(This post was updated on February 8, 2018)
“You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to brick, ‘Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’ And then you say: ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch.’”
Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services is a leading national exhibition services and event project management company. We are based in the Boston area and have offices in major urban areas across the U.S.
Willwork works from coast to coast. Our client roster includes among the world’s largest and most successful multinationals as well as smaller companies, only recently founded, and which you may not have heard of, but we are confident that you will.
We provide every client the same uncompromising value and quality service.
A major aspect of our business is building and installing and dismantling exhibits and displays – and in that the world’s top exhibit and display houses and studios entrust Willwork with handling what they have designed and planned and created, we hold a deep admiration and respect for excellence in design and architecture and engineering.
With this post, Willwork begins a series that will from time to time feature historic development and invention in design, in architecture, and in engineering.
This series will spotlight how beauty in form and function and utility meet, with each element complementing and strengthening the other.
Throughout most of recorded history, there has been no better and purer example of beauty and form and function and utility reconciling, and with one strengthening and abetting the other, than the arch.
Wikipedia provides a simple, accurate, and helpful description of the arch: “An arch is a curved structure that spans an elevated space and may or may not support the weight above it.”
Please click here to be taken to the full Wikipedia article on the arch.
With the development and improvement of the arch, available was a device, one in which tension and compression were used to construct structures that were taller and heavier and longer than was possible with use of the lintel, which already existed and was the other primary technique used to span and connect columns and pillars and sections of buildings.
In employing the lintel, which is a straight horizontal piece of building material, weight in not nearly as well distributed as with an arch, and therefore much shorter intervals of length between sections of the structure are required than with the arch.
Taking the Arch to the Next Level: The Roman Architectural Revolution and Roman Concrete
When the arch first appeared is a topic of considerable and ongoing debate, but verifiable and supportable scholarship tells us that it was the Mesopotamians who first used the arch about 4,100 years ago.
There is little debate though that it the Ancient Romans greatly expanded and improved the use of the arch, and created arches that were far grander and more magnificent that arches of the past.
The Romans used the arch as a lynchpin of some of the most iconic buildings yet made, with many of the buildings still largely intact some 2,000 years after they were erected.
A technological and engineering development of the Romans that enabled them to erect bigger arches and bigger buildings was concrete. Roman concrete is a different substance than the concrete of today; it is a mixture of volcanic ash, stones and rubble, lime, sand, and even bits of tile. It works well.
When the Roman Empire covered its broadest geographic reach, a few years after 100 AD, it held lands that stretched across almost all of what is present-day continental Europe and Great Britain, and almost all of the region known today as the Middle East, and also a slice of present-day North Africa. Almost two millennium later, the buildings – and the arches – that the Roman Empire constructed are found not only in Rome and the areas around the city, and in Italy, but also in places nearby and far beyond.
Following is a sampling of among the extraordinary structures (with location and date of construction), that include arches, of the Roman Empire:
- Coliseum, Rome (71-72 to 80 AD)
- Pantheon, Rome (126 AD)
- Arch of Caracalla, Algeria (216 AD)
- Diocletian’s Palace, Croatia (around 300 AD)
- Pula Ampitheater, Croatia (27 BC – 68 AD)
- Pont du Gard, Southern France (around 50 AD)
- Arch of Hadrian, Jordan (winter of 129–130 AD)
- Pont del Diable, or Devil’s Bridge, Spain ( around 27 BC – 14 AD)
To take an excellent and educational online tour of buildings of the Roman Architectural Revolution and Roman Empire, please click here to access a photo essay, “52 Ancient Roman Monuments”, at the website Touropia. You will see a lot of arches – a lot of big arches – if you check out the essay.
Arches of a More Modern Vintage
Just maybe the best known arch on the planet is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. At 630 feet in height, the Gateway Arch is the world’s tallest arch, and the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. At the peak of the arch is an observation deck, to which visitors are transported by an interior tram, and from which views are afforded that take in 30 miles out in all directions.
The Gateway Arch resulted from a national competition held in 1947 and into 1948 to select a design for a monument that would serve as the centerpiece for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, established in 1935. Celebrating America’s settling of the west, with particular homage paid to President Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was founded, and is still operated, as a National Park Service property.
