What Is an Order of Architecture?

What Is a Classical Order of Architecture?

Classical Orders are Tuscan, Grecian doric, Grecian ionic, Corinthian, and Composite
Classical Orders are Tuscan, Grecian doric, Grecian ionic, Corinthian, and Composite. Image by Frederic Lewis/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

An Order of Architecture is a set or rules or principles for designing buildings—sort of like a building code. In Western-based architecture, anything called "classical" means "ancient Greece and Rome." A Classical order of architecture is the approach to building design established in Greece or Rome during what we now call the Classical period, roughly 850 BC through 476 AD.

Temples and important public buildings were constructed according to five distinct Orders of Architecture, each using a different type of column and a different style entablature above the column.

The Greek Orders of Architecture:

In ancient times, about 500 years BC, the Greeks developed three Orders of Architecture, using three distinct column styles:

The Roman Orders of Architecture:

During the reign of the Roman Empire, roughly 44 BC-476 AD, the Romans imitated the Greek Orders of Architecture. They also added their own variations using two distinct column styles:

Rediscovering the Classical Orders:

The Classical Orders of Architecture might have become lost to history if it were not for the writings of early scholars and architects. The Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, who lived during first century BC, documented the three Greek Orders and the Tuscan Order in his famous treatise De Architectura, or Ten Books on Architecture.

More than 1,500 years later, the Italian Renaissance architect Giacomo da Vignola wrote an important treatise in which he described all five Classical Orders of Architecture.

Published in 1563, Vignola's treatise, The Five Orders of Architecture, became a guide for builders throughout western Europe.

Learn More:

  • De Architectura, or Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius
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  • Terms to Know About the Greek Architectural Orders from Ancient and Classical History at About.com
  • Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
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  • The Student's Instructor in Drawing and Working the Five Orders of Architecture by Peter Nicholson, 1815
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  • The five orders of architecture; the casting of shadows and the first principles of construction, based on the system of Vignola by Pierre Esquié, 1890 (read free from archive.org)
  • A treatise on the five orders of architecture: compiled from the works of William Chambers, Palladio, Vignola, Gwilt and others by Fred T. Hodgson. c. 1910 (read free from archive.org)