There are several types of arches available, and this is largely due to the fact that people have been designing arches for thousands of years. While they’re not used all of the time in everyday construction, they do lend a nice charm that some spaces need.
Functionally speaking, various types of arches are used to support loads from above, and they then distribute these loads evenly. It’s a critical part of architecture that allows walls to open to different spaces. An arch could be pointed, non-circular, a segment, or a semi-circle. In fact, it’s possible to tell the types of arches apart based on the number of centers, shape, and the materials used to create them.
Different types of arches are stunning building elements that can get presented in various forms. We’re going to outline 33 different types of arches to ensure you can recognize them the next time you spot them.
1. Art Nouveau Arch
This type of arch is also known as a segmental arch, and it’s a very shallow and basic arch. It has curved corners with an elongated design. So, this is the exact opposite of the Roman arch that we’ll touch on later in the sense that it works well with rooms with lower ceilings. It also goes by the name as a segmental arch because it gets formed as a smaller segment of a circle. The curved corners are smaller circle segments in the end.
This is a very popular design when it comes to modern architecture because it’s much easier in terms of construction while offering design flexibility. You can create these types of arches without columns, and they’re great partition tools without taking up a large amount of space. These are freestyle arches, and you’ll find them used in bay windows, balustrades, and bows of various brackets, lengths, and more. They almost always have a decorative facade full of figurines, grilles, and other things set in a tympanum. You see this arch featured in mega mansions that haven’t used a minimalist architecture style.
2. Brick Arch
Bricks make up three main types of arches as the main building material. The styles reference more of the construction method, and they include:
Axed Brick Arch
With this type of arch, the bricks get less finely produced to a specific shape. They get cut with a brick ax, and this makes them much more rough when it comes to the overall appearance. They have pits and gaps filled with a lime putty when the bricks get placed. You can spruce this design up using the Flemish bond method, and this involves alternative bricks in orientation. So, you’ll end up with a repeating pattern of lengthwise brick that then gets turned 90 degrees so the shorter end is facing out.
Gauged Brick Arch
As the name suggests, this type of arch uses soft bricks that get gauged to exact specifications for the arch’s voussoir elements. The brick commonly gets cut with a wire or wet saw. Also, the person making the arch takes the time to decorate these bricks to give you an elegant look.
Rough Brick Arch
Rough brick types of arches aren’t attractive for the most part, and this is why you find them used internally where visitors won’t see it. The bricks are much thicker on the outer portion of the arch, and they get thinner at the inner portion. They’re also not cut to exact specifications. They’re strong, but don’t look the best.
3. Camber Arch
You may hear this type of arch referred to as a jack arch, and it’s very similar to a lintel. This arch is almost completely flat but the voussoirs, and these are the stones used to create the arch shape, get used for the strength. This mimics a regular arch.
Camber Arch by Elliott Brown / CC BY 2.0
4. Catenary Arch
This type of arch looks a lot like a parabolic arch but it is slightly flatter toward the arch’s bottom, and it also rises a lot quicker than the parabolic arch. This arch uses compression force it creates out of its own curve. So, this arch gets slowly pulled into shape when you hang it, and it can support itself when it stands. The most popular arch in the United States that is a great example of this type of arch is the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.
Catenary Arch by Varun Chatterji / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
5. Concrete Arch
Concrete is a popular material used to create larger types of arches, including those that support interstate overpasses. They can support bigger spans due to the concrete’s strength and the steel rebar that gets set inside of the concrete. The concrete has to be formed around the rebar and allowed to cure for a month.
You can get pre-cast concrete blocks that you can use and move into place using cranes. The voussoir, skewbacks, and key store all get carefully created using molds. The resulting arch is very eye-catching and symmetrical. You can see them mixed with color pigments to mimic how brownstone or older materials look, including stucco.
6. Fixed Arch
You’ll find this type of arch used to create tunnels or reinforced concrete bridges. So, they’re typically used in projects where you’ll get shorter spans. This arch is one that is statically indeterminate, and this is mainly because the arch is subjected to additional stress internally that thermal contraction and expansion causes. If something is statically indeterminate, this means that the structure’s static equilibrium isn’t sufficient to figure out the reactions and internal forces of the arch.
7. Flat Arch
Most people don’t notice this type of arch because, when most people think of arches, they think of curves. However, flat arches exist. They form the base of a triangle, and they have a horizontal angle. They have a rise of about 15 millimeters for every three feet in width, and the opening allows space for tiny settlements. Flat arches work to hold much lighter loads like windows, but they can bear a lot more weight due to the arcade of supports and a colonnade of pillars.
