column, vertical architectural support, circular or polygonal in plan. A column is generally at least four or five times as high as its diameter or width; stubbier freestanding masses of masonry are usually called piers or pillars, particularly those with a rectangular plan. In fully developed Egyptian architecture the columns were of gigantic size, spaced very closely together, and were reserved for inner courtyards and halls. In the Aegean area, in pre-Hellenic times, the column type known to have been used is one with a cushionlike cap and with its shaft tapering downward. Subsequent types were the archaic forms of Doric, developed by the Dorians after their coming (before 1000 B.C.) into the region. By the 7th cent. B.C. this Greek Doric had been established in its design. The columns of classical architecture represent the attempt to design proportionings and details that would create maximum structural harmony. It is in the Greek temples of the Periclean Age (5th cent. B.C.), notably in the Parthenon, that the ideal was obtained. In Greek, Roman, and Renaissance architecture the various column types, taken together with the entablatures that they support, form the classical orders of architecture. The classical column has the three fundamental elements of base, shaft, and capital. The shaft has a gradual upward tapering (entasis), and the capital that crowns it provides a decorative and structural transition between the circular column and the rectangular entablature. The Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian column types advanced toward perfect proportions and details and formed the basis for the columnar architecture of the Romans. Although Greek columns always had vertical channels or flutes cut in their shafts, those of the Romans were often without them. In Greek buildings the columns were usually structurally indispensable, but the Romans and later the Renaissance and modern architects used them often also as a decorative feature, mostly following fixed rules of proportions. The columns of Romanesque, Byzantine, and Gothic buildings were usually structural elements and were without canons of proportioning. The capitals of the Romanesque and Gothic were often variously decorated with plant and animal forms. The columns of Chinese and Japanese architecture are circular or polygonal wood posts, with bases but without capitals, having instead an ornamented projecting bracket. In Indian architecture columns exhibit great variety of detail: shafts, bases, and capitals are often intricately ornamented. In modern construction most columns are of either steel or reinforced concrete. See Doric order; Ionic order; Corinthian order; capital.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.