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Durham Cathedral Norman Architecture

The Enormous Achievements & Legacy Of Norman Architecture

Norman Architecture came about in the Middle Ages and was named for its roots in Normandy.  This era in architecture started in the early 11th century, following the Saxon architectural movement, then ending in the 12th century making way for the Gothic movement.

Norman Architecture is a form of the dominant Romanesque Architecture that sprang from the Normans (Vikings) who conquered England.  Its growth brought about large, impenetrable cathedrals, monasteries, castles, fortresses and fortifications.  The most typical monastery buildings were constructed during this movement.  These structures were short and stocky, rectangular or circular in form.  One of the most famous abbeys, Mont-Saint-Michel, was erected during the Norman era.

The majority of Norman Architecture was used in religious buildings such as grand cathedrals and churches that dotted the countryside throughout villages.  The most symbolic feature of these Norman churches is the cross-like shape which was borrowed from the Roman basilica motif.  These churches had bell towers, or campaniles which were erected nearby the main church building.  A-typical medieval castles are very distinctively Norman designs and sprouted up throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, Normandy and Italy.

The biggest difference with the Italian architecture was the combination of Norman features along with  Byzantine and Arabic styles. Unfortunately, this combination made for a very dark and gloomy atmosphere.  Actually, Norman Architecture is an offshoot of Romanesque Architecture which borrowed most of its architecture from the classic Roman approach and began in Lombardy, Italy.  These structures consisted of arches, vaults, columns and arcades.  It most commonly used the rounded arch that was actually a creation of the Romans  This style also used a variety of vault styles and most commonly the barrel and curved vaults which was broadly used in cloisters.


Building Materials & Adornments

Norman Architecture’s building materials mostly consisted of stones, for greater stability.  These stones were rough and uncut because there were no mason cutters in the Norman era.  Therefore, these stones were large and intermittently shaped which contributed to the building’s appearance as massive and bulky.

Like their Roman predecessors, Norman roofs were vaulted because the vaults made for a more balanced weight distribution across the entire roof.

Adornments were very minimal in Norman buildings, although some architects would chisel a series of carvings offering a trompe de l’oeil effect instead of an arch appearance. There were other architects that would carve moldings into the stone surfaces and a very small number who were so handy with their chisels, they would carve animals onto reliefs, over doorways or tympanums.  Rarely were arches or columns decorated at all.

A tympanum was usually a space between an arch and the horizontal head of a door or window.

By the time the Norman movement hit its peak in the 12th century, adornments became more popular.  These embellishments eventually climaxed with the first stained glass windows of the 12th century, directly before the progression of Gothic Architecture.


Norman To Gothic Windows

Another distinguishing feature in Norman Architecture were very small windows.  Before the Gothic movement, architects steered clear of building large windows because there was a high risk of buildings collapsing.  Those who lived in these buildings were in a very dark, dim environment, having to rely on candles for their only source of light.

Once the Gothic period took over, architects were able to safely install huge windows and finally bring in much needed sunlight.  These large windows attributed to cathedrals having a heavenly aura about them.


The Progression of Buildings & Walls

Also, during this time period, both Romanesque and Norman Architecture started the development of taller buildings such as castles and cathedrals which were to become the largest structures throughout Europe.  The buildings were generally square and housed guards who worked as night watchmen, scanning for intruders.

The walls of these taller buildings became a great deal thicker in order to provide a better support for the building’s height.  The interior housed enormous columns that also provided much needed support.  Eventually the walls became much thinner with the creation of the flying buttress, which came about through the Gothic movement. The flying buttress is considered one of the greatest architectural achievements in all of history. Though mostly Gothic now, the first Norman architectural achievement in England was London’s Westminster Abby, whilst Durham Cathedral is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England.

A lot of people are unaware that many Gothic structures started off as Norman buildings then later on were embellished upon by Gothic architects.  This is also true in regards to castle towers and towers erected on cathedral grounds.  These square, thick-walled buildings were used as dungeons and defense fortresses.

The world famous Tower of London, also known as the White Tower, served as a royal dungeon, imprisoning the likes of Anne Boleyn and Sir Walter Raleigh. This building is a next to last example of Norman Architecture. Considered extremely tall for its time, at 90 feet, The Tower of London had extremely thick walls that spanned approximately 15 feet in width in order to support it’s massive height.  Like many Romanesque buildings, it offers fortress-like in design and structure.

While Gothic Architecture was known for its very tall, magnificent buildings, the overall structures were a continuation of Norman. Norman Architecture used rounded arches and ribbed vaults that formed barrel vaults,  while Gothic Architecture used pointed arches.  It is commonly believed that the Gothic Architecture, as we know it today, would not have existed if it were not for Norman Architecture.


