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mass of masonry built against a wall to strengthen it. It is especially necessary when a vault or an arch places a heavy load or thrust on one part of a wall. In the case of a wall carrying the uniform load of a floor or roof, it is more economical to buttress it at certain intervals than to make the entire wall thicker. Even when a wall carries no load, it is usually buttressed rather than uniformly thickened. For a load-bearing brick wall more than 8 ft (2 m) high a buttress is used every 20 ft (6 m). The decorative possibilities of the buttress were discovered in the ancient temples at Abu Shahrein in Mesopotamia (3500–3000 B.C.), where they were used both as utilitarian and decorative forms. The Romans employed buttresses, which sometimes projected from the exteriors of the walls and were then left as mere piles of masonry, without architectural treatment. But in the large structures, such as basilicas and baths, the buttresses that received the thrusts from the main vaulting were confined to the interior of the building, where they served also as partition walls. The basilica of Constantine in Rome (A.D. 312) exemplifies this arrangement. In the medieval church, the groined vaults, concentrating their great lateral thrusts at points along the exterior walls, required buttresses as an essential element to achieve stability. Beginning with Romanesque architecture about A.D. 1000, a steady evolution of buttresses can be traced, from the simple, slightly projecting piers of the 11th cent. to the bold and complex Gothic examples of the 13th, 14th, and 15th cent. Builders in England, Germany, and N France achieved striking architectural effects. They devised the flying buttress, an arch of masonry abutting against the wall of the nave; the thrust of the nave vault could thus be received and transferred to the vertical buttress built against the outside walls of the side aisles. These flying arches, at first concealed beneath the roofs, began to be exposed outside the roofs in the mid-12th cent. Later they were enriched with gables, stone tracery, and sculpture and were topped with pinnacles to give them extra weight. They constitute, especially in such French cathedrals as Amiens, Beauvais, and Notre-Dame de Paris, the true expression of the elasticity and equilibrium which were the basic principles of the Gothic structural system.


An exterior mass of masonry projecting from the wall to absorb the lateral thrusts from roof vaults; either unbroken in their height or broken into stages, with a successive reduction in their projection and width. The offsets dividing these stages are generally sloped at a very acute angle. They terminate at the top with a plain slope ending at the wall or with a triangular pediment.

angle buttress

One of the two buttresses at right angles to each other; forming the corner of a structure.

diagonal buttress

A buttress that bisects the 270-degree angle at the outside corner of a building.

flying buttress

A characteristic feature of Gothic construction in which the lateral thrusts of a roof or vault are carried by a segmental masonry arch, usually sloping, to a solid pier or support that is sufficiently massive to receive the thrust.



a transverse wall, a vertical projection or rib that reinforces the main supporting structure (primarily the outer wall of a building) and absorbs the horizontal pressure (the thrust from the arched ceiling, the pressure of the earth against the retaining walls, hydrostatic pressure against the foundation of a dam). The cross section usually increases toward the base of the wall (smoothly or with ledges). Against small horizontal thrusts, the cross sections can remain at one height. Buttresses can be made out of stone, concrete, or reinforced concrete. The stone buttress was one of the principal elements of Gothic structures. Buttresses are widely used to reinforce walls during the restoration of architectural monuments.


An upright projection that supports or resists lateral forces in a building.
A ridge of wood developed in the angle between a lateral root and the butt of a tree.
(civil engineering)
A pier constructed at right angles to a restraining wall on the side opposite to the restrained material; increases the strength and thrust resistance of the wall.
A ridge on the inner surface of a pelecypod valve which acts as a support for part of the hinge.


An exterior mass of masonry set at an angle to or bonded into a wall which it strengthens or supports; buttresses often absorb lateral thrusts from roof vaults. Also see flying buttress, hanging buttress.


1. a construction, usually of brick or stone, built to support a wall
2. either of the two pointed rear parts of a horse's hoof
References in periodicals archive ?
In order to quantify buttressing and associated stem volume, the height and diameters of conical basal buttresses and connected tree boles can be transformed into frustums for calculating volumes and the volumes can be converted to ratios for each tree.
Roth (1898) determined that the weights of wood taken from all parts of the baldcypress tree are very similar indicating that volume is directly proportioned to mass and would not be confounded by varying specific gravities between buttresses and stems.
Measurements of tree buttresses matching these form classes were taken as indicated on the drawings of the diameter of buttressing at soil level, the diameter just above the buttress flare, and the height difference between the two (Figure 1).
Ratios of change in buttressing [height / (diameter of buttressing at soil level--diameter just above buttressing)] were calculated and then associated with each form and a range of form ratios was determined in order to classify the tree buttresses encountered in the field.
To light the art in the buttresses, Zbrizher specified two in-ground, asymmetric uplights (39-W T4 CMH), which are recessed in the gutter under each respective carving.
CMH floodlights (100-W) were mounted on ledges above the carved buttresses to uplight the underside of the wood canopies to a level similar to the brightness of the ceilings inside.
A different design scheme was adopted outside the main lobby, where the buttresses do not have carvings/ rain water leaders and where the canopies are higher and their extensions longer.
Moreover, the positive correlation between the size of the whip spiders and the DBH of the trees on which they were found suggests that large individuals can hold the largest trees, which present a higher probability of presenting buttresses.
Comparison of herpetofaunal diversity in tree buttresses of evergreen tropical forests.
John Ward, English Heritage technical manager, said: "The buttresses are so delicate it's a wonder they have survived for so long.
The $100,000 grant, earmarked specifically for repair of 54 flying buttresses to stabilize the three tallest towers, will lead to a complete restoration in the year 2000.
Unique to Raw Power, this material produces a variety of products, such as road barriers telephone poles, fence posts, buttresses etc.