A guide to art in NYC, with families in mind.

Friday, June 17, 2011

goARCHkids: Grecian Orders Tutorial #2, IONIC COLUMNS

The gorgeous Ionic column; tall, elegant, understated. I think the Ionic order may be my favorite of the three Greek orders. While the Doric order has a dignity that speaks of simplicity and stability, the Ionic order suggests purity, particularly in its American form, where we tend to stick with the white marble version. The Greeks favored bright colors, but we did not know that in the 19th century. In our efforts to mimic the first great republic, American neoclassical style imitated what we thought was their gleaming white marble architecture, but was actually the effects of time and sun bleaching out the paint colors. Think of the nobility and elegance of the Jefferson Memorial to really feel the American Greek Revival Ionic order at its finest. In NYC, there's plenty of Ionic around, but more often its Scamozzian, which has a curl or "volute" on each corner. In the example of the Crenshaw Christian Center (above) on the corner of 96th and CPW, we see a beautiful example of a classic Ionic column. The columns are tall and slender with flutes running the length of the shaft. The other two parts of the column, the base and the capital are both specific to the order. The capital is the easiest way to quickly identify an order. Ionic has volutes, either two, or as in a Scamozzian Ionic capital, four.  The base is round in Ionic and in Doric there is no base. The columns on the right, Scamozzian Ionic, from a residential building on the upper west side, don't have fluting but they do have some standard Ionic features in the base, which is round, and the entablature, which is the horizontal structure supported by the columns. The little squares sticking out in a row along the top of the entablature that look a bit like teeth are, in fact, called dentils and are classic Ionic. So what you find all over NYC are variations of classical Greek orders. By the 19th and early 20th century, architects, builders, and designers would pick and chose what suited them without feeling that they had to adhere strictly to the rules.
 On the corner of 96th street and Amsterdam, there is a grand bank building, though there is no bank. As you see, the building now houses a CVS, a preschool, maybe some offices. The architect chose the Ionic order for this piece of prime corner real estate. Maybe they wanted to suggest something more than the stability of the Doric order, something more refined. Maybe this bank was not only stable but sophisticated. The Ionic order says all that.