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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The term Spandrel is most commonly used as an architectural term describing the triangular space between the outer curve of an arch and the rectangle formed by the mouldings enclosing it, or between the shoulders of two contiguous arches and the string-course above them[1]. The word is thought to come from the Anglo-French word spaundre, which means to expand or extend.[2].
There are several accepted meanings of spandrel in and out of architecture, including the space between the central field and border in oriental rug patterns, but more generally it is the creating of an unintentional but unavoidable space with the addition of structures[1]. These spaces don't serve any structural purpose and are merely adapted for aesthetics, for lack of anything else, and are painted or sculpted within.
Interestingly enough, there are many terms that co-exist within biology and architecture and spandrel is one of them. Spandrel became a term borrowed from architecture, by biologists (The term was borrowed by the biologist Stephen Jay Gould in the influential paper :The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme,” in 1979), to describe a characteristic that is a by-product of the evolution of another characteristic, rather than a direct product of natural selection. Not all existing behaviours or phenotypes evolved by natural selection, there are instances where evolution has directly selected for an adaptive trait, while indirectly selecting another development that has an unrelated (or no) purpose. An example of this is the Silver Fox in Russia. It became a domesticated animal meaning the only characteristic that was chosen to change was the fox's tameness. The fox, however, went through the physical changes of becoming spotted and behaving more dog-like, these traits were spandrels[3]. Another, more relatable example is in human beings. Our belly buttons are spandrels – development of the umbilical cord was adaptive because it allowed for the sharing of nutrients between mother and baby, but the bellybutton is just a useless by-product of this selection[4].
Therefore, while term originally belonged to architecture, like many other words it has begun to develop in other subjects and can now be interpreted as a by-product, changes, that were not intended in the design, but are unavoidable.

[1] Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press.
(accessed November 21, 2012)
[2] Online. February 2012. Dictionary.com.
(accessed November 21, 2012)
[3] Online. February 2012. Blogspot.
(accessed November 21, 2012)
[4] Online. November 2003. University of Texas Research.
(accessed November 21, 2012)

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