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VOL. 6, NO. 2-- SUMMER 2004

Get Your House Right: Engaged Columns and Pilasters

A column is a freestanding round shaft. A square column is called a pier. When a round column is attached to a wall, it is called an engaged column; and when a pier is attached to a wall, it is called a pilaster. (When a piece of wall breaks forward without any differing details, it is called an anta.)

Engaged columns and pilasters are used to provide articulation to the orders in practical use. An entablature supported by a freestanding column will invariably need to meet the main walls of your building, and it is here that engaged columns and pilasters come into play. It doesn't look good to let the entablature just run into the wall. It needs some form of visual support at the junction. This could be in the form of a simple bracket, often based on the capital of the column. But more typically, a full-length column is used to provide visual support all the way to the ground.

The details for setting out your capital, base and taper are exactly the same as for the freestanding column. There is only one new rule you need to follow. Never use a half-column attached to the wall. It will look insubstantial, as if the wall has "swallowed" the column.

Instead, always set the column between 5/8 and 3/4 diameters from the wall (see Figure 1). The correct example shows how you will see the diameter of the column expressed. The small difference in plan will have a considerable effect in three dimensions. The shadow line behind the column provides definition and a sense of seeing the column as an object in the round.

Figure 1

Pilasters, by contrast, can appear too large if they project too far. It is a common mistake to set the pilaster projection at half its width, as shown in Figure 2, left. Avoid doing this, the pilaster projection should be proportioned at between 1/5 - 1/4 width (see Figure 2, right).

Figure 2