When you walk to school or to the store, do you ever feel as if the houses and apartments you pass are smiling or winking at you? Do they look as if they are asleep if the upstairs shades have been drawn, or as if they are yawning if the front door is wide open? If you see faces on the fronts of buildings, you are being a sharp looker and thinker. The front wall of a building is called its fa,cade because it is the face the building is showing to the world.
When you are downtown, do you notice that the roofs of some tall buildings stick straight out over the sidewalk? That extra bit of roof is called the cornice, which means the crown. Not all buildings have cornices, just as we don't all wear crowns. Cornices do make a building look important, and they also cast long shadows to keep us cool in the summer.
Sometimes when you are at the post office or town hall, do you wonder about the tall columns outside? If you do, you are getting the hint about being a good citizen. For thousands of years, groups of columns under long roofs have made pleasant places in the centers of towns. There people could meet to talk about how to make their governments better.
Have you ever wondered about the different shapes at the tops of columns? These are capitals, which means heads. In the word capital you can tell that architects long ago thought columns looked a little like people. The capital itself helps you notice that the column is doing some hard work, holding up the roof with a little extra push.
Columns may be made of marble or colored stone, wood, brick, or concrete. The very first ones ever made in Old Testament times were usually wood, placed inside houses to hold up the ceilings and to allow people to make the rooms larger. Then when they wanted to build temples to honor their gods, they copied the shapes of the wood columns into stone.
In our cities there are three kinds of capitals with names from ancient Greece: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Wouldn't it be fun to know the secret code architects started using long ago with these capitals? They expressed ideas in buildings by giving capitals and columns human qualities.
For example, the Doric capital is the simplest, just a little cushion. It was put on broad, solid-looking columns (as if the columns were grown men). And the Ionic capital is more elegant: two volutes or curls. It was put on slimmer columns with flutings, long carved grooves like folds in a skirt (as if the columns were women).
The Corinthian capital is the fanciest: delicate volutes with carved acanthus leaves. It was put on the tallest, slimmest, fluted columns (as if the columns were girls grown taller than their mothers).
Now, go out and enjoy the fa,cades in your own town or city, and any that you visit. You may not find cornices and columns right away, but keep looking. You will notice more of what's around you and be able to read the secret messages encoded in the architecture!