Design Dictionary: Do You Know These 25 Obscure Architecture Terms?

Design Dictionary: Do You Know These 25 Obscure Architecture Terms?

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Taryn Williford
Sep 15, 2015

Hobbies come with their own lingo. And around here–while we're huge into design and life at home–we still find that some terms escape us. Architecture pros will know what an "oriel" is, but the rest of us? Time to brush up.

Along with definitions and photos from Wikipedia, here are 25 obscure design and architecture terms you might not know.

Diagram of a wall illustrating the crown molding (top), dado rail (middle) and the skirting board (lower).
(Image credit: Egmason under CC BY 2.0)

Dado (n.)

The dado is the lower part of a wall, below the dado rail and above the skirting board.

Fascia (n.)

Fascia is an architectural term for a vertical frieze or band under a roof edge, or which forms the outer surface of a cornice, visible to an observer.

Lintel (n.)

A lintel can be a load-bearing building component, a decorative architectural element, or a combined ornamented structural item. It is often found over portals, doors, windows, and fireplaces.

Parapet (n.)

A parapet is a barrier which is an extension of the wall at the edge of a roof, terrace, balcony, walkway or other structure. Parapets were originally used to defend buildings from military attack, but today they are primarily used as guard rails and to prevent the spread of fires.

Cupolas on the towers of Montefiascone Cathedral, Italy.
(Image credit: Mia91 under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Cupola (n.)

In architecture, a cupola is a small, most often dome-like, structure on top of a building. Often used to provide a lookout or to admit light and air, it usually crowns a larger roof or dome.

Baluster (n.)

A baluster is a moulded shaft, square or lathe-turned form, made of stone or wood and sometimes of metal, standing on a unifying footing, and supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase.Multiplied in this way, they form a balustrade.

Muntins divide each window into six panes of glass. Two round mullions separate each casement window.
(Image credit: Matěj Baťha under CC BY 3.0)

Muntin (n.)

A muntin is a strip of wood or metal separating and holding panes of glass in a window. Muntins are also called "muntin bars", "glazing bars", or "sash bars".

Mullion (n.)

A mullion is a vertical element that forms a division between units of a window, door, or screen, or is used decoratively

Detail of pilaster and entablature (with column on right).
(Image credit: Toby Hudson under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Entablature (n.)

An entablature refers to the superstructure of moldings and bands which lie horizontally above columns, resting on their capitals.

Pilaster (n.)

The pilaster is an architectural element in classical architecture used to give the appearance of a supporting column and to articulate an extent of wall, with only an ornamental function.

Pediment (n.)

A pediment is an element in classical, neoclassical and baroque architecture consisting of a gable, originally of a triangular shape, placed above the horizontal structure of the entablature, typically supported by columns.

Closeup of dentils, above a Corinthian order capital.
(Image credit: Noroton under CC BY 2.0)

Dentil (n.)

In classical architecture a dentil is a small block used as a repeating ornament in the bedmould of a cornice.

Fluting (n.)

Fluting is the shallow grooves running vertically along a surface, such as the grooves running on a column shaft or a pilaster, but need not necessarily be restricted to those two applications.

Spandrel figures at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Paris.
(Image credit: Thesupermat under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Spandrel (n.)

A spandrel is the space between two arches or between an arch and a rectangular enclosure.

Oriel (n.)

An oriel window is a form of bay window which projects from the main wall of a building but does not reach to the ground (unlike bay windows).

Mansard rooftops along Boulevard Haussmann in Paris.
(Image credit: Thierry Bézecourt under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mansard (n.)

A mansard or mansard roof is a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper. The steep roof with windows creates an additional floor of habitable space and reduces the overall height of the roof for a given number of habitable stories.

Garderobe (n.)

The term garderobe describes a place where clothes and other items are stored. In European public places, a garderobe denotes a cloakroom, wardrobe, alcove, or armoire used to temporarily store the coats and other possessions of visitors.

Shiplap (n.)

Shiplap is a type of wooden board used commonly in the construction of barns, sheds, outbuildings and inexpensive or seasonal homes. The profile of each board partially overlaps that of the board next to it creating a channel that gives shadow line effects, provides excellent weather protection and allows for dimensional movement.

Rustication just below some ashlar.
(Image credit: Sailko under CC BY 2.0)

Ashlar (n.)

Ashlar is finely dressed masonry, either an individual stone that has been worked until squared or the masonry built of such stone.

Rustication (n.)

In classical architecture, rustication is an architectural feature that contrasts in texture with the smoothly finished, squared-block masonry surfaces called ashlar. Rustication is often used to give visual weight to the ground floor in contrast to smooth ashlar above.

Vermiculation (n.)

Vermiculation is a surface pattern of dense but irregular lines, as though made by the tracks of worms; a form of rustication where the stone is cut with a pattern of wandering lines.

The purlins span between the rafters. At the top is a ridge beam braced to the rafters.
(Image credit: Jim Derby under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Purlin (n.)

In architecture, structural engineering or building, a purlin is any longitudinal, horizontal, structural member in a roof except a type of framing with what is called a crown plate.

Wattle and Daub (n.)

Wattle and daub is a composite building material used for making walls, in which a woven lattice of wooden strips called wattle is daubed with a sticky material usually made of some combination of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw. Wattle and daub has been used for at least 6000 years and is still an important construction material in many parts of the world.

(Image credit: 842U under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ha-ha (n.)

A ha-ha (or ha-ha wall) is a recessed landscape design element that creates a vertical barrier while preserving views.

Enfilade (n.)

In architecture, an enfilade is a suite of rooms formally aligned with each other. The doors entering each room are aligned with the doors of the connecting rooms along a single axis, providing a vista through the entire suite of rooms (not wholly unrelated to a shotgun house). The enfilade may be used as a processional route and is a common arrangement in museums and art galleries, as it facilitates the movement of large numbers of people through a building.

Do you have any fun words to add?

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