People who are interested in architecture may have already heard of the term vault. And whoever is reading the word for the first time, the definition of it is as follows: it is an architectural term which defines an arched form which is used to deliver a space with a ceiling. Vaulting started from early Christian period. The vaulting system evaluated from period to period. Byzantine period had one kind, Romanesque had another, then the Gothic and it continued. With the term one may encounter with the types of it; they are as follows:
BARREL VAULT: This is the most simplest of all kinds. It is named
barrel or wagon vault because of its tunnel like feature. It is formed with layers of brick which are in customized sizes which means all are not of same size. It is because the individual lengths help make the structure strong. The center brick is said to be the crown or keystone. That is the strongest and the weakest part of the vault. It is because the length towards the down part is smaller and towards upward is wider. The barrel vault can take very heavy load. But if the keystone is pushed from down part the barrel can easily get destroyed by this. This was mostly used in Byzantine Period.
Gradually the vaulting system started to evolve. There were additions; there were changes in shapes and sizes, the lengths, the width, their height everything. Then in between the Romanesque and Byzantine timeline came the new forms of vaults.
GROIN VAULT: the groin vault is the extension of barrel vault. Four barrel vault forms a groin vault in simple words. The features are similar but stronger than before. The thickness of the walls in this case is thinner compared to the barrel vault. The number of crowns increased with the barrels on the vault. In this diagram we see the word “piers” which also evolved to pillars of today. In we see the figure of groined vault; we will notice the gaps between to barrels where the pillars formed. The height is not as much as the barrels; this is because of the load distribution. The top view of the groin vault is a square in form.
Then the timeline increased and the generation moved to more ornamentation. They considered the whole structure to be ornamented. Each form was unique and not in aesthetics but in strength they were great too. Romanesque introduced the ribbed vault which the Gothic period enjoyed and evaluated later, as the time proceed.
RIBBED VAULT: The word ribbed came from the rib cage of human body. This is because of the structure of the vault. It is strong as our rib cage and protects every other important parts of our body; it protects the other part of the structure. Ribbed vault is one of the most famous among the vaults and was the reasons of praises for Romanesque architecture. But like the others it was much thinner and more spread towards the ceiling. Thus it could not take as much as the loads of its own, because of the heights. This shows the transformation from groin to rib vault.
If we notice carefully we will see the arches changed from barrel to pointed arch. The walls got thinner and got spread in the center towards the ceiling. The next picture shows the ribbed structures more clear. This didn’t come from structural need but a part of decoration. These are mostly seen in churches of those periods. This was highly praised and most famous known vault of all time. It is mostly used in the passageways. These are formed by bricks and limestone.
The vaulting changed again when the gothic period started. They changed the ribbed vault completely to a new vault; fan vault.
FAN VAULT: Fan vault was the last of all the great changes in vaulting system. They were like a fan in shape thus the name was kept to be fan vault. It was the thinnest and the tallest of all the vaults. This is because the gothic churches were very tall. The figure in right shows the fan vault. It clearly shows the changes.
The changes continued as per timeline; but the major changes were discussed above.