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.
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.
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 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.