Types of Decorative Architectural Columns and Their Cultural Basis

Columns have long been used for basic support needs in homes and buildings. Functionally, they allow passage through an area while still supporting a level above. However, dating back to ancient times, architectural columns have also seen use in giving a structure a sense of grandeur to old-world appearance. Even today, luxury homes will include columns just as much for the appearance of premium architecture as for the practical purpose of supporting weight above.

Types of Column Styles

The above said, standard categories exist for architectural columns that have been around for centuries, as far back as 2,500 B.C at least. These categories are defined by both styles and history, dating back to the cultures that first used them in building design. These categories include:

Monolithic column design

This approach is one of the earliest designs and probably the hardest and most expensive to make. It involves creating a column out of one material entirely, with no joints or separate parts. In ancient times up to the Babylonians and Egyptians this type of column was carved out of stone. In modern times it can be cast, formed or carved in one piece, depending on how the fabrication process occurs. That said, it is only as strong as the material the column is made of. So, if a monolithic column is formed out of concrete, for example, it could fall apart once cracking begins unless it is reinforced by re-bar in the forming process. Often, monolithic columns were and are formed with a wider diameter in the bottom than at the top. This creates a visual effect of making the column taller than it really is.

Doric-style columns

Dating back to ancient Greek culture, the Doric style was originally applied to wood until such time that masons were able to replicate it in stone column fabrication. Again, the Doric column utilizes a wider base than diameter at the top of the column, but it does not include any kind of a fancy foot piece. Instead, the top of the column is crowned with a frustum or carvings. This style of column was often designed for lower level or ground level installation to carry heavier weight than higher level decorative columns. Another distinct feature of the Doric style was that the column sides are always fluted versus being smooth.

Tuscan-style columns

Following the Doric-style initially created by the Greeks, the Romans came up with their own version which also incorporated simplicity with function. Again, the Romans stuck with the different diameter measurements between top versus bottom of the column. However, the Tuscan style did away with the fluted surface and instead incorporated a smooth-walled column surface. Otherwise, the Tuscan column still avoided any kind of a fancy base and saved the decorative features for the column top.

Ionic-style columns

Eventually, column makers decided they wanted something more ornate than what the Greeks and Romans came up with. As a result, the Ionic style was developed with its own unique features. This column type does come with an actual foot pad or base. Similar to the Doric style, the body of the column is fluted. However, the column crown incorporates a scroll-like shape or volute with four corners. Many people often associate Ionic columns with large, prestigious buildings such as university structures or old courthouse architecture (http://greece.mrdonn.org/columns.html).

Corinthian-style columns

Created by the Greeks in the ancient city of Corinth or in Athens, depending who one references, the Corinthian style column is highly decorative and often the least functional in terms of being a weight-bearing column. Due to the smaller width of the column, this style is often used in tandem with multiple units for a luxury look or appearance of a structure, either internally or externally.

Composite-style columns

The composite column version is not really a stand-alone column design. Instead, it is a commonly-used hybrid of the Ionic and Corinthian column styles. It’s often confused with the primary versions due to have a scroll style or volute installed on the top. However, it tends to be thinner like the Corinthian columns.

Solomonic-style columns

Long known for a very distinct and different style of column shape, the Solomonic column incorporates a spiral approach, being far different from solid or fluted shapes. The style also incorporates a base and crown on the column, but the spiral runs from the bottom to the top, giving the column a spinning look.

In Summary

Given the creativity of architects and building designers, hybrids and mixtures in column design will appear here and there. However, the above categories are the fundamental categories of column design which can still be found today in buildings incorporating decorative columns. One just has to walk in the civic centre of any major larger city and examples of ancient style columns shapes will still be present today.

About the author

The team at G&S Industries design and manufacture architectural columns and poles for all applications.


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