The pillar has adorned many of the greatest monumental examples of Western architecture since antiquity, from the Doric columns of the Parthenon to the Corinthian capitals of the Pantheon portico. In the West, the legacies of these classical forms have permutated over the centuries and into modern times: the Doric columns of the Lincoln Memorial, the Ionic columns of the British museum portico, and the Villa Savoye’s pilotis are just a few examples of the classical column’s continued transformation and use over the last few centuries. Today, the round pillar continues to be used in modern design, both functionally and aesthetically. Below, we look into these elements in more detail, including their materials, construction, structural qualities, and several contemporary examples of their use.
Structurally, columns are used to transfer the compressive load of a ceiling, roof, or beam to a floor or its foundations. For this reason, columns must be made of materials with good compressive strength, which can include steel, concrete, stone, wood, or even fiberglass. The ancient Greek temples that remain today were largely made of stone, which continues to be a popular material for pillars today. They can be made in a huge variety of dimensions, which the soaring columns of monumental architecture from antiquity can attest to. Concrete columns appear similar to stone columns, but are typically heavier and may be more difficult to install. These require the construction of formwork, usually a vertical mold of the desired shape and size into which concrete can be poured. Some modern designs, such as BC Arquitetos’ DN Apartment, may combine the two to optimize the advantages of each.
Wood columns also have a long and complex history, and were famously used at the center of East Asian pagodas such as Japan’s Horyu-ji to provide structural support and anti-earthquake proofing. Even in ancient Greece, temples were originally made of wood, and only later began to be carved in stone. Today, wood columns continue to be used for their traditional aesthetic qualities and light weight. However, these columns may be susceptible to extreme temperatures and bad weather, whereas other materials are comparatively resistant to environmental conditions. Fiberglass columns are a good solution to these issues, as they are strong, waterproof, and otherwise resistant to insects, chipping, and splintering. They are also typically cheap to produce and easy to install, yet can still be load-bearing.
Depending on the materials from which they are made, round columns can be designed and shaped in many different ways. Of course, classical columns used to sport capitals and occasionally bases. They were also usually fluted, and utilized entasis to correct the optical illusion of concavity caused by the human eye. Entasis is rarer today, as is the use of capitals due to engrained modernist values against ornamentation, yet some columns are still fluted or otherwise patterned, or else they are colored or manipulated in other ways, such as the tilted pillars of ShaarOffice’s Villa No. 07.
Moreover, columns can be made in different shapes, include square, rectangular, hexagonal, and orthogonal. Typically, the difference in load-bearing capacity between circular, square, and rectangular columns with the same area is negligible, but this qualification relies of course on the material used, as well as dimensions and other considerations. Issues of cost and ease, particularly for concrete columns that require the construction of formwork, also drastically affect the desirability of each different shape. Nonetheless, many architects prefer round pillars for aesthetic reasons, including the connection to classical antiquity.
Below are several examples of contemporary projects that use round pillars to great effect.