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Doric Columns & the Doric Order of Classical Architecture


Doric Columns have a firm place in history and in the tradition of classical architecture. The ancient styles of construction developed in Greece and Rome were revived and codified by Renaissance architects and scholars such as Giacomo da Vignola (1507-1573) and Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). They became known as the Five Orders:

  • The Tuscan Order (Roman)
  • The Doric Order (Greek and Roman)
  • The Ionic Order (Greek and Roman)
  • The Corinthian Order (Greek and Roman)
  • The Composite Order (Roman)

These styles were revisited when the Greek Revival movement in the late 18th and early 19th century brought the elements of classical architecture back into vogue. The orders continue to be the basis for many buildings, particularly public buildings where there is a desire to express permanence, confidence and a continuity with the past. While public buildings may adhere to many of the principles defined in a specific order, smaller buildings, such as homes, may simply adopt columns that are influenced by one of the orders.

Defining the Orders

As defined by Vignola, Palladio and other writers, each of the five orders establishes guidelines for the characteristics, details and proportions of architectural elements such as the column and its parts and the entablature and its parts. As far back as the Roman writer Marcus Vitruvius Pollo (circa 80-70 BCE), there has been a tradition to use the diameter at the base of a column as a unit of measurement. So, for example, the height of the entablature of in the Doric order may be referred to as being 2 diameters, while the height of a column may be referred to as being 6 or 7 diameters.

Characteristics of the Doric Column

The order encompasses the entire building system columns and entablature, while individual columns have characteristics belonging to one of the orders. In ancient Greece, Doric columns were stouter than those of the Ionic or Corinthian orders. Their smooth, round capitals are simple and plain compared to the other two Greek orders. A square abacus connects the capital to the entablature. In Greece, the Doric column was placed directly on the pavement or floor without benefit of a base. Examples of Doric columns in the Greek style include: the (590 BCE), the (about 530 BCE) and the Parthenon (447-432 BCE). When the Romans adopted Doric columns for their buildings, changes were made. Roman Doric columns tend to be slimmer than the Greek Doric columns. At their base, Roman Doric columns are usually adorned with the Attic base, composed of an upper and lower torus separated by a scotia with fillets. Instead of being placed directly on the floor or platform, Roman columns stand on pads or plinths.

Characteristics of the Doric Entablature

The triglyphs and metopes are among of the most distinctive and definitive features of the Doric order. Triglyphs appear centered above every column, a stylized representation of the ends of wooden beams as used in post and beam construction. In addition, one or two triglyphs appear between the columns. Metopes, the space between the triglyphs, are ideally square in shape and they may be plain or decorated with relief forms. Below each triglyph are corresponding guttae that appear like pegs used to lock or stabilize the beams.

The Doric Conflict

The strict rules for positioning of elements in the entablature led to a design problem when the Greek’s material changed from wood to stone blocks. In wooden temples, the triglyphs were literally the ends of wooden beams and they were spaced evenly and centered when they were directly above a column. When construction materials for temples changed from wood to stone block, the stone architrave needed full support all the way to the ends. A controversy arose regarding the proper placement of the triglyph and the formation of the corner. The design issues and ensuing debate became known as the Doric Conflict. In some cases, the triglyph was placed at the corner.

This changed the proportions of the metopes closest to the corner and they were no longer square. In addition, the triglyph was not perfectly centered over the column. In other cases, builders used a broader triglyph that extended to the corner, but this also disturbed the harmony of the entablature. The Roman’s solution to the Doric Conflict was to leave a blank space between the final triglyph and the corner, as shown in the example to the right.

Check out more examples of famous Doric columns

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