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The Indianapolis White Castle #3, 660 Fort Wayne Avenue

Buttress. In its simplest form, the buttress is a pier (column-like solid projection) reinforcement placed on a wall to provide additional structural support. The buttress is primarily found on exterior walls of brick or masonry and traditionally counters the outward thrust of an exterior or interior arch. As wall height and/or ceiling weight increases, the pressure on structural walls grows proportionally. The use of a buttresses allow architects and engineers to increase the height and width of structures by transferring the additional structural load onto the pier.

The buttress features several adaptations; while most simple buttresses feature a pier with steps in increasing depth, one of the most commonly used variations is the flying buttress. The flying buttress takes its name from the arched structure, which appears to “fly” across the building to connect a high roof or vault (interior arched space) onto a straight buttress or pier. The flying buttress, perfected in high Gothic church architecture, allows architects to increase the height and loads of roofs and interior vaulting.

Detail of Brick Buttress on Indianapolis White Castle #3

One example of a simple buttress is found on the Indianapolis White Castle #3 (660 Fort Wayne Avenue). The subject of a Historic Indianapolis Preservation Affirmed piece in May, the Indianapolis White Castle #3 dates from 1927 and features white enameled brick and several simple buttresses. The buttresses support both the central towered entrance and the parapet wall. Each buttress features a raised pier from the primary exterior wall and a simple brick detail with a soldier course.

An outstanding example of a flying buttress in Indianapolis is found on the iconic Scottish Rite Cathedral (650 North Meridian Street). This Neo-Gothic structure dating from 1929 features stone flying buttresses on both its east and west elevation. The flying buttresses support the high central bay of the structure. The design of the flying buttresses seamlessly work into the materials and ornament of the exterior, but extend onto simple buttress piers.

Flying Buttresses on the Scottish Rite Cathedral, 650 North Meridian Street

Both structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and show the versatility of the buttress as seen on historic Indianapolis buildings.

Add it to your vocabulary – how might one use today’s Building Language term in their everyday life?

A large flock of birds rests along the arches of the cathedral’s flying buttresses, finding the spot a perfect location to relax along their journey.

2 responses to “Building Language: Buttress”

  1. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    I would think that the buttresses on the Scottish Rite Cathedral are simple buttresses like on the White Castle (although gothic). Whereas, I thought that flying buttresses were further flung from the wall (hence “flying” toward it), more of an outrigger, as shown in this photo http://tudorhistory.org/glossaries/f/picts/NCbuttresses3.jpg

  2. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    Please excuse my error. Looking at the Scottish Rite Cathedral photo in more detail, I now see small flying buttresses attached to the top of the simple buttresses of the lower walls.

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