Gothic Cathedrals

Activity Overview

In this Activity, students assemble a series of Gothic Cathedral designs. They discover that building components must be assembled in the right order to prevent collapse during construction. They learn about arches (vaulted ceilings) and the side thrust that they generate, and they learn about flying buttresses and other strategies for counteracting these lateral forces. They also learn that while the ceilings of these magnificent buildings function as arches, their roofs are light-weight trusses.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the activity, students should be able to:

  1. Explain why arches generate horizontal forces
  2. Describe possible strategies for counteracting lateral forces in buildings
  3. Illustrate how components of a structure must be assembled in the right sequence to prevent collapse during construction

Tips for Using the Activity

Students should be encouraged to enjoy the Activity.

They should not be rushed or under pressure to obtain the “correct answer” or a high grade.

Instead, they should be encouraged to explore how the lateral forces generated by the cathedral ceiling arch can be counteracted.

They should be given credit for figuring out one or more sequences in which the components can be assembled without producing collapse.

Equipment Design

It is important in this Activity that students feel the forces that are generated, particularly the horizontal ones. Friction between the angled interfaces of the flyers and piers is also important, and if the block finishes are too slippery, cork pads or other friction enhancers may need to be installed on the small horizontal surfaces at the ends of the notches in the piers.

Additional Information

See the Downloadables section for more information on this activity.