Glossary of Architectural Terms

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Adobe Bricks

Bricks formed out of mud or clay, and baked in a kiln or under the sun. Adobe bricks are often bonded together with mud- or lime-mortar joints, and coats of lime-and-sand stucco often cover adobe walls to prevent them from eroding in the rain. The use of adobe bricks dates back to prehistoric times, and continues today. Adobe buildings are particularly common in the southwestern United States, where they are indigenous.

Arcade

A series of arches supported by columns or other vertical elements.

Arch

A curved or pointed structural element that is supported at its sides.

Architectural Symmetry

A characteristic (particularly of classical architecture) by which the two sides of a facade or architectural floor plan of a building present mirror images of one another.

Archway

An opening with a curved or pointed top.

Attic Window

A window lighting an attic story, and often located in a cornice. Attic windows are common to ancient Greek and Greek Revival architecture.

Bake Oven

An enclosed brick or stone oven built adjacent to a hearth in early Dutch Colonial houses. As a bake oven’s walls are made of solid, insulating materials, it can maintain an even temperature for many hours.

Balcony

A platform that projects from the wall of a building, and which is enclosed on its outer three sides by a balustrade, railing, or parapet.

Baluster

A vertical supporting element, similar to a small column.

Balustrade

A railing consisting of a row of balusters supporting a rail.

Bay

A section of a building distinguished by vertical elements such as columns or pillars. Often, a bay will protrude from the surface of the wall in which it is situated, thus creating a small, nook-like interior space, often of a rectangular or semi-hexagonal outline. See bay window.

Bay Window

A projecting bay that is lit on all of its projecting sides by windows. See bay.

Board-and-batten

A wooden siding treatment in which wide, vertically oriented boards are separated by narrower strips of wood called “battens,” which form the joints between the boards. This is a technique common to American folk architecture.

Bow Window

A curved bay window. See bay window and bay.

Bell Roof

A roof shaped like a bell, and typically situated on top of a round tower. The bell roof has origins in Normandy, toured extensively by Stanford White, who incorporated bell roofs into many of his Shingle Style houses and buildings.

Belvedere

A small, square cupola that functions as a lookout tower, located at the top of a building. Belvederes are characteristic of Italianate houses.

Bousillage

A form of plaster made of mud, clay and moss used in poteaux-en-terre construction in French Colonial architecture, particularly in Louisiana.

Brace

A reinforcing and/or stabilizing element of an architectural frame.

Bracket

A projection from a vertical surface that provides structural and/or visual support for overhanging elements such as cornices, balconies, and eaves.

Casement Window

A window frame that is hinged on one vertical side, and which swings open to either the inside or the outside of the building. Casement windows often occur in pairs.

Central Hallway

A passageway that cuts through the center of a building, from front to back, and off of which rooms open to the sides.

Chalet

A timber dwelling, cottage, or lodge with a gable roof and wide eaves, indigenous to the Swiss Alps, but now found worldwide.

Chevron

A design that incorporates a pointed shape similar to an accent mark, common to Art Deco architecture.

Chimney Stacks and Bundles

Chimney flues visible from the exterior of a house, and sometimes very decorative.

Classical Architecture

Architecture modeled after the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome.

Classical Figurative Statuary

Statues of men and women dressed in ancient Grecian or Roman attire.

Colonial Kitchen

In the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries, a kitchen inspired by the kitchens of Colonial America. A colonial kitchen is usually large, with a wide, open hearth, and contains no modern conveniences (or else contains modern conveniences contrived to look pre-modern). Colonial revivalists of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries looked back upon colonial dwellings, especially colonial kitchens, with nostalgia for earlier, pre-industrial times. The colonial kitchen display of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago was exceedingly popular amongst Colonial Revival enthusiasts.

Colonnade

A range of columns that supports a string of continuous arches or a horizontal entablature.

Column

A supporting pillar consisting of a base, a cylindrical shaft, and a capital on top of the shaft. Columns may be plain or ornamental.

Composite Order

See Corinithian Order.

Cone-shaped Roof

A roof shaped like a cone.

