Hooke’s chain in the Spanish Enlightenment of the XVIIIth century


The catenary arches were used in Spanish modernist architecture and by Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926). The theory of the chain, as it has the shape of a hanging neckless, was raised by Robert Hooke (1676), and used by Christopher Wren in Saint Paul’s dome (1675). The catenary mathematic equation will be formulated by David Gregory (1697) and developed later by James Stirling (1717). This theory of the modern mechanics of the British school, will be introduced into Spain, almost a century and a half before Gaudí, through the Irish families that emigrated to Spain and also through the Spanish borbonic military engineers.

The teaching in the Mathematics Academy of Barcelona (1720), has as reference the work of Bernard Forest de Bélidor, La science des ingénieurs (1729), and translated in part, by John Müller (1699-1784), A treatise containing the elementary part of fortification, regular and irregular. For the use of the Royal academy of artillery at Woolwich (1755), also translated, for use in the Academy as a Treaty of fortification, regular and irregular or Art of constructing military and civil buildings, (1769). In this context we have found various projects of gunpowder warehouses with catenary vault in the General Archive of Simancas; Miguel Marín for Tortosa (1731), and Barcelona (1731) and Juan de la Feriére in A Coruña (1736). They were also used by the Carlón wine traders from Benicarló, of Irish origin like the O’Connors, in their winery catenary arches (1757).

This evidence proves that the construction of catenary arches, so important in Spanish modern architecture of the XIXth century, were introduced in the first half of the XVIIth century.


Lluis i Ginovart, J.; Costa, A.; Coll-Pla, S.; Lopez-Piquer, M.; 2015, Hooke’s chain in the Spanish Enlightenment of the XVIIIth century, Proceedings of Studies in the History of Construction. The Proceedings of the Second Conference of the Construction History Society. Pages 23-32. ISBN: 978-0-9928751-1-4.

Congress: Hooke’s chain in the Spanish Enlightenment of the XVIIIth century