These types of arches usually come with a cornice or cresting, and these are horizontal strips of molding that are cast or hand-carved as a decorative measure that hides the flat arch part of the support. So, crown molding alternatives can, in fact, bear weight.
8. Florentine Arch
With this type of arch, the inner curved portion comes in a semi-circle shape. The rest of the arch is very similar in design to a Venetian arch. So, this arch is a hybrid. It comes with three centers and they get located on a springing line.
Florentine Arch by Revol Web / CC BY-SA 2.0
9. Gothic Arch
Gothic types of arches were immensely popular in the middle ages. So, if you ever visit European cathedrals, you’ll see it used over and over again. They have a pointed and sharp top, and the place where both sides of the arch meets is exactly in the idle, and they extend downward to appear very tall. Gothic arches look wonderful in rooms with higher ceilings, and they often have pilasters. Pilasters are columns where the base and pillars are sent into the wall that the arch supports. You might see a gargoyle sitting at the top if you have a turret or two in the design.
10. Hinged Arch
Hinged types of arches have either two or three hinges in the designi, and they get used to bridge longer spans. They have pinned connections at the base, and this allows the base to rotate to differentiate them from a fixed arch. In turn, the structure can freely move without damaging the arch. It also helps to compensate for the thermal expansion and contraction from outdoor temperature changes. This can also bring additional stressors about, so just like a fixed arch, a two-hinged one is always statically indeterminate, even though it’s not as bad as a fixed arch.
The three-hinged type of arch has hinges at the base, just like a two-hinged model, and also in the midspan area. Because there is another connection, this arch can move in two opposite directions, and this helps it compensate for contractions and expansions. So, a three-hinged type of arch doesn’t have problems with additional stress that thermal change can cause.
Another advantage of the three-hinged type of arch is that the pinned bases are easier to create than fixed ones. This allows for shallow, bearing-type foundations that you find in medium-span structures. Thermal expansion and contraction can also cause the arch to go through vertical movements at the peak pin choice, but this won’t negatively impact the base. So, the whole foundation design is a lot more straightforward.
11. Horseshoe Arch
As the name suggests, this type of arch comes in the shape off a horseshoe but with a little more curve than you’ll see on a semi-circle arch. This design is heavily preferred to make architectural provisions.
Horseshoe Arch by Joan / CC BY-NC 2.0
12. Lancet Arch
This type of arch has a pointed design, and it was first developed in the Gothic period. It is pointed and narrow by the top. You’ll find it used on roof structures and on church and cathedral windows, so be sure to look for it. Now that you know how to identify it, they will jump out at you.
13. Ogee Arch
An ogee type of arch has an S-shaped curve to it, and it has two arches that curve in opposite senses. The end result is parallel ends. It’s a sigmoid curve, and it’s used in architecture, but it’s also very popular to use in construction, mathematics, plastic surgery, and clock design. This arch has two ogees that are mirrors of one another, and they meet at an apex. In the 13th century, they were very popular to use in English Gothic architecture styles.
14. Parabolic Arch
The idea with this type of arch is to get a uniform load at the top point. The internal compression on this arch gets used to create a parabolic curve, and this lends the final shape to the curve. These arches have the biggest thrust at the bottom of the base. They also have a bigger deal of distance between the ends of the arch, and they’re very popular when it comes to designing bridges.
Parabolic Arch by Teresa Grau Ros / CC BY-SA 2.0
15. Pointed Arch
This is another popular Gothic arch version. However, with this type of arch, the two arcs of dual circles meet at the top to form a triangle. The triangle it forms could be isosceles or equilateral.
16. Relieving Arch
Relieving types of arches feature a wooden lintel or a flat arch above to provide it with more strength. With the way this arch is designed, you can replace the decayed wood lintel whenever you need without impacting the stability of the arch. The ends of the arch have to carry to the abutments. You may hear it called the discharging arch, and it gets built this way to distribute the weight of the wall above it steadily and evenly.
Relieving Arch by Josep Bracons / CC BY-SA 2.0
17. Roman Arch
This is one of the most popular types of arches available, and it’s well-known in the architecture field with a design that is easy to spot. It forms a perfect semicircle with two columns or posts that support it. The columns are usually made with stone or wood. But, recently they’ve incorporated plaster boards or drywall to create the columns of the arches. The design is very simple, and this is what lends the elegant look. It works best in any room with a higher ceiling.
It’s common to use an antefix as an ornamental element by the eaves near the roof to help hide the joints. You will usually see a frieze, architrave, or cornice forming a continuous lintel, and this helps decorate the pillars more. This may look very simple, but they come packed with stunning details and crockets along the arche’s outer eaves and the gables.