Corinthian Order

A variation of the Ionic order, and the youngest (dating from the 4th century B.C.E.) of the three basic orders of classical Greek architecture (the others being the Doric and the Ionic orders). The Corinthian column was the showiest of the three basic columns, with a tall acanthus leaf capital, a molded base, and a slender, fluted shaft. The Corinthian order was utilized in ancient Greece almost exclusively for temple interiors, but became very prominent in ancient Rome, due to the ancient Romans’ taste for excessive ornamentation, particularly in architecture. Ever the imitators, but rarely the inventors, the ancient Romans grafted the volute scrolls of the Ionic order onto the capitals of the Corinthian order to result in the Composite Order.

Cornice

A crowning projection at a roof line, often with molding or other classical detail.

Cornice Molding

A decorative strip of wood running just below the eaves of a building. A cornice molding is a cross between a cornice and a molding – a cornice is a crowning projection at a roof line, while a molding is a decorative strip of wood.

Courtyard

An open space, usually open to the sky, enclosed by a building, often with an arcade or colonnade.

Crenellation

A sequence of alternating raised and lowered wall sections at the top of a high exterior wall or parapet. Crenellations were originally employed for defensive purposes (one could hide behind a raised wall section, while shooting down at enemies from over a lowered wall section), but were later used for decoration. Also known as a battlement.

Cupola

A small dome, or hexagonal or octagonal tower, located at the top of a building. A cupola is sometimes topped with a lantern. A belvedere is a square-shaped cupola.

Curlicue

A spiral or looping line.

Decorative Motif

A repeated pattern, image, idea, or theme. In classical architecture, series of urns and continuous or repeated swags of garlands are common decorative motifs.

Dentils

Small rectangular blocks that, when placed together in a row abutting a molding, suggest a row of teeth.

Diamond-paned Windows

Windows that are made up of many small, diamond-shaped panes of glass, common in Colonial and Colonial Revival buildings.

Doric Order

The oldest (dating to the 6th-century B.C.E.) and plainest of the three basic orders of classical Greek architecture (the others being the Ionic and the Corinthian orders). In ancient Greece, the Doric order was the masculine, and the most preferred, order. A Doric column is stout, with a fluted shaft (ideally, with 20 flutes), a plain capital, and no base. In ancient Rome, the Doric order was often replaced with the “Tuscan” order indigenous to the Italian peninsula; it consisted of an unfluted shaft, a simply molded capital, and a base.

Dormer Window

A perpendicular window located in a sloping roof; triangular walls join the window to the roof. Dormer windows are sometimes crowned with pediments, and they often light attic sleeping rooms; “dormer” derives from “dormir,” French for “to sleep.”

Double Doors

Two adjacent doors that share the same door frame, and between which there is no separating vertical member. Double doors are often referred to as “French doors”, due to their preponderance in French architecture.

Double-hung Sash Windows

A window with two sashes that move independently of each other.

Eaves

The projecting edge of a roof that overhangs an exterior wall to protect it from the rain.

Eclecticism

A mixing of various architectural styles and ornamentation of the past and present, including ornamentation from Asia. Eclecticism in architecture was very popular in both Victorian England and in the United States during the second half of the 19th century.

Elizabethan Architecture

Architecture constructed in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603); Elizabethan architecture followed Tudor architecture, and preceded Jacobean architecture. Elizabethan architecture resulted from the English debut of French and Italian Renaissance architecture, whose classical order and symmetry transformed the asymmetrical and rambling medieval English castle. Elizabethan architecture was revived in the United States in the early 20th century.

Exposed Rafters

Rafters that are exposed to the outside of a building. Rafters are the inclined, sloping framing members of a roof, and to which the roof covering is affixed.

Facade

An exterior wall, or face, of a building. The front facade of a building contains the building’s main entrance, the rear facade is the building’s rear exterior wall, and the side facades are a building’s side exterior walls.

Fan Light

A semi-circular or semi-elliptical window, with wedge-shaped panes of glass separated by mullions arranged like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Fan lights are usually found over entrance doors and windows, particularly in Federal and Greek Revival homes.

Fireplace Surround

A molding about a fireplace, often highly decorated.

Flared Roof

A roof with a bell-shaped profile. It is sloped with concave curves at the top, and with convex curves at the bottom.

Floor Plan

The arrangement of rooms in a building.

Fluting

Shallow, vertical grooves in the shaft of a column or pilaster.

