasize the one office of the one column, they are strictly subordinate to the main form, are in fact merely a kind of decorative treatment of it in accordance with its function. In the Gothic pier the object is to express complexity of function, and the pier, instead of being a single fluted column, is broken up into a variety of connected columnar forms, each expressive of its own function in the design. It may be observed also that the Gothic building, like the Greek, falls into certain main divisions arising out of the practical conditions of its construction, and which form a kind of "order" analogous to the classic order in a sense, though not governed by such strict conventional rules.

The classic order has its columnar support, its beam, its frieze for decorative treatment. The Gothic order has its columnar support, its arch (in place of the beam), its decoratively treated stage (the triforium), occupying the space against which the aisle roof abuts, and its clerestory, or window stage. All these arise as naturally out of the conditions and historical development of the structure in the Gothic case as in the Greek one, but the Greek order is an external, the Gothic an internal one. The two styles are based on constructive conditions totally different the one from the other; their expression and character are totally different. But this very difference is the most emphatic declaration of the same principle, that architectural design is the logical, but decorative, expression of plan and construction.


Delivered before the Society of Arts, London, December 13, 1887. From the Journal of the Society.


A groin is the edge line formed by the meeting and intersection of any two arched surfaces. When this edge line is covered and emphasized by a band of moulded stones forming an arch, as it were, on this edge, this is called a groin rib.


The "D" seems to have been accidentally omitted in this diagram; it is of course the fourth angle of the plan.


This was illustrated by diagrams on the wall at the delivery of the lecture.