All About the 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 triumphal Arch of Titus may be the first instance of this Roman Order of Architecture in the first century AD. Composite columns have highly decorated capitals (tops). 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.

Why is the Composite Order important?

It's not the first type of column in Greek and Roman architecture, so what is the significance of the Composite Order? The earlier Ionic Order has an inherent design problem—how do you round the design of the rectangular volute capitals to elegantly fit on the top of a round shaft? The flowery asymmetrical Corinthian Order does the job. By combining both orders, the Composite column is visually more appealing while keeping the strength found in the Ionic Order. The significance of the Composite Order is that in its creation ancient architect-designers were modernizing architecture. Even today, architecture is an iterative process, that good ideas are brought together to form better ideas—or at least something new and different. Design is not pure in architecture. Design builds on itself by combination and elimination. It could be said that architecture itself is a composite.


  • Inline photos of the Arch of Titus by Andrea Jemolo/Electa/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images (cropped)