Free-flowing Floor Plan

A floor plan in which there are no (or few) hallways, and rooms open directly onto one another, often through wide doorways. Sliding doors are popular in such a plan, as are central living rooms. The free-flowing floor plans of the Shingle and Prairie Styles are precursors to the modern floor plans of the 1930s onward, which emphasize a great deal of open space.

French Baroque Architecture

A form of Baroque architecture that evolved in France during the reigns of Louis XIII (1610-43), Louis XIV (1643-1714), and Louis XV (1714-74). French Baroque architecture melded traditional French architectural forms (such as steep roofs and irregular rooflines) with classical Italian elements (such as columns, porticos, and segmental pediments), and greatly influenced the non-religious architecture of 18th-century Europe.

French Doors

Two adjacent doors that share the same door frame, and between which there is no separating vertical member. French doors are often referred to as “double doors.”

Frieze

A band of richly sculpted ornamentation on a building.

Gable Roof

A roof with two slopes – front and rear– joining at a single ridge line parallel to the entrance façade. When the ridge line of a gable-roofed house is perpendicular to the street, the roof is said to be a “gable-end roof.”

Gallerie

A wide, wrap-around covered porch lined with columns on one side, and common to French Colonial architecture of Louisiana. A gallerie connects interior rooms together, much like a hallway.

Gambrel Roof

A ridged roof with two slopes at each side, the lower slopes being steeper than the upper slopes.

Gingerbreading

Wooden architectural ornament popular with American folk houses in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the Stick Style. Gingerbreading often took the form of scalloped or zig-zag-edged clapboards, which were often painted in contrasting colors. At times, gingerbreading could be superfluous and almost gaudy, with excessive frills and curlicues. The widespread use in the mid-19th century of the jigsaw – a hand tool consisting of a handle attached to a small, thin blade – made gingerbread decorations readily available to home builders.

Grilles

Ventilation panels, often highly decorative.

Half-timbering

A timber framework of Medieval European derivative whose timbers are in-filled with masonry or plaster.

Hansel-and-Gretel House

A house associated with fairy tales of Germanic origin. The story of Hansel and Gretel is a fairy tale in which two children lost in a forest come upon a gingerbread house trimmed with candy, but which is presided over by a child-eating witch.

Hardware

The metal fittings of a building, such as locks, latches, hinges, handles, and knobs.

Herculaneum and Pompeii

Ancient Roman cities buried by volcanic rock with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Discovered by excavation in 1748, they provided much insight into the life, times, and architecture of the ancient Romans of the 1st century. The architecture, interior decoration and regal colors (“Pompeian red,” in particular) of these ancient cities influenced the Federal Style of the early 19th century.

Hipped Roof

A roof with four sloped sides. The sides meet at a ridge at the center of the roof. Two of the sides are trapezoidal in shape, while the remaining two sides are triangular, and thus meet the ridge at its end-points.

Hood Molding

A molding that projects above a door, window, or archway to throw off rain. A hood molding is also referred to as a “drip molding.”

Incised Linear Shapes

Shapes demarcated upon masonry by scored lines.

Ionic Order

The second-oldest (mid-6th – 5th century B.C.E.) of the three basic orders of classical Greek architecture (the others being the Doric and the Corinthian orders). In ancient Greece, the Ionic order was the feminine order, and the most appropriate for temples constructed in homage to goddesses. In ancient Rome, the Ionic order was much more prominently utilized than the Doric order. An Ionic column is tall and slender, with a fluted shaft of 24 flutes, a capital with prominent volute scrolls, and an elegantly molded base.

Jack Arch

A structural element that provides support over an opening in a masonry wall (i.e., made of brick or stone). Jack arches are not actually arch-shaped, but are, instead, flat, and made of individual wedge-shaped bricks or stones held in place through compression.

Jacobean Architecture

Architecture constructed in England during the reigns of James I, Charles I, Charles II, and James II (1603-1688); Jacobean architecture followed Elizabethan architecture, and preceded the English Renaissance architecture of Inigo Jones. Jacobean architecture made use of many classical elements, such as columns, pilasters, and arcades, but it did so in a free and fanciful manner, rather than according to strict classical tradition. Jacobean architecture was revived in the United States the early 20th century.

Jettied Story

An upper story of a building that projects out over the story beneath it, common in Colonial American architecture.

Jigsaw

A saw with a small, thin blade used for cutting curves and curlicues in wooden boards. See gingerbreading.

