“The principal of gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Something unimaginable is brought to reality just by styling something uniquely and distinctively. Gothic is an extinct language relating to the Goths while gothic architecture is a style that gained recognition in Europe from the late 12th century to the 16th century. After being evolved from Romanesque architecture it originated in the northern part of France.
The classifying design elements of Gothic architecture included the pointed arches, flying buttresses, rib vault, and stained glass windows. Gothic-style architecture can be mostly seen in the Gothic cathedrals, churches, and abbeys. It has also been the architecture of many castles, palaces, town halls, universities, etc.
But, due to the growth of Renaissance architecture in Italy during the 15th century, the Gothic style was somewhere replaced by this new style of architecture leaving a few places such as England and Belgium. The mid-18th century showed a great rise in the Gothic revivals in England followed by Europe in the 19th century further leading the 20th century with large churches and university buildings.
We appreciate the French for many things such as their cuisine, fashion, wine, art, artists, and a lot of their art movements but we never talk about the type of architecture they brought into the country of France. With time the architecture in France gave birth to some of the most famed styles of architecture in which Gothic architecture was amongst the most emerging styles out of the lot. This made the country act as a role model for the rest of the world.
If we talk about the present era a few star architects are associated with France namely, Jean Nouvel, Dominique Perrault and not to forget the father of modernism Le Corbusier. So, France as a country gave out some of the best architects who not only contributed to creating buildings but also gave an image to the country of France and other European countries.
But, the question that arises is “how”. How did they create a distinct character for France and the other countries? Let’s dig in a little deeper and know what’s the mystery behind these walls. You are going to thank me later for these little secrets of joy that I am about to share with you all.
From the mid-12th century till 1500, French Gothic architecture has been a predominant style that has been followed in Europe. The most interesting fact of this term is that it was used during the Renaissance period and was known as the “Opus Francigenum” before which meant “French work”.
If we go back in history we will discover that Gothic architecture was divided into 4 different types of styles which included the Early Gothic, High Gothic, Rayonnant, and the late or flamboyant style of architecture. The Early one was a direct descendant of Romanesque architecture, by adopting the pointed arch as an element and also by highlighting the height of the walls and ceiling.
To succeed in this, a combination of arcades with a gallery, a triforium, and a clerestory and a line of arches positioned above the original arcade was thought by the architects to provide fresh air. To build a stable structure, the builders discovered flying buttresses that were made to support the high walls. With success being found in the above ideas, these structural components became one of the most distinguishing emblems of Gothic architecture, often even seen as an object of beauty or decoration.
Following the initial canons, the High Gothic style aimed to achieve greater building heights, but with a drive to make the structure lighter. This is one of the causes why the 4 sections of the wall were reduced to 3, and the gallery eventually being dropped out. As a result, clerestory proceeded from having a single window in each division to a pair of windows joined by a rose window in the middle.
The other 2 styles of French Architecture of the period, Rayonnant and Flamboyant, are both derivatives from High Gothic architecture, but the concern for the builders was the two-dimensional, decorative aspects rather than the structural viewpoints and the actual use of space. Their wish to display light and to play with illumination was further explored during this period.
The Rayonnant period corresponded with several innovations related to glass and window glazing, which brought an effect on the subsequent change in designing windows. They used big windows and presented a glazed triforium, as well as a major change in the window tracery design—the windows were no longer mounted by plates but seemed as if they were gently touched by thin bars.
The 20th century was the period of major changes, and so it occurred in France and their architecture as well. After the Ist World War, there were 2 different streams one being the tradition-based Beaux-Arts and the other being the Modernists which were centered around Le Corbusier and Robert Mallet-Stevens.
As for today, both streams established a way to coexist, even with Le Corbusier’s radical urban plans. For better or for worse, he never got an opportunity to wipe out half of Paris’s historical core, but his architectural designs manifested the rest of France—one of the most famed being the iconic Villa Savoye in Poissy in the suburbs of the French capital.
In today’s era of post-postmodernism, we have the honor to enjoy the alluring architecture of Jean Nouvel, made all over the world, and also to re-interpret the sense of glamour through all of his weird designs. We can say that the French still play an important role in the history of architecture, even in the most sudden ways.
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