Catenary (SOS 5)

More new vocabulary, at least for me.

Antonio Gaudi is the architect almost synonymous with Barcelona, with a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the city featuring his designs.  Visit any of them and you’re likely to be introduced to the catenary arch, either physically or as part of the informative displays that tell Gaudi’s story wherever you go.

Catenary refers to the shape that a chain or cable forms when suspended at each end and allowed to hang freely.  As a naturally occurring curve it had appeal to designers of the Modernist movement and Gaudi in particular.  Row upon row of these arches support the roofing at Casa Milá (Le Pedrera) and Casa Batlló, but elsewhere he strung multiple chains in complex patterns, photographed them, inverted the photograph and then sketched ideas over the resulting shape before turning to his preferred design option, the plaster model.

The shape of a shallow catenary is familiar to all of us, being found in the sagging cables of power lines or the links of a spider’s web, but inverted and narrowed they become Gaudi’s stock in trade.

Model for Church of Colònia Güell (building was never completed)

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