It’s common knowledge that engineers like columns. As the ‘marmite’ of the built environment industry, both clients and architects sometimes feel that columns can be limiting to their developments and designs, respectively. Often, engineers find themselves trying to hide them even or remove them. But AKT II wants to celebrate the integral structural element. Design Director Martin Ocampo makes the case for columns as an element that should be celebrated.
The history of columns
Some of the first human dwellings were platforms; platforms to congregate around, to carry out rituals, to prepare food. And so, the column provides an extension of the platform to form a shelter.
The prehistoric parent of this column is a tree – a circular prestressed timber trunk with a network of cantilever branches with outwardly decreasing bending inertia that support a lightweight tensile canopy of leaves. Columns in the classical period appear less important in keeping the elements out as raising humanity past those elements to the gods. Temples and cathedrals: stone steps and platforms and columns designed to lift humanity beyond animal survival on this earth.
The column is almost worshipped in this form. Centuries later, the column once again lifts humanity into a golden age of modernity. Mies and Gropius, Le Corbusier, The Chicago School: without the column there would be no high-rise, no streets in the sky, no lifting humanity above the urban fabric and up once again towards the gods above.
At what point then, did we start to decouple the column from our building history? At what point did it become a problem, a thing to be avoided or removed? We are entering a new age of building design, one that must sit within our planetary limits, and work alongside nature. Building reuse, engineered timber, natural materials. Perhaps it is time to look again at that prehistoric column – the tree?