Winning the national design competition was the steel arch submitted by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and his team at Saarinen and Associates. Construction began on the Gateway Arch in 1959 and was finished in 1965; the Gateway Arch opened in 1967.
Rivaling the Gateway Arch for fame is the Arc de Triomphe, located in Paris, and the world’s largest triumphal arch, at 164 feet tall, 148 feet wide, and with a depth of 72 feet. Triumphal arches are monuments, frequently to military campaigns and to honor those who served and died in the conflicts.
Commissioned by Napoleon I in 1806, the Arc de Triomphe was designed by architect Jean Chalgrin. Chalgrin died in 1811, and in 1814 construction on the monument stopped, and would not be taken up again until 1833. When building recommenced, it was architect Guillaume-Abel Blouet, working off of Jean Chalgrin’s plans, who stewarded the monument to its completion in 1836.
As explained in the Wikipedia article on the Arc de Triomphe –
“The Arc de Triomphe honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.”
Ranking with the most remarkable of buildings is the Sydney Opera House, a multi-venue performing arts center in Sydney, Australia. Its wholly revolutionary and innovative design, an integration of curves and sail-shaped shell structures and vaulted arches, was announced in 1957 as the winning submission, of Danish architect Jørn Utzon, in an international competition to design a “national opera house” on Sydney’s ocean waterfront at Bennelong Point.
Ground was broken on the Sydney Opera House in 1959, and construction was completed in 1973.
Designer of Davies Alpine House is the London-based international architecture firm WilkinsonEyre.
Arches of North Easton Village
Willwork has a historic and cosmic connection to famous building arches.
Back on June 12, 2014, published in this space was a post, “What an ‘Assembly of Talent’ – In Easton, Massachusetts, Where the Corporate Headquarters of Willwork, Inc. Exhibit & Event Services is Located”.
Described in the post is the extraordinary trove of Gilded Age architecture and design found in the North Easton Village section of Easton, MA, the Boston area suburb which is the home of Willwork. As explained in the post, the trove is owed to the beneficence of the Ames family, an American industrial, political, and philanthropic dynasty.
Creators of the treasure in North Easton Village occupy a roster of the greatest and most accomplished artistic luminaries in American history: Henry Hobson Richardson(aka H.H. Richardson), who along with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright form the Trinity of American Architecture; Frederick Law Olmsted (aka F.L. Olmsted and F.L.O.), the Father of American Landscape Architecture; architect Stanford White; sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens; and painters and stained glass decorators, and competitors, John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Arches are central to much of what H.H. Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted designed for North Easton Village.
Indeed, arches, many of them ornate, are a staple design element of H.H. Richardson buildings, with this element exemplifying the school and architecture of “Richardsonian Romanesque” that Richardson developed. Clicking here transports you to a page at the website of the design and remodeling firm Wentworth where is found an excellent descriptor and explanation of Richardsonian Romanesque.
In North Easton Village there are five Richardson buildings, four of which feature arches; they are Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, Ames Free Library, Ames Gate Lodge, and Old Colony Railroad Station. The Richardson building that does not feature an arch is the Frederick Lothrop Ames Gardener’s Cottage.
With five H.H. Richardson buildings, North Easton Village holds almost 10 percent of the total (55) number of buildings in the world that the famed architect designed.
Arguably it is the arch of the Ames Gate Lodge, which joins separate areas of the residence, that is the most distinctive of the Richardson arches in North Easton Village.
F.L. Olmsted designed several landscapes in Easton, including the grounds and terraced staircase of Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, and two bridges, one of which contains an arch.
Perhaps, though the signature F.L.O. design in North Easton Village – and one that features an arch – is the Memorial Cairn, more commonly referred to by locals as “The Rockery”. The Rockery is a tribute to the men from Easton who died in service to the Union during the Civil War.
On Arches, the Renaissance Polymath Speaks
Arches. Leave it to Leonardo da Vinci, just maybe possessor of as gifted and creative and ingenious a mind as has yet graced Earth, to offer this succinct and elegant appraisal and descriptor of the arch: “An arch consists of two weaknesses which, leaning one against the other, make a strength.”
Yes, Mr. da Vinci summed up the arch nicely.
The next post in this series will feature and focus on the invention and engineering and architecture of the skyscraper.