The architecture of the Gothic period (ca 1150—1550 CE) belongs to the most significant manifestations of human culture. The development of a skeletal system supported by flying buttresses represents a peak in the history of technology, its sculpture and stained glass likewise of artistic development, and its attempt to transcend the limitations of the reality created a vision of an eternal world unsurpassed for subsequent centuries. In this respect, Gothic architecture ranks, for example, equal with Greek antiquity with its parallel development of philosophy, art and architecture.
All this was made possible only by a planning process that attempted to solve every detail in advance. For the first time in history, therefore, architectural drawings became an indispensable and necessary means of construction. Accordingly the oldest architectural drawings have survived from this period and are thus an indispensable means of any architectural planning in the modern period was created.
The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna houses in its department of prints and drawings the unique collection of 425 Gothic architectural drawings. The importance of this unique collection becomes obvious when one considers the fact that worldwide not more than 500 drawings of this genre—i.e., including the Viennese holdings!—have survived, and that even for French Cathedrals only a very few random drawings exist today. Any study of Gothic cathedral architecture, therefore, is basically impossible without a detailed knowledge of these drawings that give an insight into every aspect of architectural training and design practice at an early stage of its modern development.
Beyond their mere academic importance as a research tool for specialists of architectural history, namely of the Middle Ages, the Gothic architectural drawings in Vienna represent a material that allows an insight into the beginnings of architectural design practice. Being the first surviving architectural drawings as such, these drawings prepared the way for all architectural design that followed over the last five centuries; without the experience of these drawings, modern architectural development would have been impossible.