Time after time I see columns that are too small for a house or building. It’s like a toothpick holding up a brick. Here are some examples that are all wrong:
It’s all about scale and proportion. There is actually a formula that you can apply to tell you how wide your columns should be. This is called the “Golden Mean”. This was used by the Greeks to build much of their cities and temples. The most famous is the Parthenon in Athens.
This is not just for architecture, but proportion in general. The formula is:
Leonardo da Vinci, Salvador Dalí, Mondrian all have incorporated the golden ratio into their paintings.
Leonardo da Vinci, The Vitruvian Man
I don’t want to bore you, but a bit more history might help.
We refer to the “classical order” as one of the ancient styles of classical architecture, each distinguished by its proportions and characteristic profiles and details, and most readily recognizable by the type of column employed. There are five different orders; Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. All columns are derived from these.
Each column is made up of a base, shaft and capital. The height of columns are calculated in terms of a ratio between the diameter of the shaft at its base and the height of the column. A Doric column can be described as seven diameters high, an Ionic column as eight diameters high and a Corinthian column nine diameters high.
So, if you have a column that needs to be 8’ high then your “Doric” columns should be approximately 13.7” wide at it’s base. 96” high /7= 13.7” Make sense? Well, maybe not. But you can see how a standard 4”x4” post won’t work.
These columns are pretty close to being the right scale.
Some other rules to go by:
1. The columns need to feel more substantial than what they are holding up.
2. The material of the column is just as important as the size. You wouldn’t want a wood column holding up a stone wall. Also, in New Orleans you see a lot of iron columns and balconies. They are intended to be sturdy in the material yet feels light. This is a good use of a small column because they are only holding up a porch. Too many people use the iron as a column on a house, which is the wrong use for this type of column.
3. Sometimes repetition is better if you go smaller.
4. Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Architect Le Corbusier designed Villa Savoye to feel as though it is floating in the trees. He intentionally made his columns small scale.
Mies van der Rohe
Frank Lloyd Wright
Let's vow to eliminate underscaled columns forever! ~ Brandy