|The classical Greek orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.|
Note the difference in slenderness between the earliest
(Doric) and latest (Corinthian).
In ancient Greece and Rome, the design and use of columns was carefully prescribed according to aesthetic laws derived over centuries. The degree of aesthetic perfection achieved by the Greeks in such examples as the Parthenon is the stuff of legend.
The Roman architect Vitruvius, who lived during the time of Christ, set forth the design of classical columns into the three Greek “orders”. Each had its own characteristic design and proportions, as well as the proper degree of “entasis”—the slight bulging of the shaft which suggests tensed muscles carrying a load.
|The Lincoln Memorial sports a "colossal order" of|
massive and primitive looking Doric columns.
(Architect: Henry Bacon; completed 1922)
The Doric order is the oldest and most powerful of the three Greek orders. Stoutly proportioned, lacking a base, and topped with a heavy slab-like capital, it still hints at the column’s ancient ancestors made of wood or bundled reeds.
|The Treasury Building is another, older D.C. landmark,|
this one having Ionic orders. Here, the Ionic order's
usual difficulty in "turning the corner"
is avoided by having only one line of columns.
(Architect: Robert Mills; completed 1842)
The Corinthian order, the most ornate of the three, is proportionately taller than the others and features a capital ringed with acanthus leaves and fern fronds, terminating in four miniature volutes.
|The Supreme Court building flaunts the most ornate|
of the classical Greek orders, the Corinthian.
Where would D.C. be without columns?
(Architect: Cass Gilbert and Cass Gilbert Jr;
The classical orders remained well-entrenched in architecture until the arrival of Modernism in the 1930s. The Modernists did not cotton to tradition, no matter how ancient, and they quickly branded classical columns as elitist, representing as they did the architectural establishment and all that was wrong with it.
|A modern-day Tuscan column—one of the|
modified Roman orders—executed in
fiberglass-reinforced plastic or FRP.
Sure, right now classical columns are used mainly for table bases and plant stands. But after surviving for two thousand years—who knows?