Architectural Vocabulary

As architects we love to use sophisticated words, as for students of architecture, you need to learn them. Those vocabularies varied in complexity, they can be as simple as “fabric”, or complicated as “Corbusier vernacular”. They are used for description or method of understanding and thinking.

Using architectural terms by architects can lead to misunderstanding by the general public outside the industry. Architects find themselves dumping down their language to more simplified terms and familiar dialogs. However, we as architects, do enjoy exploring the notion of something and there are many comprehensive words that we hope to refresh your memory. We also hope that those terms can be used by many architects and introduced to the public for the first time.

Students are encouraged to use architectural vocabulary in their dialogues which help them to demonstrate their ideas and promote their understanding of the subject. Learning architectural vocabulary is essential during presentations of projects and discussions.

The list is very long, but we decided to list some of them as we will be consistently adding them by time.

Adjacencies – Convenient alignment of two different concepts.

Aesthetic – The appearance of something.

Ambiguity – The state of being undefined; a looseness.

Archway – An opening with a curved or pointed top.

Architectural Symmetry – Characteristic by which the two sides of a facade or architectural floor plan of a building present mirror images of one another.

Bespoke – Individual and unique.

Bracket – A projection from a vertical surface that provides structural and/or visual support for overhanging elements.

Cantilever – A long projecting element fixed at only one end, with no columns to support it.

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.

Catalyst – An event or object that sparks a radical change or idea.

Classical Architecture – Architecture modelled after the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome.

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

Column – A supporting structural pillar.

Concept – The single most important part and driving force behind a design.

Contemporary – Current and up to date design.

Context – The existing state and history of a site.

Corbusian – Inspired / reminiscent of the French architect Le Corbusier.

Courtyard – An open space, usually open to the sky, enclosed by a building.

Curvilinear – A form that has curves.

Deconstruction – A style of architecture which describes the separation of a design into its own constituent parts.

Diagrammatic – Sophistically simple to read.  

Dimension – The length of something.

Dissonance – A lack of correlation between two ideas.

Domesticity – A description of a place’s homeliness.

Dynamic – Something which has many combined working parts.

Elevation – The outside skin of a building, room or object.

Ergonomy – How well something has been designed for use by humans.

Explores the notion – Tests and investigates the idea of something.

Exposed Rafters – Rafters that not covered.

Fabric – The skin a building or a city.

Facade – An exterior wall, or face, of a building.

Floor Plan – The arrangement of rooms in a building.

Free-flowing Floor Plan – A simple and uncomplicated floor plan in which everything just works.

Gable Roof – A roof with two slopes – front and rear– joining at a single ridge line parallel to the entrance façade.

Grain – The substance of a place.

Hierarchy – Describes and orders elements into relative importance.

Hipped Roof – A roof with four sloped sides. The sides meet at a ridge at the center of the roof.

Holistic – Demonstrating a commitment to thinking things through properly.

Homogeneous – A collection of objects demonstrating the same characteristics.

Human scale – Used to describe the space in a building.

Iconic – Visually striking …a one off.

Inspiration – A form of concept that gives a project a starting point or next step

Juxtaposition – Two opposites placed together for increased effect (old and new).

Kitsch – Design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality.

Language – How a building is read and appears.

Legibility – The quality in which the above ‘language’ can be read.

Map out – Think about.

Masonry – Being of stone, brick, or concrete.

Massing – A simple arrangement of the to-be designed spaces.

Metaphor – A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.

Miesian – Inspired / reminiscent of the German-American architect Mies Van Der Rohe (a lot of glass).

Modular – Describes a (simple) construction system for a building which could be added to indefinitely.

Morphology – The study of form, shape or structure.

Motifs – An important element of a design that is often repeated.

Negative/Positive space – For exampleUsed / unused, inside / outside, serve/served

Negotiate – Find a solution to a design problem.

Nodes – The connecting point of a network, usually of roads or paths..

Organic – Natural and often curvy in appearance.

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

Parametric – A design principle and method created by algorithms.

Penetrate – To go into.

Permaculture – The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.

Phenomenology – A sensory understanding of human consciousness and the objects of direct experience.

Pillar – A structural support, similar to a column.

Play with – Experiment and test a design of notion.

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

Push/Pull – To extrude and collapse forms.

Regenerate – To improve and bring back to life.

Regionalism – The theory or practice of regional rather than central systems of administration or economic, cultural, or political affiliation.

Scale – The size of something.

Section – A vertical, horizontal, or diagonal cut that results in the removal of one of the selected parts to reveal it’s the objects inner elements

Sequence – A defined order of items.

Skin – The outermost layer of the building …its external material.

Solid/Void – A special design concept that explores spaces between and within buildings.

Space – Another way of describing an exterior or interior area.

Spatial composition – How a building and its parts sit together and interact with its context.

Sustainability – A measure for how environmentally friendly a building is.

Tectonics/Architectonics – The expressive elements of a design, usually shown in how different parts are joined together.

Threshold – The boundary between two spaces, often marked by a door, change of flooring, or similar change.

Transparency/Opacity – The measure of how visible an object is through another (looking through a window into a room for example) .

Truncated – A shape with its corners chopped off.

Typology – The language and features of an object or environment.

Uniformity – The arrangement of objects that are the same or similar to one another.

Vernacular Architecture – Vernacular architecture responds to local methods of building construction, local climates, and local living needs and traditions.

Verticality – A measure of tallness and uprightness.

Source of material: archisoup.com