Maya Arch

Maya engineers developed a unique structural mechanism that enabled the construction of long span interior spaces, multi-story structures and unique circular structural geometries. This structural mechanism is known as the Maya arch. This is the basic building module for all Maya structures. The structural geometry of this system utilizes a linear inverted "V" shape to develop clear span interior spaces.

The Maya arch was a composite structure using a cast-in-place concrete interior structure with a stone facing as the exterior of the wall. The cut stone facing served as formwork as well as a finished surface for the building system. The combination of the two construction materials into a composite structure that is stronger than its individual parts enabled Maya engineers to construct an arch module that is a stand-alone independent structure. The basic arch module was constructed in a series of phases.

7-5 Construction of arch

The structural Maya arch could be constructed without shoring or formwork. The interior timber thrust beam system provided lateral stabilization. The thrust beam remained in place after construction to stabilize the structure. The basic arch module could be applied to construct single story or multi story buildings. This photo indicates a 1,400-year-old Maya vault with the surviving thrust beam still in place.

The combination of composite cast-in-place concrete and stone facing developed a very stable structural shape that has enabled the Maya arch to resist earthquakes, hurricanes and the ravages of the encroaching tendrils of the rainforest over a 1500-year period.

Vault 1

The Maya vault

The Maya arch was elongated along its longitudinal axis to develop clear span interior spaces. This structure develops the Maya vault. To generate a multi-room functional space the Maya vault would be placed adjacent to other vaults or vertically to develop multi-story structures.

Multi-story structures

Multi-story buildings were constructed using the basic Maya arch module. The walls of multistory structures have arches that are aligned vertically. The arches were vertically aligned to allow the load path of the upper arch modules to travel directly to the foundation system through the lower arch modules.

thumb 7-7 High rise (diagram)IXTAMPAK palace 

Circular structures

Circular structures which include observatories were constructed using a curved Maya arch which generated a circular vault.

thumb 7-8 section of circular structure .CHICHEN ITZA Caracol

Types of arches

The Maya arch, which is a natural structural form, is quite different than the Roman arch. The Roman arch used a curvilinear shape with a key stone. For its construction the Roman arch required formwork and shoring for construction. Many refer to the Maya arch as a “false arch” or a “corbelled arch.” However, the Maya arch is a true structural form and nothing is false about its geometry and strength. The term “corbelled arch” is a misnomer since a corbelled surface consists of masonry blocks laid in a vertical stepped geometry. This type of construction forms an irregular surface totally unlike the smooth Maya arch surfaces. This closed structural system actually forms a trapezium truss for stability. The vast majority of Maya Arches have curved ceilings and a smooth stone surface to accept the finished plaster surface.