For very good reasons, builders and architects have been creating vaulted ceilings for millennia. It all starts with the desire to cover a space. In smaller chambers a flat ceiling is easily and easily constructed. But in a large room or collection of chambers, a flat ceiling has many constraints. Thus domes and vaults were invented that may span the spaces between walls and make lovely and spacious rooms to gather in.

My Villa Austin

After two curved vaults combine. There are numerous sorts of vaulting systems. The easiest vaults are both linear systems: the simple V-shape vault, which happens on the shape of a sloping roof, and the barrel vault, which takes about a curved, half-pipe shape to span between walls. Both highlight the rectangular proportions of a space and indicate that the distance can just keep going.

The groin vault is nothing more than just two barrel vaults laid perpendicular to one another. Unlike a barrel vault, which is based on two walls for assistance, a groin vault relies on four corners for assistance. Arching gently or at a steeper, more pointed fashion, the four ribs (or arrises) help to define and manage the distance, creating a focus at the center of every vault.

Creating an inward focus. When used to cover one space, a groin vault creates a strong visual center. The ribs springing up from the walls and then intersecting at the top have the impact of making a space which is very inwardly focused, even when there are large expanses of glass which let outward views.

While groin vaults aren’t very common, particularly in residential design, they are wonderful ways of covering a space or set of rooms. I tend to consider the design impact as every room’s being covered and formed by a tent structure. The overall lightness and tensile quality of the groin vault make it look much like a sheet of fabric stretched over a frame. The result can be astonishing, provided these vaults are traditionally made of stone and other masonry.

Studio William Hefner

A joyous lightness. When groin vaults are used in series — state, since the ceiling on a linear flow distance — the arrises make a joyous rhythmic pattern. Each individual groin vault also creates a location for a large expanse of glass which allows an abundance of natural light into the space.

Vanguard Studio Inc..

A groin vault is also a nice way of layering the distance of a space. By providing a strong, central focus and the possibility of arched openings at each of the four sides, it can enable the creation of alcoves, niches, recesses and the like that can be wonderful spaces along the periphery.

Pitsou Kedem Architect

While groin vaults tend to get a more traditional architectural appeal, they can be quite successfully used for a contemporary aesthetic. Modern, machine-made accessories and furniture locate themselves comfortably in the home in an older building where we view that the stone-by-cut-stone structure of a groin vault.

Next: More ways to include interest overhead

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