Joinery

Woodworking joints in carpentry.

Lattice-work

A wooden grid of boards overlaid atop an exterior surface. See stick-work.

Mansard Roof

A four-sided hipped roof featuring two slopes on each side, the lower slopes being very steep, almost vertical, and the upper slopes sometimes being so horizontal that they are not visible from the ground. The Mansard roof was named after the French 17th-century architect Francois Mansart (1598-1666), who popularized the form.

Masonry

Being of stone, brick, or concrete.

Molding

A decorative strip of wood.

Mullions

The structural units that divide adjacent windows.

Muntins

Dividing bars between panes of glass.

Ogee Arch

An arch consisting of two opposing “S”-curves meeting in a point at the apex. An “S”-curve is itself made up of two curves: a concave curve in its lower half, and a convex curve in its upper half.

Order

A classical style of architecture. The three primary orders, used in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, are, chronologically: the Doric order, the Ionic order, and the Corinthian order.

Oriel

A projecting window of an upper floor, supported from below by a bracket.

Over-hanging Rafters

Rafters that extend beyond the eaves of a roof. Rafters are the inclined, sloping framing members of a roof, to which the roof covering is affixed.

Pagoda

A tiered tower with multiple roof layers, constructed about a central axis pole. Indigenous to Asia (particularly to China, Japan, and Korea), and typically located there within Buddhist temple precincts, pagodas were built as decorative garden structures in the United States and Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries, when exoticism in architectural ornament was highly fashionable. See eclecticism.

Palazzo (pl. pallazi)

The Italian word for “palace.”

Palladian Window

An arched window immediately flanked by two smaller, non-arched windows, popularized by Andrea Palladio in northern Italy in the 16th century, and frequently deployed by American architects working in the American Georgian and American Palladian styles in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Panel

A smooth surface, usually rectangular (or sometimes circular) in shape and framed by a molding, and often featuring decorative, sculptural carving.

Parapet

A low wall, located at the top of any sudden drop, such as at the top of the facade of a building.

Parthenon

One of the most iconic buildings of the classical world, erected in Athens around 440 B.C.E. The Parthenon temple was built in honor of the Greek goddess Athena; it was ringed with 46 columns, and crowned by two pediments containing a wealth of sculptural detail. Its stonework was originally brightly colored, but its paint has long since worn away. A large gilt statue of Athena once stood inside the temple.

Patio

Similar to a terrace, a patio is an outdoor extension of a building, situated above the ground level, and open to the sky. Colloquially, a patio is a more informal space than a terrace.

Pavilion

A small but prominent portion of a building that juts out from a main building, either above its roof line, or to the side, and which is identified by a unique (usually diminutive) height and individual roof type. A pavilion may also stand alone, separate from a larger building, or may be connected to a main building by a terrace or path.

Pediment

A decorative triangular piece situated over a portico, door, window, fireplace, etc. The space inside the triangular piece is called the “tympanum,” and is often decorated.

Peek-a-boo Window

A very small window, often circular.

Pergola

A garden structure built up over a path or narrow terrace, lined with evenly spaced columns or posts that support a wooden-framed roof without sheathing. Often, vines are trained around the wooden framework of a pergola, and the pergola may lead from one building to another.

Picturesque

Like-a-picture, charming, quaint. Picturesque architecture and landscape architecture evolved in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, and influenced American architecture and landscapes in the 19th century; winding paths, asymmetrical compositions, rustic or exotic elements (see pagoda), and faux ruins were characteristic of picturesque architecture and landscapes. Picturesque settings were favored for their emotional associations.

Pilaster

A shallow, non-structural rectangular column, attached to, and projecting only slightly from, a wall surface.

Pillar

A structural support, similar to a column, but larger and more massive, and often without ornamentation. Pillars can be round or square in section, and are most often made of brick, stone, cement, or other masonry, although substantial wooden timbers can be formed into pillars.

Pointed Arch

An arch that is pointed at its apex, rather than rounded; common in Gothic and Gothic Revival architecture.

Portico

An entrance porch with columns or pilasters and a roof, and often crowned by a triangular pediment.

Poteaux-en-terre

A mode of wall construction in French Colonial America in which tall posts are rammed into the ground, and the spaces between them are filled with mud plaster, also known as bousillage. Due to the impermanent nature of this construction, very few Poteau- en-terre buildings remain.