The Dark Ages

Norman and Romanesque architectural styles have been long associated with Fairy Tale structures of the medieval era.  Architects have since learned that most of these castles and cathedrals were not to house royalty as much as they were thickly armed fortifications. Unfortunately, many known Norman structures were the sites of extreme bloodshed and misery.  The Dark Ages, also known as the, Middle Ages is believed to have taken on that name due to Norman buildings and their extremely small windows.

Most church architects have taken more inspiration from the Gothic period than any other period.  That said, most architects regard the Norman movement as an architectural landmark.

Norman Architecture accomplished unsurpassed heights and renewed the magnificence of classical styles.  Though manifested in the awakening of human greatness, during a very dark time, its legacy rests in human desires and imagination that is believed to have been responsible for the evolution of the Renaissance era.

Architect Qualities

If you are looking into building your own home, you may have decided to get the professional opinion of an architect in an attempt to create a high quality design.

The problem is; there are too many to choose from and you don’t know exactly who to go for. Also, you don’t necessarily want to rush into a decision because the design of your home is vital; if you go ahead with something you aren’t comfortable with, you have to live with it for many years. For this reason, it is your right to be picky and to take your time in deciding. To help you along, here are some important qualities that every architect must have.


You want to find someone that has had experience at doing a project similar to yours otherwise you could be making most of the decisions yourself. Whether they have built their career from scratch or have been working under someone else, at least three years experience is important as you need to be able to trust their ability.


Remember, they are fighting for this project and not the other way around. Take your time in finding someone that is polite and kind and someone you’re happy to go into a partnership with. All good professionals should have built up a level of customer service and you need to feel as though you can approach them at any time with any problems.

Examples of Work

It is all well and good someone having three, four, or even more, years of experience but they count for nothing if they were standing in the shadow of someone more experienced. Find actual examples of their work in the shape of projects that they have had the lead on in recent years. Your trust in an architect can only increase if there is proof of their work that you can go and stand next to or even go inside.

Open to Discussion

You need to try and find the balance between an architect having their own creative ideas and the ability to listen to yours. Of course, a professional will have ideas and will know what will work and what won’t but they still have to listen to your plans as it is your development after all. The partnership between you and them needs to be strong and they need to be able to come up with solid ideas as well as listen to what you want and don’t want. There is no point choosing an architect that isn’t going to follow the basic premise of your plan.

Big Clientele

It doesn’t matter if an architect has three years or thirty three years of experience, they should always have a big list of clients that they are happy to share with you. For a construction to be great, professionals have to meet and work together on a variety of different projects. If an architect has a list of people to call upon, you know that previous projects worked out well and that they would be happy to combine again.

strange buildings

Our Top Five Strangest Buildings in the World

When it comes to the strange, bizarre, and perhaps downright goofy in terms of building designs, virtually every country in the world offers their own entry. The architects who manage to dream up crazy buildings are equalled in their imagination by the builders who somehow use the right materials to construct these creations.

Over the centuries, the construction of odd or unusual buildings have occurred in every major civilization. Whether by accident such as the Great Bent Pyramid of Egypt or on purpose such as the Longaberger Building in Ohio, architects continue to amaze everyone with their penchant for creating imaginative structures that still provide awe and wonder. Thanks to modern materials and innovative construction designs, there are more unusual buildings being constructed on a daily basis.

Of all the fascinating, weird, and bizarre buildings that have been created, there are five that really stand out from the rest. Each of them have their own unique character and continue to draw attention long after they are first seen thanks to their remarkable design and construction. For those who believe that quirky designs in buildings are tame, here are five that really stand out in alphabetical order.


Dancing Building

Dancing Building – Prague, Czech Republic

A four year construction, the Dancing Building or “Fred and Ginger” as it is sometimes called was completed and opened in 1996 to rave reviews for its remarkable design. The non-traditional design of what appears to be two different buildings dancing together was the dream of architect Vlado Milunic and Frank Gehry on a vacant riverfront property.

The property itself was actually bombed during World War II and left abandoned for decades afterwards, having been fully cleared by 1960. The building or house as it is sometimes called was chosen as the site of the structure and Milunic managed to get Frank Gehry to cooperate to help design a building that took advantage of the small space available. The result was one side of the building being bowed inward like glass while the other offers a unique, almost comic-book appearance as a grandiose house. A connecting platform gives the appearance that the two sides are dancing together.

Initially, the design was somewhat controversial because it garnered so much attention away from the traditional Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Gothic structures quite common to Prague. However, it quickly became quite popular thanks to its richly imaginative design that still draws awe and respect to this day.

 Habitat 67

Habitat 67 – Montreal, Canada

Also called simply, “Habitat”, this community and housing complex was completed in 1967 just in time for the World’s Fair. Located at 2600 Avenue Pierre-Dupuy near the Saint Lawrence River, Habitat 67 is arguably the most recognizable structure in all of Montreal and perhaps Canada as well. Designed by Moshe Safdie, the building itself was first conceived as part of his Master’s thesis in architecture when he was studying at McGill University. While it was noted for its uniqueness at the time, it did not with the coveted Pilkington Prize normally awarded to such works because of its controversial nature.

