Typological and structural system in traditional timber roof of multi-aisle buildings in Europe

The use of wood in construction of buildings with different uses was common in areas of forests exist in Europe until 19th century. The timber construction followed guidelines based geometric anthropomorphic measures. The structures follow a system of proportions, as a method for modulating the ships, the cross sections and the height of the frames. Timber frame also meet rules for the formation of the slope, usually defined by dividing the cross section of the nave. The plant was rectangular, divided into three aisles by square pillars resting on a stone base, roof hipped and covered with stone tile or ceramic, with no interior walls.

Fig. 1 Mereville Market, (France). Built 1522. CRMH, 1983

The slope of the roof varied by geographic location of the building, steeper areas of frequent periods of rain or snow and less steep in geographic areas with warmer and less rainy periods.


Fig. 2 Cremiu Market, (Isere, France). Horn, 1981 Fig. 3 Barley Barn (Essex, England). Hewett, 1967

There is no single carpentry feature common to all multi-aisle timber frame European buildings studied, but some features are common. The oldest medieval European multi-aisle building has some mortise-and-tenons joints but they make considerable use of simple lap joint, notched lap joints and lap dovetails. Pegged scarf joints was used to joint plates to lengthwise of some European halls. Mortise and tenons joints was the system most used in timber frame structure.

Timber joints varied even in the same region.


Fig. 4 Timber joint. Meslay (France). 16th C.
Author’s redrawn from original by CRMH, 1983

The timber roofs in multi-aisle building in Europe were erected using wooden elements with jointed based on transmission of compressive stresses, like mortise-and-tenons assemblies. Oak and chestnut were the wood most used. Through the knowledge of how mechanical structure works is be able to intervene successfully in future restorations.


Fig. 5 Structural Analysis Meslay Barn (France).
Author’s redrawn from original by CRMH, 1983


The timber frame structures are in good condition despite having a majority plus 400 years of construction. This will rule out the misconception that exists about the use of temporary timber construction. If the conception of the structure is consistent and constant maintenance of the building can be said that the building with a wooden structure will have a life like other conventional materials.

This study supports the possibility of reuse traditional joints with the precision and moderns CNC machinery.


Abstract of paper “Typological and Structural System in Traditional Timber Roof of Multi-Aisle Buildings in Europe” presented by Rodríguez V., INCAFUST’s researcher at World Conference on Timber Engineering.Auckland,New Zealand. 2012.