What Not To Build, Part 2 (updated)

Columns, So Simple, So Easy To Mis-Use

When you think of traditional buildings, you think of columns. Not all traditional buildings have columns, but most traditional buildings have the proportions of different types of columns and their associated pieces (called Orders) as the basis of their designs.

I’ve had non-architects scoff at this suggestion (they lack the knowledge to know what they don’t know). I’ve had other architects think that while that may have been true at one time, that it doesn’t matter anymore. Since architects are supposed to be keen observers of the built environment and masters of form and proportion, I have to conclude that they are lazy, (sorry to be harsh) because even in Modernist or contemporary design a knowledge of history is important even if only as a jumping-off point.

I think that columns are over-used. I think that I’m guilty of over-using columns myself, but nothing seems to say “traditional” like a porch with columns. Well, my whole point with this “What Not To Build” is to warn against improper column use, not the use of columns.

Columns can’t be disengaged from their Order! The column really MUST be in the proper position in relation to the entablature (the parts between the top of the column and the lowest edge of the roof) or it is a dead give away that the designer and owner lack taste and refinement (again, that’s harsh, but I’m trying to keep you from doing the architectural equivalent of going to the Opera in overalls).

Here are some examples of poor/incorrect use of the Doric Order:

This Is Wrong In SOOOO Many Ways

Poor Details Say Something Other Than Sophistication

Good Columns, Bad Choices

Here’s a drawing of the “correct” Orders according to the Roman Vitruvius. There’re numerous correct versions and classicist lecturers can go on and on…

The Tuscan Order as described by the 16th c. Italian architect, Vignola.

Thousands of years ago, builders had an understanding of the underlying proportional systems of the orders. This knowledge was replaced by pattern books that for hundreds of years (through the 1950’s) allowed builders to arrive at the “correct” size and proportion for everything from exterior columns to window panes to interior mouldings. That knowledge was almost lost (kind of like in the “Dark Ages”!) except to a few architects and builders designing and building churches and historic renovations. Now there are many helpful books on traditional residential  design and quite a few architects and builders that are aware of the importance of getting it right.

Here are a few examples of Tuscan columns where the Orders were modified to different degrees but are appropriate to good residential design.

The Tuscan Order adapted to a hot, humid climate is common in the Low Country.

A Mediterranean Cabana with Tuscan columns.

A Mediterranean Cabana with Tuscan columns.

Tuscan Order with the columns slenderized and paired.

Giant or Colossal Orders are seen in many Low Country homes built in the 19th c.

It’s OK to use columns, just make sure you (or better, your architect) knows what he’s doing. In fashion terms, don’t send your house outside unless it’s properly dressed.


Credit due: I neglected to credit Greg Shue for the “correct” column. I found it at GrandTradition.net and was drawn (very nicely) by Greg Shue. (I’m learning on the job!)


About More Than Architects

I’m Rick Clanton. Michael Ruegamer and I are architects and the principals of Group 3 Design on Hilton Head Island, SC. We provide architecture and interior design services for homes in the US and the Caribbean Islands.
This entry was posted in architecture, classical, design, home design, traditional, what not to build. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Not To Build, Part 2 (updated)

  1. Greg Shue says:

    It would have been proper for your to credit the source of the Doric Order CAD file. I happened to have drawn it, and it came from grandtradition.net.


    Greg Shue, RA

    • Greg, you’re right and I apologize. I’m learning! I found it on Grandtradition.net several years ago, admired it and have used it frequently for reference since then. I’ve updated the post to correct this. If you’d prefer me to remove, please let me know.


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