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The Evolution of Arches as Lightweight Structures

The Evolution of Arches as Lightweight Structures: A History of Empiricism and Science

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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  • Neil Burford
  • Fraser W. Smith
  • Christoph Gengnagel

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Third International Congress on Construction History, Cottbus, May 2009
EditorsKarl-Eugen Kurrer, Werner Lorenz, Volker Wetzk
Place of PublicationCottbus
PublisherBrandenburg University of Technology
ISBN (Print)9783936033311
StatePublished - 2009
EventThird International Congress on Construction History - Cottbus, Germany


ConferenceThird International Congress on Construction History
Internet address


Arches have been an enduring structural form of traditional, Gothic and Renaissance architecture since the Romans brought them to prominence some 2000 years ago. However, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the advent of new, high strength, lightweight materials that a step-change was made to the form, span and construction of arches with the introduction of the first lightweight, filigree arch structure at Coalbrookdale in 1779. The advent of the tensile restrained arch occurred shortly thereafter due to the need to provide significantly larger span structures, more efficiently and economically. Over the next 100 years, spurred by the railway construction boom, there followed unprecedented innovation in materials and construction techniques. By the 1930’s, the advent of new steel technologies and simpler methods of analysis meant that the further development and applications for tensile restrained arches rapidly declined. More recently, there has been a gradual re-emergence of the tensile restrained arch in a number of significant architectural projects.

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