Safdie kept the remarkable cubical design of the structure and eventually managed to develop the design thanks in large part to the approaching World’s Fair. The cubical nature combined with the off-kilter approach makes the structure look almost slapdash in appearance. The cubes sit atop each other in an half-hazard way that only adds to the overall charm and distinctiveness of the building itself. Consisting of 354 identical, prefabricated concrete cubes, the structure reaches 12 stories in height for the 146 residences that are in place. The idea was to bring in a sense of privacy while providing garden space and fresh air to the residents.

Despite its remarkable size, it was actually suppose to be much larger before funding cuts stopped the project. Still, it was proclaimed at the 1967 World’s Fair to be an incredible experiment and an architectural wonder that still amazes to this very day. Safdie has also gone on to a very distinguished career in designing more than 75 buildings around the world.


Hang Nga Guesthouse

Hang Nga Guesthouse – Da Lat, Vietnam

Also called the “Crazy House”, this incredible building seems more like out of a fairy tale than an actual construction. Designed and built by Dang Viet Nga, the design of the building appears more like a very large, ungainly tree with sculpted natural elements. Using paintings as his resource instead of traditional blueprints like most architects, Dang Viet Nga has managed to create a structure that offers an expressionistic take on building design.

Originally conceived more as an experience of personal expression, the overall design incorporates the natural elements found around the city. The use of paintings and hiring non-professional craftsmen to create the structure, there are very few right angles found in the building itself. There is a kangaroo room, an eagle’s egg room, and most of the structure is dedicated to animal forms in one way or another. There is always much discussion about the connection of animals and nationalities that have been a part of the Vietnamese experience in this structure, including China and the US.

Opened to the public in 1990, the house itself was inspired by famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi and appears to be a cross between the works of Salvador Dali and Walt Disney, only more odd and unusual. It’s little wonder that the guest house routinely makes the lists of the strangest buildings in the world which is why it is here on this list as well.



Ideal Palace – Hauterives, France

One of the most unusual and certainly evocative buildings ever crafted, this remarkable palace was the singular work of one man, Ferdinand Cheval who was a simple French postman. The palace is the result of a single incident in 1879 when he was walking fast along the sidewalk when something caught his foot and tripped him up. The unique stone which caused him to nearly fall was placed in his pocket and served as the inspiration for his remarkable palace.
Cheval began working on his ideal palace in April, 1879 after finding more of the sandstones in the same location. Each day he would pick up several unique stones and that night use them to construct his palace. He started by putting the stones in his pocket, then a basket, and finally a wheelbarrow and worked tirelessly through the night on his palace.

The palace itself is a unique combination of Christian and Hindu influences as each stone is bound together with mortar, lime, and cement. The Palace itself stands at roughly three stories tall and is imbued with a seemingly endless series of remarkable designs. For 33 years Chavel worked on his palace until it was finally complete just before the outbreak of World War One. However, for him to be buried in his palace he had to have a proper mausoleum under French law, so it took him eight more years to build that and he died not long afterwards in 1924.

The castle itself is quite beguiling and beautiful, a combination of natural design and unique craftsmanship from a man who had no formal training as an architect. Over the years, Chavel’s work has become greatly appreciated for its powerful design and the perseverance to create it. Today, you can visit the palace and even see the original stone put in place by Chavel himself that inspired him to build the Ideal Palace.



Longaberger Building – Newark, Ohio

The Longaberger Company creates and distributes distinctive, handcrafted maple wood baskets as well as many other lifestyle and home products. Since the company’s founding in 1919, they have specialized in a particular model of wood basket that became so identified with the company that in the mid-1990s the president, Dave Longaberger decided to create a new building in its shape.

The Longaberger “Basket” Building is a seven-story structure that looks exactly like the medium market basket that the company manufactures complete with the massive handles on top. The building offers 180,000 square feet of space and was built by Korda Nemeth Engineering. Completed and opened in 1997, the handles are actually heated during cold weather in order to prevent damage from accumulating ice. The building can be seen from miles around and drew national attention when it was completed.

After its completion, Longaberger wanted all of his company’s buildings to share the distinctive shape, but he passed away shortly after completion of the headquarters. Unfortunately, with the reduced number of employees, the Longaberger Company has recently moved from their unique building. While the future of this remarkable structure remains in doubt, it certainly made an impressive impact over the past two decades as a remarkable design.

Over the centuries, there have been many unique and strange buildings constructed which have fired the imagination. But few reach the pinnacles of the five strangest works each with their own wonderful inspiration. From a postman in France determined to fulfill his dream to the president of a basket-making company, the source of inspiration for architects of all types can be found in these five structures.