Structural Design Element: Earliest Column Styles

column ancientAll buildings regardless of their purpose consists of some basic structural engineering and design elements. One of the most basic of those are columns. They are designed to carry the axial force or compression of the building. When combined with a beam, they can also be used to support the building’s weight while bending but not buckling. Many engineers are charged with recreating historical columns. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the design elements of the various styles of columns.

The first column began being constructed during the Iron Age. Some of the earliest columns were put on Sumerian temples consisting of brickwork with workers making these bricks using techniques very similar to the techniques used to make adobe bricks. Some temple columns, both freestanding and attached, were also made using terracotta cones with the ends dipped in bright colors or edged in gold.

One of the oldest examples of a non-religious use of columns have been found in Tall al-Uhaimer, Iraq. These columns were made with circular bricks.
During the seventh century BC, Greek structural engineers started using Doric columns on their temples. These columns were placed close together and were usually constructed without a base. Most columns consisted of 20 sides placed very close together with a circle topped by a square forming the capital. Often times, builders placed a simple frieze above the column on the building. As time moved on, the friezes became more decorated. An example of this style is the Parthenon in Athens.

It was not for almost another century that architecture began to follow art with columns being constructed in the Ionic style with tall slender columns being constructed. Builders now chose to do away with the 20 sides opting instead to create flues into the columns that ran from the top to the bottom. These columns were placed on stacked ring bases. An outstanding example of this style is the Temple of Athena Nike.

persian ancient columnAnother early example of the use of columns comes from Persia about the fifth century. In fact, these were some of the most elaborate columns ever constructed with most having fluted or grooved flutes and the capital featuring half-horses or half-bulls standing back to back. Architects also believe that early Persian column capitals also often consisted of scroll work. When compared to the Greek columns of the same period, these columns are much taller and thinner around.

While these column styles date back thousands of years, many buildings are still being constructed with these styles of columns today.