Elements of classical columns
A column is a structural element that transmits load from above to a supporting structure below. The word ‘column’ is associated in particular with elements that have a central shaft that is round in section.
 Greek orders
 Roman orders
For more information, see Classical orders in architecture.
Traditionally, a column is made up of a base, a shaft and a capital.
The base is the lowest part or division of a column. Egyptian and Greek Doric columns were typically placed directly on the floor without a base. In contrast to this, Ionic columns had an elaborate base made up of groups of mouldings (decorative strips) and fillets (narrow bands with vertical faces).
An attic base for example is made up of:
- Lower torus (a semi-circular convex moulding).
- Scotia (a concave moulding between two fillets).
- Upper torus.
Columns may sit on a more complex pedestal, usually having a die (a square block between the column and base), a base and cornice. This may sit on a plinth giving a more even distribution of the column weight.
The shaft is the portion of a column between the base and the capital:
- The Doric order is usually identified by its stout columns compared to the other orders. In Greece, Doric columns rested directly on the floor without a pedestal or base moulding. Roman Doric columns tend to be slimmer and sit on an Attic base.
- Ionic are generally thinner, and generally fluted.
- Corinthian columns are typically slender and fluted.
- Tuscan columns are unfluted with a simple base and unadorned capital and entablature.
The term ‘drum’ is used to describe the individual circular sections places, one on top of another, to construct the shaft of the column.
The ‘entasis’ describes the subtle curved profile of classical columns.
The capital comprises the uppermost elements of a column. While capitals differ according to the classical order, they usually include the following elements:
- Astragal. A small convex moulding around the bottom of the capital and the top of the shaft, below the necking layer.
- Necking: On a Doric column, the necking appears as a plain section beneath the capital and above the astragal.
- Bell: This is common to Corinthian columns and is the part of the capital between the neck moulding and the abacus that is shaped like a bell. It is usually decorated with acanthus leaves.
- Echinus: The decorative moulding that sits below the abacus and above the necking.
- Abacus: A square slab that sits on top of the column's capital and supports the architrave or arch. The function of an abacus is to broaden the support provided by the column.
- Volutes: A spiral form which is a distinctive element of the Ionic capitals.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Barrel vault.
- Classical orders in architecture.
- Cornice coving and architrave definitions.
- Difference between pillars and columns.
- Flying buttress.
- Trompe l’oeil.
- Types of column.
 External references
The RTPI has challenged the Institute for Apprenticeships’ (IfA) ability in assessing professional standards.