Saturday, April 15, 2006

Columns and shadows

click photo to enlarge
There can be few architectural motifs that have been as widely adopted, over such a period of time, as the classical orders of architecture. From the earliest sturdy Greek Doric of the seventh century BC, though the Ionic with its volutes and fluting, to the acanthus leaf capitals of the Corinthian, the columns, capitals and associated entablatures have been at the forefront of much Western architecture for the past two and a half thousand years.

Sometimes the two additional orders devised by Roman architects (the Composite ) and by C16 Italy (the Tuscan ), are used. During the Byzantine period debased versions with exaggerated entasis and fanciful capitals bearing only a passing resemblance to their progenitors continued the love affair wth the orders. And the inventive columns of Gothic architecture clearly owe much to the Ionic and Corinthian styles. However, since the rediscovery of classical learning in the Renaissance, right through to the early twentieth century, the Classical orders of architecture, in a pure or slightly modified form, have been widely used in architecture. And, even since the rise of Modernism, the orders, or knowing references and allusions to them, keep creeping into buildings.

Why is this? Partly it's to do with the authority of Greek and Roman architecture as seen by subsequent centuries, both as the fount of much that followed, and also as a symbol of power, supremacy and learning. But it's also to do with the defined and refined vocabulary of forms and proportions that produce satisfying architecture.

The photograph above shows the base of the giant Corinthian columns on the east side of St George's Hall, Liverpool. Designed by the twenty five year old Harvey Lonsdale Elmes around 1840, this structure is widely acknowledged as one of the finest Neo-Classical buildings in the world. My photograph tries to capture the way the fluting of each column and the moulding of the bases throw beautiful shadows, giving solidity and definition to the structure, just as was intended by the original Greek designers. The strong April sunshine is throwing more shadows across the portico, giving an interesting pattern, and adding to the effect of sublime and permanent order.

All architectural definitions are from "Wikipedia".
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen