What is an arch?
The arch is nothing else than a force originated by two weaknesses, for the arch in buildings is composed of two segments of a circle, each of which being very weak in itself tends to fall; but as each opposes this tendency in the other, the two weaknesses combine to form one strength.
Of the kind of pressure in arches:
As the arch is a composite force it remains in equilibrium because the thrust is equal from both sides; and if one of the segments weighs more than the other the stability is lost, because the greater pressure will outweigh the lesser.
Of distributing the pressure above an arch:
Next to giving the segments of the circle equal weight it is necessary to load them equally, or you will fall into the same defect as before.
Where an arch breaks:
An arch breaks at the part which lies below half way from the centre.
Second rupture of the arch:
If the excess of weight be placed in the middle of the arch at the point a, that weight tends to fall towards b, and the arch breaks at 2/3 of its height at c e; and g e is as many times stronger than e a, as m o goes into m n.
On another cause of ruin:
The arch will likewise give way under a transversal thrust, for when the charge is not thrown directly on the foot of the arch, the arch lasts but a short time.
---- Excerpt from The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci: Theoretical Writings on Architecture.