Differences between pillar and column (SURPRISING Answer!)

If you have built your own house, you would have come across these terms, pillars, and columns. You might have googled to understand the difference and why each was used. Civil engineers have technical reasons for erecting both the structures and they have their specific purposes.


Both the nomenclatures pillar and column are often used interchangeably in the world of architecture. Both to a common man appear as cylindrical vertical upright structures, meant to give support to a roof, horizontal beam, etc. Most pillars and columns are made of brick and mortar; however, some are made of wood, stone, or metal. Let’s understand the difference from a civil engineer or architect’s standpoint.

What is a pillar?

A pillar may or may not have the load-bearing capability. Sometimes they are erected only as a decorative pieces as you might have seen in many historical buildings and monuments. They are known as commemorative pillars. Pillars do support the roof of a building or the upper floors of a structure. Pillars are made of concrete in most buildings. In older historical buildings which are made of stone, you might find them made of stones.

You might have seen homes with a front canopy wherein pillars are erected for decorative reasons. You might have seen arches or rectangular structures at the entrance of apartment buildings.

What is a column?

Columns have to have the load-bearing capability and they are erected with an intention of providing support to the roof or upper floors. They normally have a solid base or foundation and often steel is used as reinforcement inside the concrete columns to provide support to the cylindrical structure of columns. Columns can take up multiple shapes like circular or cylindrical, rectangular, square, hexagonal, or octagonal vertical structures. 

Difference between a pillar and a column

  1. A pillar can be erected in a structure for both decorative and functional purposes. Inside a home often people erect decorative pillars to hang paintings or other items. Many people use decorative wooden pillars in the front porch area of the home. However, columns are used purely for functional reasons and they need to have a very strong foundation and load-bearing capability. A column often supports a horizontal beam or roof.
  2. A pillar is cylindrical in shape; however, columns are of different shapes like circular or cylindrical, rectangular, square, hexagonal, or octagonal. Many architects even come up with their own designs of twisted columns to give a different signature style to the building. Many Indian and Buddhist temples and monasteries boast of these architectural delights wherein the columns are designed in a different fashion.  
  3. From an architectural perspective, pillars are slender in their outlook compared to their height as load-bearing is not their primary goal. All the pillars can be referred to as columns, however, the vice versa is not true.
  4. The main reason for erecting a pillar is to use it to provide support to the part of a solid vertical structure, not the entire roof or upper floors. Pillars do have a solid foundation. The load-bearing capabilities of pillars are much lesser than that of a column. The main reason for erecting a column is to support the entire weight of the roof or the higher floors, mostly in multistoried buildings.
  5. Since columns are erected specifically to withstand weight, hence they have good compressive strength to support large standing structures. Most traditionally-designed columns have a solid base and they rest on a concrete foundation. The standard design used to erect columns is known as a colonnade, in which a row of evenly spaced columns, are constructed. 

While constructing skyscrapers, stainless steel columns are used because they have exceptionally good compressive strength. These columns are used to support to lift a building above ground which are known as pilotis or piers. The modern apartment buildings rest on pilotis or piers as the ground floor is used as car parking and the residential apartments start from the first floor. Columns are often concrete structures and use steel reinforcements.

Columns have to be installed properly as they can break. Engineers spend a lot of time making sure that the columns are strong enough to hold the construction.

Pillars do not possess strong compressive strength as they are either designed to carry only a portion of the weight or only for decorative purposes.

Other meanings of the words ‘’pillar’’ and ‘’column’’

The word ‘’column’’ is used in print media which means a small snippet that is posted in a newspaper or magazine. Since they are posted in a columnar form, the name for the news snippet was given ‘’column”. If someone says that they are a columnist that means their occupation is to write those snippets. These snippets might be posted on a daily, weekly, or fortnightly basis in the newspaper or magazine to which the columnist is associated with.

In an excel spreadsheet, there are rows and columns. Rows are horizontal lines where data is inserted and are denoted by 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Columns are vertical lines that are denoted by alphabets. Often while explaining a particular number, in the corporate world, people will state- please look at the number in row 5, column E.


While constructing a house, we do not pay much heed to the technical terms of the building structures. We leave that job to the expert civil engineers and architects. However, there is no harm in gaining a little knowledge. After all, no knowledge ever goes waste. We also mentioned the other meanings of the words ‘’pillar’’ and ‘’column’’ so that you have a complete understanding of these words. 

Pillars and columns might seem similar but there are some subtle differences between them that make it worth using the correct term when you are constructing a house. Builders find it essential to use the correct word so that they both know what they are talking about. If you don’t use the right term, it could lead to confusion on the construction site.