What is a Composite Column?

Roman Order of Architecture

Composite capital c. 1887, a wooden decoration in a cabin of a Spanish Navy vessel
Composite capital c. 1887, a wooden decoration in a cabin of a Spanish Navy vessel. Photo by The New York Historical Society/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images

In Classical Orders of Architecture, a Composite column is a Roman-designed column style that combines the Greek-designed Ionic and the Corinthian orders of architecture.

The Arch of Titus (view photo) may be the first instance of this Roman Order of Architecture in the first century AD. Composite columns have highly decorated capitals (tops) (see detail of Arch of Titus). The leaf decoration elements of the Corinthian style combine with the scroll designs (volute) that characterize the Ionic style.

Because the combination (or composite) of the two Greek designs makes the Composite Column more ornate than other columns, Composite columns are sometimes found in lavish 17th-century Baroque architecture.

The wooden capital shown here was found in the cabin of a Navy vessel, no doubt as ornamentation for the quarters of a high ranking officer. Typical of the Corinthian capital, the floral ornamentation of the Composite capital is styled after the Acanthus Leaf.

Other Meanings of Composite:

In contemporary architecture, the term composite column can be used to describe any style column molded from a man-made composite material such as fiberglass or a polymer resin, sometimes reinforced with metal.

Pronunciation: In American English, the accent is on the second syllable—kum-POS-it. In British English, the first syllable is more often accented.