Seven colonnades

How pillar and post create drama when used around the edge of buildings

The use of a humble pillar and post arrangement for the support of roof structures has, since ancient times, taken on a much more complex role when placed on the periphery of buildings. The colonnade plays a mediating function between the private interior and the public exterior, governing the interaction of the public with both those facets of the building – enclosing, screening and revealing the spaces within.

Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Senenmut, Western Thebes, 1490-1460 BC
Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, Senenmut, Western Thebes, 1490-1460 BC

Heralding a turn in Egyptian temple architecture towards one in which the fullness of devotion required the participation of worshippers, the female Pharaoh’s temple united its various devotional chambers with a series of long colonnades, including the first recorded range of proto-Doric columns. Here they simultaneously unify the complex’s elevation while providing continuous shelter for ceremonial participants as they passed sequentially from room to room. 

Great Colonnade, Apamea, Syria, 2nd Century AD
Great Colonnade, Apamea, Syria, 2nd Century AD

Similar in scale to the great colonnade in Palmyra, this was a triumph of civic image over private or institutional display, rendering the buildings effectively invisible behind the monumental columns and their entablatures. A vast and perfectly straight double colonnade that extended for a full 2km through the Syrian provincial city, the structure would have turned the main thoroughfare into a city-sized outdoor equivalent of a Basilica, or an infinitely elongated version of the Hellenic Stoae, in which a multitude of activities could take place under cover, without charge, and with direct access to the highest area of footfall in the polis.

Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza, Palladio, 1550
Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza, Palladio, 1550

Palladio was the main protagonist in the rediscovery of the colonnade as a vital architectural tool within the Renaissance canon. His Palazzo Chiericati is the archetypal example of the use of the colonnade as a structural framework for architectural composition, a 16th century Maison Dom-ino for the Classical Orders. Here Palladio used two storeys of colonnades to define the shape of the building, to ornament the elevations and to create practical loggias which provide usable outside space shaded and sheltered from the elements.

Perrault’s Colonnade, East façade of the Louvre, Paris, 1667-70
Perrault’s Colonnade, East façade of the Louvre, Paris, 1667-70

Having trumped Bernini, among others, to gain the commission for the East Front of the Louvre, Perrault built the piece of architecture that above all others has come to embody French classicism. Sitting on a fenestrated base, the design is a deep, long, modulated colonnade of paired Corinthian columns and terminated by corner pavilions. Perrault broke the colonnade forward at the centre, to hold a pediment and to allow for an entrance arch at ground level. His long study of antique precedent, his precise deployment of the Orders, his careful management of proportion and his dim view of creative license came together here to give the facade a precise grandeur which manages to be at once incredibly impressive and remarkably restrained.

Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich (now the Old Royal Naval College), Sir Christopher Wren, 1696-1712
Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich (now the Old Royal Naval College), Sir Christopher Wren, 1696-1712

Dealing with a complicated set of constraints for an architectural design in the grand manner, Wren knitted together an ingenious long term masterplan for the hospital, incorporating the shell of a wing for a palace by John Webb on one side of the site and Inigo Jones’ undemolishable Queen’s House in the centre of the plot – and took into consideration that the scheme was to be built in stages. Key to his solution were two grand colonnades that visually linked Webb’s range to the Queen’s House while providing covered access for the elderly and infirm residents to the chapel, the great hall and the ward blocks. Behind these colonnades, the ward blocks were built as and when money became available; the colonnades play an important role in unifying the complex as seen from the Thames and the Queen’s House while screening off the design of the subsidiary courtyards by other hands, most notably the dramatic King William Block elevation by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Ljubljana Central Market, Slovenia, Joze Plecnik, 1940-2.
Ljubljana Central Market, Slovenia, Joze Plecnik, 1940-2.

A deceptively humble building, Plecnik’s market is a sophisticated urban intervention that knits together multiple levels, various programmes, and different characteristics of the area within a playful, licentious classicism that forms a series of picturesque views. Running alongside the Ljubljanica river, the building starts with a small temple facing the city’s main bridge; then a broad, open colonnade helps it transition into an outdoor covered market with a seating area that breaks between two market zones and joins the street to views of the river. Beyond that, a long colonnade breaks forward, running alongside the indoor market and market shops, then framing one side of the city’s main outdoor market. The upper colonnades sit on a rusticated base that descends into the waters below, creating an embankment containing the fish market. 

One Pancras Square, London, David Chipperfield, 2014
One Pancras Square, London, David Chipperfield, 2014

Part of Argent’s new King’s Cross, Chipperfield here returns in a more interesting fashion to the colonnade form that is present in so many of his projects. The facade facing the square has one bay of columns free that creates a shaded colonnade running up each of the building’s nine storeys. The rest of the structure is framed in half columns, implying that their use continues throughout the interior. The design refers variously to Chipperfield’s usual stripped-down classicism, to 19th century industrial and engineering heritage (with the column casings being made of cast iron in a Halifax foundry), as well as to 19th century architectural thought. The latter is demonstrated by the use of basket-weave surface patterning on the column casings: this refers to Semper’s theory about walls having been woven in the most primitive forms of architecture. The colonnade is double-height at ground level and aside from providing public shelter, it accommodates the main London Underground entrance for the new development.