pilaster, in architecture, upright supporting member, attached to and projecting slightly from the face of a wall and equipped with a base and capital like a column; also, a similar form used decoratively. The pilaster in general follows the rules and proportions of the classic orders; it may be fluted or not, but usually has no entasis or taper. It was used by the Romans. The Greek antae (projections of the wall at the corners only), although similar in function, differ in base and capital from the columns that stand between them. In the Renaissance, the pilaster, used as a purely decorative device, was often paneled and ornamented.
A pilaster is a slightly-projecting flattened column built into or applied to the face of a wall. In discussing Leon Battista Alberti's use of pilasters, which Alberti reintroduced into wall-architecture, Rudolf Wittkower wrote, "The pilaster is the logical transformation of the column for the decoration of a wall. It may be defined as a flattened column which has lost its three-dimensional and tactile value.

A pilaster appears with a capital and entablature, also in "low-relief" or flattened against the wall.

The pilaster is an Architectural elements in classical architecture used to give the appearance of a supporting column and to articulate an extent of wall, with only an ornamental function. In contrast, an engaged column or buttress can support the structure of a wall and roof above.

Pilasters often appear on the sides of a door frame or window opening on the facade of a building, and are sometimes paired with columns or pillars set directly in front of them at some distance away from the wall, which support a roof structure above, such as a portico. These vertical elements can also be used to support a recessed archivolt around a doorway. The pilaster can be replaced by ornamental brackets supporting the entablature or a balcony over a doorway.

As with a column, a pilaster can have a plain or fluted surface to its flattened rectangular profile (cross section) and can be represented in the mode of any of the classical orders. In the giant order pilasters appear as two-storeys tall, linking floors in a single unit.

The fashion of using this element from Ancient Greek and Roman architecture was adopted in the Italian Renaissance and later Greek Revival architecture.

See also

A pilaster in civil engineering is a vertical rectangular member that is structurally a pier, and architecturally a column. Pilasters are used to decrease the slenderness ratio for the height of masonry walls - L/R<120.


  • Lewis, Philippa and Gillian Darley, Dictionary of Ornament (1986) NY: Pantheon


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