America is a melting pot of diverse cultural influences, many of which date all the way back to ancient Greece. From the roots of our words to the facades of our buildings, evidence of Greek influence on American culture is never in short supply. Classical architecture in ancient Greece focused on three architectural orders or styles, all of which continue to heavily influence building design to this day. Each style can be most easily identified by the type of column it employs. The Greek columns include the Classical orders known as Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.
Of the three Classical orders, the Doric order is the earliest and the simplest. Doric columns include a top (called the capital) and a shaft (the long part of the column) but no base. The area above the column is the frieze, which has smooth sections of stone called metopes and patterns of three vertical lines between them called triglyphs. Despite being very plain, Doric columns have simple designs with a powerful appearance. The Parthenon in Athens is probably the most famous example of a building that employs the Doric order.
The Ionic order derived its name from a coastal region of central Turkey called Ionia where many ancient Greek settlements were located. The capital on Ionic columns have scroll-like decorations called volutes. The Ionic shafts appear leaner than their Doric counterparts because they are taller. Ionic columns also have lines called flutes, which are carved into the columns from top to bottom. Thanks to a special bulge in the shafts called entasis, Ionic columns appear to be straight even though they aren’t. Ionic columns do have bases, which are large and look like a set of rings stacked on top of each other. Graceful proportions that boast an elegant profile characterize the Ionic order. To see the Ionic columns in action, look no further than the Temple of Athena Nike in Athens.
The third and most decorative of the Classical Orders is the Corinthian. Using capitals adorned with flowers and leaves below a scroll, Corinthian columns are highly elaborate. Like the Ionic, Corinthian columns use entasis to make the shafts appear straighter than they are. The flute and base on the Corinthian are also like the Ionian, but the flat roof sets it apart from both the Ionian and Doric designs. The Romans favored the Corinthian order more than the Greeks. Modern examples of elaborate Corinthian columns are at the U.S. Capitol building and the Supreme Court building.