Different Types of Column Design, From Ancient Greece to Modern Day

Load-bearing Roman Corinthian columns installed on home.

The most ornate of the three Greek orders, the Corinthian could easily be recognized by its elaborately decorated capitals, often featuring flowers, leaves and scrolls.

 

Columns have been among the oldest of architectural components, serving as a means to transfer loads from other sections of buildings or acting as a standalone structure for cultural or aesthetic reasons – think victory columns. Not surprisingly, today there lies a great diversity in terms of column design, from ones imitating classical art styles to post-modern geometric ones. In this article, travel with us through history as we explore the different types of column designs, from ancient Greece to the modern day.

Ancient Columns

Egyptian

The Ancient Egyptian were probably the first to come up with a column design that was truly distinctive. These solid stone columns were carved in a way to reflect the organic form of bundled weeds, giving rise to the trend of distinctive vertical groves (flute) that we see in many later column designs. Later, smooth surface stone columns became more common, often decorated with hieroglyphs, texts and ritual imagery.

The capitals of these columns were also distinctive. Rather than spreading outwards, it first swelled and then narrowed again in imitation of a flower bud. Like the rest of the columns, they were highly decorated.

Persian

Perhaps the most elaborating designed columns of antiquity, sadly the Persian form faded away in popularity with the decline of the civilization. These columns composed of animal structures in their capitals with a mix of different geometrical designs incorporated into the different sections of the columns.

Classical Columns

Greco-Roman

Easily the most recognizable and still one of the most popular column designs. Unlike other civilizations which utilized columns mainly for practical applications, the Greeks, followed by the Romans, incorporated them as part of the overall exterior aesthetic as well. Columns were not just used to support structures but also to act as light-wells, create larger open-plan spaces and even as standalone monuments themselves.

The Greco-Roman Columns can be divided into five architectural orders, three of them Greek and two of them largely Roman.

Doric

The simplest of the five orders, the Doric design was characterized by a simple circular capital. The column could be fluted or smooth-surfaced.

Ionic

The capital of Ionic types featured the use of volutes (spiral, scroll-like ornaments). Of the five, the Ionic design featured the narrowest columns. These columns are most often fluted.

Corinthian

The most ornate of the three Greek orders, the Corinthian could easily be recognized by its elaborately decorated capitals, often featuring flowers, leaves and scrolls. Like the Ionic, its columns are also most often narrowly built and are fluted. See our different style fluted columns here.

Tuscan

The Tuscan was a Roman column design that was influenced by the Greek Doric. Like it, it also featured a very simple capital and a broad column.

Composite

The Composite combined the features of both the Ionic and the Corinthian, incorporating the volutes and elaborate decorations with the addition of figures and heraldic symbols.

Modern Columns

Baroque

The use of columns largely fell out of use during the medieval ages. Only after the Renaissance did an interest in architectural columns did again emerged. One of the first true early modern styles was the Baroque, which was introduced by the Catholic church.  Baroque capitals, inspired by their Corinthian and Composite forebearers, were lavish, highly decorative and theatrical, meant to inspire surprise and wonder. The column surfaces, however, were typically smooth surfaced rather than fluted.

However, one key different difference between this modern design and the classical ones was that in the former columns was largely incorporated as reliefs rather than as vertical support structures.

Rococo

The Rococo style evolved out of the Baroque and was characterized by even more grand and elaborate designs, often incorporating asymmetry, gliding and sculpted molding to give out an illusion of motion and drama. Rococo style columns were largely similar to their Baroque counterparts, apart from their capitals being less geomaterial and the columns featuring more thought to design and color.

Neo-Classical

Emerging as a reaction to the over-the-top approach of the Rococo, the neo-classical style sought to synthesize the classical architectural designs with modern principles. Neo-classical columns tend to look similar to classical ones, albeit with simpler, more practical oriented capitals. The surface of the column can either be smooth or fluted.

Art Deco

Art Deco was a movement that lasted very briefly, from the mid-20s to the early 30s. Nonetheless, it was highly influential in many of the later architectural movements. Art Deco inspired columns were characterized by distinctive ‘boxy’ appearance with sharp-edges and a highly stylized and detailed capital.

Post-Modern Columns

Brutalist

The brutalist style emerged following World War Two and was characterized by massive, monolithic and ‘blocky’ appearance with a rigidly geometric style and intensively used of concrete. Brutalist columns are characterized by rough, unfinished surface and feature neither capital or a base. However, they can range from being cylindrical in shape to having highly unusual and unconventional shapes.

High-Tech

This is an architectural design style that first emerged in the 1970s and incorporates elements of the high-tech industry and technology in design. High-Tech columns tend to highly simple and geometrical, featuring no visible capital, base or any sort of decoration. They tend to typically be made of steel, glass or concrete.

In addition to these historic and modern orders of architecture, we offer Greek Doric, Twist Rope, and Craftsman style columns.

We hope you found the article informative and entertaining to read. If you are interested in having columns installed at your property, feel free to browse through our products or directly call us for more information through our toll-free number - 888-265-8661.

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