What's the Difference Between a Baluster and Balustrade?

balustrade at Lake Como

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Balusters are those vertical, vase-like posts or legs on railings that can be made of wood, iron, stone, or other materials. The balustrade consists of several balusters spaced evenly and connected to form a decorative railing supported by baluster posts. In other words, a baluster is a single post, balusters are several of those posts, and a balustrade is all of those posts joined together as a unit. A balustrade is a name for that railing on a balcony, porch or terrace. It can be indoors or outdoors.

The word comes from the French word balustre; from the Italian word balaustro and balaustra, wild pomegranate flower; from Latin balaustium from Greek balaustion; from its shape.

Baluster Shapes

The shape of a baluster usually blends with the architectural style of a house or outdoor building and can range from plain and smooth to something that is highly ornamental.

A History of Balusters and Balustrades

Balusters and balustrades first appeared between the 13th and 7th centuries BC and can be found in ancient bas-reliefs, sculptural murals depicting Assyrian palaces.

Ancient China

The architecture of early and dynastic China is significant for its structural purposes: Paint was applied to prevent the wood from decaying; roofs featured prominent overhangs to protect the building from rain, and terraces were built to support the rest of the building.

The terraces of these Chinese buildings featured balustrades, and by the 10th century, both marble and wooden balustrades could be found in private gardens. The tops, or heads, of balusters from this ​period, were quite detailed, depicting motifs of dragons or flying phoenixes flying amid clouds. Others featured pomegranates and lotus flowers, which could also be found in the gardens.

The Renaissance

From the Renaissance period onward, classical stone balustrades were popular, and feature balusters that were short stems with an abacus (square slab), a base, and either one or two bulbs with rings, along with concave (cavetto) and convex (ovolo) moldings in between.

Examples of Famous Balusters and Balustrades

While balustrades aren't exactly the focal point of a garden structure or building, many fine examples of these architectural features exist. Among them:

  • Landscape architect Andre Le Nôtre, noted for the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, designed architectural-style gardens that featured lots of stone, paving, water features, and borders edged with open balustrades.
  • The Temple of Athena Nike, Athens: The goddess Athena Nike (Victory) is depicted on the relief frieze of the balustrade, built from 427 to 425 BCE by the architect Kallikrates.
  • The young and lovely Juliet, of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, stood on a balcony. But what kept her from falling off that balcony was a balustrade.