By: Nicole V. Gagné
Doric, Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite. The Classical orders of columns have been enshrined in architectural design since the days of ancient Greece, although their use can be traced back even further, to the Egyptian architect Imhotep in 2600 B.C., who had the surfaces of stone columns carved to resemble bundled reeds, and beyond. The grandeur, solidity and beauty of columns have been design fundamentals throughout human history, and they show no signs of fading in the 21st century, least of all in commercial and institutional settings.
The revival of Classicism as an architectural language has meant a resurgence and revitalization in the manufacture of columns. For this survey article, we’ve set aside the vast topic of wood columns and narrowed our focus to suppliers of exterior columns in stone, cast stone, fiberglass and other composites. These firms produce columns in all orders; note too that all are manufacturers and remain uninvolved in column installation. What follows is an outline of five leading companies and the unique products they offer . . .
. . . “We have a lot of custom capability, but it’s a smaller percentage, I’d guess maybe 15 percent.” Jeffrey L. Davis, CEO of Chadsworth, has experienced greater variety in the market. “We’re moving into our third decade now, and it’s fluctuated over the years,” he says. “When interest rates are low and the construction market is on a rise, we sell more of the standard mass-produced columns. When the economy is in a downturn, projects with higher budgets come around and we do more custom work.”
Cost is clearly the major consideration in the popularity of standard-design columns. “If your project calls for a custom profile but wood is not an option, we can create a new PolyStone mold to your exact specifications, giving you the desired profile with all the benefits of the material,” says Davis. “Keep in mind that creating these custom molds is costly, anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the size and design required. This is in addition to the subsequent unit cost. If it’s a large job, say, 30 units, the price will be spread out among each column and may indeed be cost effective. On the other hand, if you can incorporate one of our stock products into your project, your bottom line will be much lower . . . “
. . . Chadsworth takes pride in its innovations in column manufacture. “We have four different kinds of fiberglass columns–filament wound, resin infused, chopped or sprayed up and spun cast,” says Davis. “Filament-wound columns are great when you need a load-bearing capacity. When you touch them or rap on them, however, they sound hollow, so what I like to do with those is fill them up with sand or a sand-vermiculite mixture. You think of a column as holding up a lot of weight, so you don’t want it to sound as if it couldn’t hold up anything. The true innovation would be the PolyStone, or spun-cast, column. We developed this line back in 1992, the result of many years of research and development, and it can hold detail a lot better and feels a lot thicker.”
Chadsworth’s fiberglass columns, according to Davis, are used mostly in new construction. “But we also do a big business in replacing wood columns,” he says. “People don’t understand that a wood column must be maintained, and when they buy an old house and it has a rotting wood column, the first thing they think is, ‘I don’t want to have that happen again,’ so they replace it with an FRP column . . .”
Visitors to the Poland Branch Library in Poland, OH, are greeted by Colossal Greek Doric columns from Chadsworth Inc. These imposing columns, fabricated in fiberglass, were made with a filament-winding process that comes from the fabrication of rocket and missile cases. Photo: courtesy of Chadsworth Inc.