Glossary of Architecture Terms

Written by Milan Jara

Glossary of Architecture Terms

Throughout history, there have been many different styles of architecture. Each type has distinctive features, including roof and window styles. It's possible to look up at a ceiling and have a good idea of what sort of architecture the building was designed to have. Knowing some architectural terms helps everyone have a better idea of how to discuss the structures around us.

Bays - Picture a house with a door in the center and a window to each side of the door. That home has three bays. Bays are a way of describing the width of a home or building using the number of doors and windows in a row.

Board and Batten - Both walls and doors are made using this construction method where vertical wooden boards are secured by a batten, which is a wooden board that crosses the other horizontally. Sometimes this style of paneling is used on a ceiling.

Brackets - Italianate styles of building often feature ornamental supports at the cornice line. Typically, these are made of metal or wood. Sometimes they are used as decoration in other architectural styles.

Buttress - These are often spotted on Gothic Revival-style buildings, and consist of brick or stone wall supports.

Clapboard - Narrow wooded strips are applied to make a weather-proof exterior wall for a home or building.

Column - Some columns are solely decorative, while others provide structural support. They are usually round and often found holding up porch roofs.

Column Capitals - The top of round columns are known as capitals. The style of the capital defines the style of the column. Corinthian capitals feature acanthus leaves, while Ionic capitals are known for the ram horns used on all four sides of the capital.

Capping - Capping is applied to the top of exterior walls to provide additional protection from the weather.

Cornice - The edge of the roof where it joins an exterior wall is sometimes decorated, but sometimes left plain.

Cupola - A small, decorative tower that projects out from the roof line. Cupolas can be round, square, or octagonal.

Dormer - Windows that project out from the roof that are often used to create more living space on the top floor of a home.

Eaves - The part of the roof that projects past the exterior walls of the building.

Eyelid Dormer - Decorative windows placed on a roof that are shaped like an eye.

Facade - The face of the building is known as the facade. It's usually referring to the exterior front of a building.

Fanlight - Many Federal and Colonial Revival buildings have front doors with a fan-shaped window placed in the top section of the door.

Fenestration Pattern - Architects purposefully arrange windows across a building's facade. This is the fenestration pattern.

Finial - This common design element consists of a small decorative piece on top of a post, gable, or spire.

Flemish Gable - Victorian-era builders often used this style of gable where the sides fall away at right angles, which was first used extensively by architects in the Netherlands.

Floor Plan - A floor plan details the entire interior layout of a building, including ceilings, walls, doorways, and staircases.

Fluting - Some columns feature vertical grooves engraved onto their surfaces. This is a technique known as fluting.

Frieze - Various styles of architecture decorate the panel that runs along the top of exterior walls with medallions or brackets.

Masonry - All building materials that are set in place using mortar can be referred to as masonry.

Molding - Raised surfaces are applied around the edges of windows, walls, or doors for decorative purposes.

Mortar - Mortar is used to set tile, brick, cement block, and other hard construction materials into place. It's made by mixing lime, cement, water, and sand.

Mullions - Grid lines on windows are known as mullions.

Palladian Window - Andreas Palladino, an Italian architect who lived during the 1600s, is the namesake for the three-piece window with a semi-circle top that is common in both Colonial Revival and Georgian architecture styles.

Parapet - Architects sometimes build a low brick or stone wall that goes along the top wall of a building.

Pediment - Classical Revival architecture often features a triangle-shaped gable projecting over a roof.

Pent Roof - Farmhouse architecture often featured small shed-style roofs projecting over the windows and doors of the first floor to protect them from the elements.

Pillar - Pillars are support columns with very little detailing or decoration.

Pilaster - A column that is attached to a wall in such a way that it looks like it is free-standing.

Pointed Arch - Gothic Revival architecture features these arches with a defined center point.

Portico - A porch at the front of a home or building meant to be the main entrance.

Quoins - There are architecture styles that place decorative squares or rectangles of building materials on exterior corners as a way to add interest to the building.

Rafters - Wooden support beams form the internal structure of the roof. They are usually covered by a ceiling.

Roof - The top of a building or home can take many shapes, including shed, mansard, or gable. Often it's possible to identify the style of architecture of a building by the shape of the roof.

Stories - Stories are a synonym for floors or levels.

Stucco - One popular finishing material for the facade of a building is a light coating of plaster.

Tower - Many different styles of architecture feature a structure that is higher than any other point of the building. Towers are usually round or square.

Transom Light - Some doors, both exterior and interior, have glass panels installed above them.

Turret - Towers placed on a corner are known as turrets.

Wainscot - Wooden paneling applied to the lower half of an interior wall.

Walls - Interior walls can be made of many different materials, although most modern walls are made of drywall. The top of a wall usually connects to a ceiling and the bottom to the room's floor. Sometimes moldings are used where walls join ceilings and floors.

Additional Architecture Resources

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