Wednesday, 29 February 2012


I've been thinking a lot about arches lately, especially in connection with building brick walls, an increasingly interesting construction method for new architecture. If you have an ideal of the true construction of a building being visible, as I do, you have you use either arches or lintels to cover any spans, for example for windows and doorways. You could of course, as many do, fake the whole thing by using hidden steel lintels, covered by the bricks, but that is in my opinion a cheap trick, unworthy of an architecture with ambitions beyond a certain wow-effect. A Norwegian example here, from the otherwise rather tasteful Bøler church, by Bjørndal/Hansen Architects A/S:

*Sigh* Back to the arches. There are many kinds of arches to be found, and they're all suitable for different situations.

Parable or catenary arches may be good for a gateway, or a building you want to look soaring and strange,

a semi-circular arch may be suitable for a solid and classic look,

the segmental arch is good for informal red-brick architecture,

the right-angled flat arch or jack arch (there's also a variant called french arch) can be used in architecture with a geometric or minimal expression,

and the four-centred ("tudor") arch may be fitting if you're a hardcore romantic, 

perhaps combined with some sort of pointed ("gothic") arch

Still, I think one of my favourites (What's your "favourite arch"? God, I'm such a geek.) is the three-centred arch. This gentle shape creates good vibrations all around, feels earthbound and yet poetic, and doesn't require great height. 

The first place I thought of that uses these, is my former school, the eminent Nansen Academy in Lillehammer.

The old school building, originally a private residence built in 1918, features three-centred arches in the ground floor windows of the entrance facade. There's also a tiny side building, connected to the main volume via a very short arcade made up of a couple three-sided arches. 

It seems this shape was very popular in early 20th Century Norwegian architecture, but it seems to have more or less vanished around 1925. Now, how do you construct this three-centred arches, you ask? You already love them that much? That's good. Here's a youtube video with a very simple explanation:

Now, go ahead and design your own!

(Picture credits:

Arcade with yellow arches - Wikipedia
Bøler church - Anne-Beth Jensen/
Catenary arches in Gaudí's Casa Milà - Wikipedia
Marble Arch - Wikipedia
Insula with segmental arches - Wikipedia
Georgian row house facades with flat arches - PhotoEverywhere
King's College Chapel - Wikipedia
Hogwarts' Great Hall - Warner bros, I guess
Nansen Academy entrance facade - Nansen Academy Facebook page
Nansen Academy side shot with people holding flags -


  1. Why didn't the city council of Oslo give you the task to design and build Bjørvika? I can just imagine the jagged Barcode Wall replaced by beautiful, transparent and welcoming arches. Hope they'll come to their senses and give you a mission in the not too far future. If not whole Oslo will soon become nothing but a big, dreary and depressing "Wow!"...

  2. My favourite would have to be the tudor arch (I guess I'm the romantic), especially when it's used in chapels.

    Great post! Rachel

  3. Thanks, both of you! And Rachel, I think maybe I'll try out the tudor arch in my own designs sooner or later. Porphyrios used it several in his 2007 Whitman college at Princeton, including an arcade and a tower.

  4. I'm just reading the latest interview with Salingaros, and from what he writes I must say you are very brave as an architecture student, to dare to set up a post like this one, revealing your love for arches, which I guess is quite a taboo within the establishments. Nikos says:

    "How do you view architecture programmes? And have you witnessed a shift since you started your work?

    I assume you mean architectural education. Here we have a problem because what I consider to be architecture, and what the schools consider to be architecture, are very different -- even opposite -- things. I feel a tremendous sadness at the enormous number of young people who are indoctrinated into a way of thinking -- a defining worldview -- that ignores fundamental human and even sacred qualities. And all of this because there exists an entrenched philosophical/pseudo-religious tradition of modernism that has to be perpetuated at all costs. Students have a meme implanted into their thinking, and for the rest of their life, they are servants to the stylistic dictates of “modernism”. Only a few of them ever wake up from this condition spontaneously. It’s extremely difficult to do so once indoctrinated, and that’s a great tragedy for our civilization." :

    In fact, this post and your blog are of the very few hopes to be found in the current architectural situation of our civilization. I'm happy you woke up before you were fully indoctrinated, becoming a puppet of the dark force. Hope you can help others too, before they are lost to the dark side. Good luck with your arches!

  5. Thanks, Øyvind. That's very dramatic, though. I don't think it's all that bad, especially at schools like BAS, where emphasis is put on the fact that architecture is about so much more than just aesthetics.

  6. I hope so, and maybe BAS represents a glimpse of hope too, like your blog? Still, modernist architecture is the face of modernist liberalism, on which EU and the Norwegian state is founded. And this is a very dark power, with enormous financial and ideological muscles. I've just started reading Charles Siegel's last book on Classical Liberalism, which explains all this:

    Classical liberalism existed on the edges of history only, between the change from one paradigm to another, and is therefore not much known. Permaculture principle 11 tells us to use or value the edges, because life is richest there. Classical liberalism appeared on the edges of history, and is hence where life became most rich and nourishing. I hope to use this parallel for an article on classical liberalism once I finishes the book, to explain this for the permaculture world. The face of classical liberalism will of course be the opposite of the one of modernist liberalism, a human scaled architecture guided by the people. I fight for this world to appear for my daughter.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...