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White River Hardwoods Millwork Design Services

The Secret of Using Classical Organization with Columns, Arches, & Piers

By Stewart Morgan, Senior Designer White River Hardwoods

A fundamental concept in Classical architecture is that each level of a building must visually support the level above. When applying Classical orders to a multi-story building, superimposition (from the Latin for “placing above”) of the orders helps create this visual weight. Superimposition refers to the organization of the orders from the most load bearing to the least by utilizing the more visually strong orders on the lower levels and progressing up to the least visually strong. This means that if a building is 5 stories tall, the ground floor would be in the Tuscan order, the second in the Doric, the third in the Ionic, the fourth in the Corinthian, and the fifth in the Composite.

Above: Superimposition of the orders at the Colosseum in Rome

Sometimes a level will appear as an arcade of alternating arches and piers. If columns are included in the upper levels, the lower level pier then acts visually as a pedestal for the column above. This was the case in the Grand Hall of the Château de Montaigne in Tennessee—an entrance hall based on the Chapel Royal at the Château de Versailles.

Mouldings were used to emulate the capital and base of a Doric column:

  • Abacus of the capital: flatstock
  • Echinus of the capital: CM8786, an acanthus Mon Reale crown
  • Astragal of the capital: PM593, a Traditional panel mould
  • Base: PM620, a Traditional lipping panel mould
  • Plynth: B403, a Traditional base and flatstock

The faces of these piers were treated with PM8560, an acanthus Mon Reale panel mould, to form panels. Our CRV5075 acanthus plume carvings were then placed at each corner. Since the piers can be seen as a freestanding column or pedestal, the mouldings forming the capital and base were continued all the way around the piers. But the sides of the piers simultaneously formed the jambs of the archways. Because of this, the jamb faces were treated differently--a more elaborate panel was designed within those faces.

  • Outer ring: PM8560, an acanthus Mon Reale panel mould
  • Inner ring: PM609, a Traditional panel mould
  • Rosette: CRV6091, a handcarved flower onlay and PM8561, a smaller version of PM8560

This layout was modified in the curved upper jamb by substituting PM8560 and PM609 with Traditional PM609 and PM613 respectively.

Above: Chapel Royal at the Château de Versailles.

Aligning the delicate Corinthian columns directly atop each pier, the structural load was visually transferred from the ceiling straight down to the floor, all the while opening the second level up to admit more light and give a greater sense of space.

While the room was one large triple-height space, each level had its own unique personality and atmosphere. Properly following the principles of superimposition to convey visual strength and utilizing visual tricks to create one type of element from another made this Grand Hall an extremely dynamic space.

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