- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 16 May 2017
An arch is a curved structural form that carries loads around an opening, transferring them around the profile of the arch to abutments, jambs or piers on either side. Arch are structurally very stable in compression, as loads are relatively evenly balanced through their form.
The word 'vault' may also be used to refer to a room or chamber used for storage, in particular if it is underground, or secure.
Vaults must be able to withstand the outward pressure on the lower parts of the vault imposed by the structure above. If the vault is underground, this pressure might be resisted by the ‘fill’ surrounding it. If it is above ground, it can be resisted by thick supporting walls, supporting columns, buttresses, stiffening diaphragm beams, side anchors or parallel walls that can distribute stress.
The arrangement of arches relative to one another determines the type of vault.
A barrel vault (sometimes referred to as a cradle vault, tunnel vault, or wagon vault) is a continuous arched shape that may approximate a semi-cylinder in form, resembling the roof of a tunnel, or may be pointed at its apex. It is typically formed by a series of arches placed side by side (or sometimes by a continuous shell).
For more information see: Barrel vault.
Cloister vaults, also known as dome vaults, are dome-shaped vaults that maintain a polygonal shape in their horizontal cross-section. They arch towards the centre from a constant spring point along a wall.
Corbel arches consist of two opposing sets of overlapping corbels meeting at a peak, resembling an inverted staircase. When these arches are formed in a series they are known as a corbel vault. Both corbel arches and vaults were common elements of Babylonian and Mayan architecture, where curved structures had yet to be developed.
For more information see: Corbel.
 Rib vault
The crossed-arch domes is one of the earliest types of ribbed vault, formed where the ribs, instead of meeting in the dome’s centre, are intertwined to form polygons, leaving an empty space in the centre. The earliest known crossed-arch dome is in Spain’s Great Mosque of Cordoba, dating back to the 10th century.
 Groin vault
A groin vault is formed by two barrel vaults intersecting at right angles. The ‘groin’ is the edge between the intersecting vaults. A series of groin vaults can be built next to one another to create a similar effect to a simple barrel vault.
 Fan vault
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
The types, causes and measurement of damp in buildings.
The new NEC4 contract creates a true procurement alliance arrangement for all stakeholders.
Andrew Strauss talks about performance and team building at the 2018 BSRIA Briefing.
Applications have to be in by the end of the week.
Reflections on the 5th Annual Global Congress of Knowledge Economy, held in Qingdao, China.
An artist finds ruined and decaying buildings a source of inspiration for his work. Book review.
When is there a right to light, and what happens if it is obstructed?
What would the nationalisation of economic infrastructure mean for GB?
A new guide to improving value by reducing design error.
We've reached 80,000 page views a day and 10,000 registered users. Why not join them?
A masterplan is a framework within which a location is encouraged to develop or change. Read our introductory article.