1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Multi-Story Buildings in Pointed Architecture

(Part 86)

Multi-Story Buildings in Pointed Architecture

When the practice of building houses in stories commenced cannot be correctly ascertained, though it was usual among the Romans, as we know by the example of Pompeii, and it appears to have been usual during the Middle Ages. We frequently, indeed, find an apparent equivalent for the term story used by the ancient writers, both sacred and profane; but it must be remarked that none of the ancient remains, whether of public or private structures, afford evidence that it was a common practice even among the Romans to build more than one story above the ground floor; and it was less likely to be common among the Eastern nations, with whom the practice is not very general, even at the present day. Indeed, without considerable proficiency in the art of construction, it is hardly practicable to erect buildings in stories with such slight materials as were used by the Romans in some of their domestic edifices.

We find, however, in the oldest existing works of the Middle Ages, and particularly in some of the secular structures of Venice, a degree of intelligence evinced in this respect far surpassing anything found in ancient remains. Possibly the skill was principally acquired in that city from the necessity of making artificial foundations, which consequently required a super-structure not unnecessarily cumbrous; and again, to make slight walls sufficiently strong, they must be skillfully bonded in themselves, and bound together, which could only be done by means of a material possessing considerable length and great fibrous tenacity -- whence arise framed floors of timber. These, by their strength, their obvious utility and convenience, added to the want of space which existed in a thriving and populous community on a very restricted spot of dry land, superinduced, in the second place, the building of additional stories, which would soon be imitated in other places. But in whatever manner the improvement took place, the fact that it was made is certain; and we find it applied in all the works of the European nations both ecclesiastical and civil, from the 9th and 10th centuries downwards.

The combination of masonry and carpentry in building tended greatly to the advancement of both; for, it being required at times to make them act independently of each other, additional science and art were necessary, as the proportions must be retained that were given to similar works in which they co-operated.

To this is to be traced the skill displayed in the vaulted roofs and ceilings, in the towers and lofty spires, of some of our Pointed cathedrals for the one, and such splendid examples of construction as the roof of Westminster Hall for the other. On this point Sir William Chambers, who was certainly no depreciator of the merits of the Romans in architecture, says: "In the constructive part of architecture the ancients do not seem to have been great proficient" (Gwilt’s Chamber’s Civ. Arch., p. 128); then having referred many of what he calls the "deformities observable in Grecian buildings" to want of skill in construction, he continues, "neither were the Romans much more skillful; the precepts of Vitruvius and Pliny on that subject are imperfect, sometimes erroneous, and the strength or duration of their structures is more owing to the quantity and goodness of their materials than to any great art in putting them together. It is not, therefore, from any of the ancient works that much information can be obtained in that branch of the art.

To those usually called Gothic architects we are indebted for the first considerable improvement in construction. There is a lightness in their works, an art and boldness in their execution, to which the ancients never arrived, and which the moderns comprehend and imitate with difficulty. England contains many magnificent specimens of this species of architecture, equally admirable for the art with which they are built, the taste and ingenuity with which they are composed." To this Mr Gwilt, in his edition of Sir William’s work, adds, with much truth, in a note, "There is more constructive skill shown in Salisbury, and others of our cathedrals, than in all the works of the ancients put together."

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