Post and Lintel Systems

The Evolution of the Post and Lintel Structural System The post and lintel structural system, more commonly known today as post and beam, is a construction method used to hold the weight of a building through the use of two or more upright posts that support the horizontal beam/lintel that spans between them. This technique has been used for centuries and is still seen today. When this system was first put into place it was solely for structural support, but as time moved forward, we see a shift in its purpose as stylistic features are often added by different cultures that borrowed this technique.

While reading through the chapters, I realized the changes made to the structural system began as a basis of construction and ended with the Romans who turned this support into art. Catal Huyuk, located in present day Turkey, was one of the first known urban communities that started around 6500 BCE and served as a trading town. This community was packed tight with dwelling houses, workshops, and shrines. There was no usage of streets to access the buildings and instead pedestrians traveled along the rooftops and entered through openings in the walls.

In order to define one space from another, the residents used a timber post and lintel system and mud-brick walls to define ones rectangular spaced home. By doing this they have created one large perimeter wall that encompasses their entire community. In 2900 BCE, workers located on the Salisbury Plain in England began to create one of the most well known megalith stone structures titled Stonehenge. Here, we see another example of the early use of the post and lintel construction whose purpose was for structural reasoning only.

The creators of Stonehenge created a layered system of circles that aided in determining the annual calendar as well as the prediction of lunar and solar eclipses. In the center is a U shaped formation of sacren stones known as the Trilithons, which establish the northeast axis of the structure. In order to ensure the stability of these stones, a lintel was placed atop every two stones where knobs on the top of the uprights fit into socket holes on the underside of the lintels therefore locking the two together.

The stones seen here are shown in a very raw form and are not altered for visual appearance. In Egypt, we begin to see the structural post and lintel system being turned into a more visual appealing shape that adds to the overall appearance of the building through the use of colonnades. If you refer to the mortuary temple of Mentuhotep and Queen Hatshepsut you will see construction similarities for they both use large ramps leading to the next terrace whose retaining walls consist of carved relief colonnades.

These colonnades look the same from the front view having the same rectangular shape, but in the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut there are cylindrical columns with fluting behind the rectangular piers that are now known as being proto-Doric for its relation to the orders of architecture soon to be created by the Greeks. The last two groups seen thus far who make a significant change to the post and lintel system are the Greeks and Romans. They are the ones credited for creating a system of column types that each has their own visual appealing aspects.

The Greeks came up with a system of stylized treatments for bases, capitals, and the supported members, the entablature. This system then became a term that now acts as the basis for classical architecture, which is known as the orders of architecture containing the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders. The Doric is the strongest and has a fluted shaft, no base, and an echinus molding supporting the abacus. The Ionic features scrolls in the capital and has a fluted shaft. The Corinthian is the order that features acanthus-leaf capitals atop a fluted shaft.

The Romans add to the orders by the creation of the Tuscan, unfluted columns and simplified capitals, and Composite columns, a combination of Ionic and Corinthian features. In summary, we have seen the post and beam construction develop from a rudimentary to sophisticated design. The technology gets passed from culture to culture and generation-to-generation. With each, the system is refined based on local materials, cultural styles and technological advances of the time.

Though the technology has changed appearances and multiplied options, the ancient systems are as common to today’s designs as when they were originated. The post and lintel system remains a popular aesthetic system every bit as relevant to organizing architecture and interior spaces today.

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