18. Semi-Circular Arch
As the name suggests, this type of arch resembles a semi-circle, and it has vertical thrust with a horizontal skewback. With this design, the center falls right on the springing line. A springing line is the horizontal line that runs along the springs and dome of the arch. You see these arches in different houses in the suburbs or in commercial buildings.
Semi-Circular Arch by -Reji / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
19. Semi-Elliptical Arch
This type of arch resembles an ellipse and it has three or five centers, depending on the architect who designed it. They aren’t virtually remarkable, and they’re very sturdy and dependable.
Semi Elliptical Arch by Kansas Sebastian / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
20. Shouldered Flat (Jack) Arch
The jack arch is popular in masonry construction as it gives much needed support in the openings of your masonry project. Unlike other types of arches, these ones aren’t a semi-circle when it comes to the form. They are flat and used just like you’d use lintels. Lentils get subjected to stress when they bend. However, jack arches feature individual masonry elements that get cut or formed into a wedge shape that uses compressive strength very efficiently. Jack arches need a large amount of masonry on either side of the structure to absorb the bigger lateral thrust that it causes.
One advantage of this type of arch is that it is formed using smaller pieces of materials that individual handles. When brick masonry projects are a smaller scale, jack arches usually get sawn from a fired-clay lintel that is correctly sized to give it a more precise and consistent joint width than you’ll get with field-sawn shapes. There is a huge amount of room for decorative patterns and elements with this type of arch. Keystones are very popular, and they are stepped up or arched top profiles, or polychrome that uses contrasting materials and colors to create your desired effect.
Shouldered Flat Arch by Elliott Brown / CC BY-SA 2.0
21. Stilted Arch
A stilted type of arch is a mix of two different designs. It has a semi-circular arch to it, and there are two vertical points located on the springing line. The center of the arch is on a horizontal line that goes through vertical portions.
Stilted Arch by Elliott Brown / CC BY-SA 2.0
22. Stone Arch
When it comes to this type of arch, the stones get cut into shape to render them into tapered wedges that are called voussoirs. In the past, you could see weaker rubble arches that were created without shaping the stones first. They used randomly shaped stones that used a rudimentary cement to join them. These arches were very weak and they’re not in use today. Historical rubble arches have been reinforced and preserved since the ability to hold larger loads over a period of time is too much of a liability.
23. Trefoil Arch
Better known as a three-foiled cusped arch, this type of arch uses the shape out outline of a trefoil. In other worlds, this arch features three overlapping rings in the design. It’s very commonly used in Christian architecture.
Trefoil Arch by Wally Gobertz / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
24. Tudor Arch
This type of arch comes with a shallow but wide arc to it. It also has a greater width than it is tall, and this makes it look like someone flattened it. This is a typical four centered arch, and they’re fantastic for rooms that have low and large acoustic ceilings. This allows you to add load-bearing and decorative aspects where there wouldn’t normally be room.
25. Venetian Arch
This is a pointed type of arch that has a crown that is deeper than others. It has four corners that are on a springing line. They are usually the ogee arch type, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Types of Arches Based on the Number of Centers
A single arch can have more than one center, as you may have noticed by our previous arch descriptions. This is the second way you can tell one type of arch from the other. Centers for concrete or stone arches feature a similar construction. Arches made out of concrete or stone are much heavier and have really strong centers. For concrete or reinforced concrete types of arches, the centers helps to mold the arch ring shape and the spandrel walls. The arches below are all based on how many centers they have, and they include:
- One-Centered Arch – Semi-circular, segmental, horseshoe, and flat arches are a few examples of this type of arch. In fact, you can have a circular arch with circular windows called a bull’s eye arch, and this also falls into this category.
- Two-Centered Arch – As the name suggests, these types of arches have two centers along the springing line. Gothic and pointed arches are part of this category.
- Three-Centered Arch – Florentine and semi-elliptical types of arches have three centers along the springing line. These arches are very similar to segmental arches, but the additional center lends an elliptical look. They are much less common today, but they’re essential when you renovate period houses. They need more support, so the wall’s thickness, including the inner leaf, has support. You also have to consider getting wall inlets. This type of arch works wonderfully with a semi-circular arch if it stretches over a wide window like a bay window. They’re popular in bridge designs due to their strength.
- Four-Centered Arch – Tudor and Venetian arches are ones that come with four centers on the springing line. They feature a depressed arch that is wide and low with a pointed apex or top. It’s popular in English architecture.
- Five-Centered Arch – Finally, arches like those that are semi-elliptical come designed with attention to detail in mind. They can have up to five centers, as the name suggests.
We’ve highlighted 33 different types of arches that you may see in various buildings or period settings. If you have a building project coming up, you can decide which type of arch will be able to support your structure while adding to the look and design aesthetic.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.