Projection

A side wing, tower, or window bay that protrudes from a building.

Pueblo

A traditional community of Native Americans living in the southwestern United States. Pueblos consist of many adjacent houses made of adobe brick, although these houses are often, themselves, called pueblos.

Quoins

Large, prominent masonry units outlining windows, doorways, segments, and corners of buildings.

Rafters

The inclined, sloping framing members of a roof, and to which the roof covering is affixed.

Roof Ridge

The horizontal intersection of two roof slopes at the top of a roof.

Roofline

The part of a building that rises above the building’s eaves. Rooflines can be highly decorative, with balustrades, pediments, statuary, dormer windows, cross gables, etc.

Round-arched Window

A window that is fully arched at its top.

Roundel

A small, circular panel or window.

Rubble Brick

Rough-edged brick, often of variegated colors.

Saltbox Roof

A gable roof whose rear slope is longer than its front slope. The rear slope often very nearly meets the ground. Saltbox roofs are common to the architecture of Colonial New England.

Sculptural Forms

Architectural elements that have the appearance of having been sculpted.

Segmental Arch

An arch whose arc is shorter than that of a full semi-circle.

Setback

A step-like recession in a wall.

Shutters

Pairs of solid or slatted window coverings, traditionally hinged to the exterior of a building to either side of a window, used to block light or wind from the interior of a building.

Side Light

A fixed window positioned to the side of a doorway or window.

Slate

A finely-grained, foliated rock, native to Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New York, and found in many colors. Slate has been used to roof buildings in the United States since the colonial era.

Spire

A slender, pointed construction atop a building, often a church.

Stained Glass

Colored glass. Stained glass windows are fitted with pieces of colored glass, which often depict a picture or scene.

Stick-work

A wooden grid of boards overlaid atop an exterior surface. See lattice-work.

Striated Brick

Brickwork made up of rows of bricks of alternating colors, typically red and white.

Stucco

A plaster used as a coating for walls and ceilings, and often used for decoration; it is common to many parts of the world, particularly to the Mediterranean region and to the regions of the United States once colonized by Spain (i.e., Florida and California).

Terrace

An outdoor extension of a building, situated above the ground level, and open to the sky. See patio.

Thatched Roof

A roof covered with straw, which is layered so as to shed rain quickly and effectively.

Tile Roof

A roof covered with tiles that are usually hollow and half-cylindrical in shape, and made out of clay. Tile roofs are common in many parts of the world, including the Mediterranean and the Southwestern United States.

Tile Inset

A panel of clay or ceramic tile.

Tower

An exceptionally tall portion of a building.

Traditional Ethos

A spirit, character, custom, etc. shared throughout a common people. A traditional ethos encompasses folk lore, music, art, dress, and building methods, among other things.

Transom Light

A narrow window, sometimes hinged at the top, positioned over a doorway or larger window.

Truss

A rigid framework, as of wooden beams or metal bars, which supports a structure, such as a roof.

Turret

A small tower that pierces a roofline. A turret is usually cylindrical, and is topped by a conical roof.

Tuscan Order

See Doric Order.

Veranda

An open, roofed porch, usually enclosed on the outside by a railing or balustrade, and often wrapping around two or more (or all of the) sides of a building.

Vernacular Architecture

Architecture created from mostly local materials, by and for the use of local people. Vernacular architecture responds to local methods of building construction, local climates, and local living needs and traditions. As local environments evolve over time, so too does vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture typically exhibits the traditional ethos of its builders. See Traditional Ethos.

Victorian Era

The reign of Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which commenced upon the coronation of Queen Victoria on June 20, 1837 and concluded upon her death on January 22, 1901 (Victoria was also crowned the Empress of India on May 1, 1876). These years marked the height of both the British Empire and the Industrial Revolution, when the United Kingdom became a global power, and its culture, including its architecture, assimilated influences from all over the world.

Window Sash

The movable frames in a window in which window panes are set.

Wooden Clapboards

Long slats of wood that are nailed to an exterior surface in a horizontal fashion, overlapping one another from top to bottom. Clapboards are a traditional weather-proofing device.

Wooden Shingles

Small, rectangular-shaped slats of wood that are nailed to an exterior surface, overlapping one another from top to bottom. Shingling is a traditional weather-proofing method for building.