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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.

Zaha Hadid 1950 – 2016

On March 31st, 2016 the world lost one of the foremost architects and pioneers in the industry. Zada Hadid was just 65 years old when she passed away from a heart attack, but she managed to live an extraordinary life that made her one of the most unique architects who ever lived.

The work of Zaha Hadid over her lifetime was truly remarkable. She brought a zest for style and beauty that was unlike anything seen before in the design of buildings. Her accomplishments are many and her followers a growing part of the architect community. What impressed me most about her work was the fearlessness of her work in abandoning the standard geometry of architecture to create sweeping, fluid visions that reflects modern life.

Her story is one that has garnered considerable interest and her accomplishments will inspire architects for many years to come.


The Story of Zaha Hadid

Born on October 31st, 1950 into an upper-class Muslim family in Baghdad, Iraq, Zaha’s father was a very wealthy industrialist who came from Mosul and co-founded the al-Ahali group in 1932. He later co-founded the National Democratic Party in Iraq while her mother was a noted artist who had travelled abroad. Perhaps it was the combination of influences that inspired Zaha to pursue her own future as an architect.

Like her parents, Zaha also saw much of the world in her younger days, studying mathematics at the American University of Beirut before moving to London in 1972 and studying at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. Her talents were immediately noticed after her graduation by her now former professors. She worked for them in the Office of Metropolitan Architecture located in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Although she faced many challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field, her talents were encouraged by those like Rem Koolhaas and Peter Rice, an engineer who helped guide her career and provide some of the confidence needed for her to succeed.


Zaha’s Career Takes Off

Thanks to the support she receive, but mostly through her own drive and determination, Zaha established her own architecture practice in London in 1980 and over the next several years started earning more respect and admiration for her work. However, it was the exhibition called “Deconstructivism in Architecture” in 1988 that really broke out her work. A submission of some of her drawings were put on display at the New York Museum of Modern Art during the exhibition which garnered considerable acclaim for the beauty, power, and originality of her designs.

By this time, Zaha had taught at the Harvard Graduate School of design and achieved a Kenzo Tange Professorship in the Architectural Association. By the turn of the 1990s, her teaching career in the field of architecture was growing by leaps and bounds thanks to serving as a guest professor at various universities around the world


Zaha’s Work Comes to Life

At this point, Zaha began doing various high profile work that garnered her considerable attention and fame thanks to her vibrant, beautiful designs that captured the imagination of all those who saw what she could accomplish. She created the notable Mind Zone at the Millennium Dome in London and showed her hand at furniture design at Home House, a private members club located in Marylebone, and even crafted a design for a three-wheeled vehicle, the Z.Car which is hydrogen powered. In addition, Zaha impressed everyone with her fashion designs as part of her association with Locoste, a clothing brand. There was seemingly no limit to her work or incredible designs that flowed across different landscapes. Her vibrant imagination combined with her extensive training in mathematics to make her bold, fierce designs a reality. While she enjoyed considerable success in these fields, it was architecture that ultimately gave her the best platform of her imagination.


The Works of Zaha Hadid

There are numerous projects that were completed in her lifetime as well as ongoing projects that will be developed from her designs over the next several years. Here is a partial list of some of the most inspired and important works from Zaha Hadid.
•    Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria
•    Hotel Puerta America, Madrid, Spain
•    BMW Central Building, Leipzig Germany
•    Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany
•    Ordrupgaard Annex, Copenhagen, Denmark
•    Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, American University of Beirut, Lebanon
•    Maggie’s Centres, Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy, Scotland
•    Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion
•    R. Lopez De Heredia Wine Pavilion, Haro, La Rioja, Spain
•    Bridge Pavilion, Zaragoza, Spain
•    London Aquatics Centre, 2012 Summer Olympics, London, England
•    Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
•    Pierresvives, Montpellier, France
•    Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China
•    MAXXI: National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome, Italy
•    CMA CGM Tower, Marseilles, France
•    Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, Michigan, USA
•    Library and Learning Center, Vienna University of Economics and Business
•    Roca London Gallery, London, England
•    Evelyn Grace Academy, Brixton, London, England
•    Mandarin Oriental, Dellis Cay, Turks & Caicos Islands
•    King Abdullah Petroleum Studies & Research Center, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
•    Citylife Office Tower, Milan, Italy
•    Jockey Club Innovation Tower, Hong Kong
•    Napoli Afragola Railway Station, Italy
•    Dongdaemun Design Plaza, Seoul, South Korea
•    Salerno Maritime Terminal, Salerno, Italy

Zaha’a remarkable wealth of designs is only partially complete as a number of them that are still being constructed or pending remain to be brought into this world. However, for her great gifts at architecture, there are five personal favorites of mine that stand out from the rest.


Five of My Favorite Zaha Works
Of the many works that she accomplished in her lifetime, there are some that rank as the most remarkable of her career and inspiration for architects to think outside the box when it comes to fashioning designs. Her greatest strength was the ability to channel her interior vision into reality and creating something that had never been seen before. Plus, far from being impractical or simply odd designs, Zaha managed to make them leap to life in a manner that was both dreamlike and grounded in reality. They defied the standards of our time, yet they became inspirations for architects of today and tomorrow to learn and reach into their own interior visions that truly make them special.



Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, Baku, Azerbaijan: While much of Zaha’s work is defined by straight and angular lines, this particular building is noted for its curved, wave-like appearance. With sections that seem to bubble up like a wave forming on the ocean, this remarkable design is one that inspires real beauty. There is a pleasant, clean appearance to this incredible design that is certainly one of her most eye-catching.


Libraryand LearningCenter

Library and Learning Center, Vienna, Austria: Another astounding work, this one seems to leap right from a dream as most of the building appears to be stacks or layers built from the ground up to carry the large section that almost teeters over the side. Striking, beautiful, and marvelous to behold, this is certainly one of the most stunning works from Zaha’s vivid imagination.



Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg, Germany: Sharp angles and bold design are a part of Zaha’s trait when it comes to architectural originality and this work follows those lines beautifully. It truly stands out for its unique shape and vibrant design.



Riverside Museum, Glasgow, Scotland: The wave-like structure of the walls that help make up this museum stand as a testament to Zaha’s own interior vision and making it a reality. The result is a sweeping accomplishment that is simply one of the most breathtaking of her career.



Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, Cincinnati, Ohio: Completed in 2003, this particular work is very inspiring not only because it is Zaha Hadid’s first design constructed in the United States, but also because of the simple, unique nature of the building itself. It is a work of art thank to the unique structures that create separate environments within a single, uniform design. This work is very special and brought out Zaha’s talent for her dream-like vision grounded in mathematical reality as it flows evenly.

All of these works and the many more that bless the Earth came from her active imagination that was grounded in mathematical reality. However, it must be noted that new, more flexible materials and improved construction techniques paved the way for many of her visions to become reality. While they must be recognized for the contribution to the success of Zaha’s designs, it was still her vibrant imagination that brought them into our world.

We lost Zaha Hadid at the way-too-young age of 65 from a sudden heart attack as she was being treated in a Miami hospital. However, while she is no longer on this Earth to create even more of her marvelous works, what she has accomplished in terms of being a Muslim woman who became a pioneer in the field of architecture will stand the test of time.

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.