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Architectural glossary

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The following is a list of definitions of terms within architecture, arranged alphabetically.

A [ top ]

Subsidiary space alongside the body of a building, separated from it by columns, piers, or posts.

Apron (architecture)
Raised panel below a window or wall monument or tablet.

Vaulted semicircular or polygonal end of a chancel or chapel.

Arcade (architecture)
Passage or walkway covered over by a succession of arches or vaults supported by columns. Blind arcade or arcading: the same applied to the wall surface.

A curved structure capable of spanning a space while supporting significant weight.

Formalized lintel, the lowest member of the classical entablature. Also the moulded frame of a door or window (often borrowing the profile of a classical architrave).

Sharp edge where two surfaces meet at an angle.

Articluation is the manner or method of jointing parts such that each part is clear and distinct in relation to the others, even though joined.

Masonry of large blocks cut with even faces and square edges.

(Plural: atria): inner court of a Roman or C20 house; in a multi-storey building, a toplit covered court rising through all storeys.

Small top storey within a roof. The storey above the main entablature of a classical façade.

B [ top ]

Bahut (architecture)
Dwarf-wall of plain masonry, carrying the roof of a cathedral or church and masked or hidden behind the balustrade.

Small moulded shaft, square or circular, in stone or wood, sometimes metal, supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase.

A series of balusters supporting a handrail or coping.

The lowest, subordinate storey of building often either entirely or paritially below ground level; the lowest part of classical elevation, below the piano nobile.

Originally a Roman, large roofed hall erected for transacting business and disposing of legal matters.; later the term came to describe an aisled building with a clerestory. Medieval cathedral plans were a development of the basilica plan type.

Internal compartments of a building; each divided from the other by subtle means such as the boundaries implied by divisions marked in the side walls (columns, pilasters, etc) or the ceiling (beams, etc). Also external divisions of a building by fenestration (windows).

Bay window
Window of one or more storeys projecting from the face of a building. Canted: with a straight front and angled sides. Bow window: curved. Oriel: rests on corbels or brackets and starts above ground level; also the bay window at the dais end of a medieval great hall.

Chamber or stage in a tower where bells are hung.
Term used to describe the manner in which bricks are laid in a wall so that they interlock.

Boss (architecture)
A roughly cut stone set in place for later carving.
Also, an ornamental projection, a carved keystone of a ribbed vault at the intersection of the ogives.

Uncut stone that is laid in place in a building, projecting outward from the building, to later be carved into decorative moldings, capitals, arms, etc. Bossages are also rustic work, consisting of stones which seem to advance beyond the surface of the building, by reason of indentures, or channels left in the joinings; used chiefly in the corners of buildings, and called rustic quoins. The cavity or indenture may be round, square, chamfered, bevelled, diamond-shaped, or enclosed with a cavetto or listel.

Type of support. An arc-boutant, or flying buttress, serves to sustain a vault, and is self-sustained by some strong wall or massive work. A pillar boutant is a large chain or jamb of stone, made to support a wall, terrace, or vault. The word is French, and comes from the verb bouter, "to butt" or "abut".

Bracket (see also "corbel")
A weight-bearing member made of wood, stone, or metal that overhangs a wall.

Brise soleil
Projecting fins or canopies which shade windows from direct sunlight.

Bullseye window
A small oval window, set horizontally.

Bressummer - (Literally "breast- beam")
A large, horizontal beam supporting the wall above, especially in a jettied building.

Barricade of beams and soil used in 15th and 16th century fortifications designed to mount artillery. On board ships the term refers to the woodwork running round the ship above the level of the deck. Figuratively it means anything serving as a defence.

Vertical member projecting from a wall to stabilize it or to resist the lateral thrust of an arch, roof, or vault. A flying buttress transmits the thrust to a heavy abutment by means of an arch or half-arch.

C [ top ]

(plural:Cancelli) Barriers which correspond to the modern balustrade or railing, especially the screen dividing the body of a church from the part occupied by the ministers hence chancel. The Romans employed cancelli to partition off portions of the courts of law.

Cauliculus, or caulicole
Stalks (eight in number) with two leaves from which rise the helices or spiral scrolls of the Corinthian capital to support the abacus.

In Roman architecture, the vestibule or portico of a public building opening on to the forum, as in the basilica of Eumactria at Pompeii, and the basilica of Constantine at Rome, where it was placed at one end. See: Lacunar.

A coffer, in architecture, is a sunken panel in the shape of a square, rectangle, or octagon that serves as a decorative device, usually in a ceiling or vault. Also called caissons, or lacunar.

Chamber between the pronaos and the cella in Greek temples where oracles were delivered.

Ring, list, or fillet at the top and bottom of a column, which divides the shaft from the capital and base.

Cinque cento
Style which became prevalent in Italy in the century following 1500, now usually called 16th-century work. It was the result of the revival of classic architecture known as Renaissance, but the change had commenced already a century earlier, in the works of Ghiberti and Donatello in sculpture, and of Brunelleschi and Alberti in architecture.

A low pedestal, either round or rectangular, set up by the Romans for various purposes such as military or milestones, boundary posts. The inscriptions on some in the British Museum show that they were occasionally funeral memorials.

An architectural term applied to a covered Greek temple, in contradistinction to hypaethral, which designates one that is uncovered the roof of a cleithral temple completely covers

(also colarino or collarino) The little frieze of the capital of the Tuscan and Doric column placed between the astragal, and the annulets. It was called hypotrachelium by Vitruvius.

Latin term for the open space left in the roof of the atrium of a Roman house (domus) for lighting it and the rooms round.

The upper section of an entablature, a projecting shelf along the top of a wall often supported by brackets.

Cross springer
Block from which the diagonal ribs of a vault spring or start. The top of the springer is known as the skewback.

A concealed or covered passage, generally underground, though lighted and ventilated from the open air. One of the best-known examples is the crypto-porticus under the palaces of the Caesars in Rome. In Hadrians villa in Rome they formed the principal private intercommunication between the several buildings.

Circular projecting portico with columns, like those of the transept entrances of St Paul's cathedral and the western entrance of St Mary-le-Strand, London.

D [ top ]

A term used to designate an intercolumniation of three or four diameters.

Peristyle round the great court of the palaestra, described by Vitruvius, which measured two stadia (1,200 ft.) in length, on the south side this peristyle had two rows of columns, so that in stormy weather the rain might not be driven into the inner part. The word was also used in ancient Greece for a foot race of twice the usual length.

Landing places and passages which were carried round the semicircle and separated the upper and lower tiers in a Greek theatre.

Islamic architectural term for the tribune raised upon columns, from which the Koran is recited and the prayers intoned by the Imam of the mosque.

Temples which have a double range of columns in the peristyle, as in the temple of Diana at Ephesus.

A portico which has two columns between antae, known as distyle-in-antis.

A temple where the portico has twelve columns in front, as in the portico added to the temple of Demeter at Eleusis, designed by Philo, the architect of the arsenal at the Peiraeus.

Doric order
One of the three orders or organisational systems of Ancient Greek or classical architecture characterised by columns which stood on the flat pavement of a temple without a base, their vertical shafts fluted with pararell concave grooves topped by a smooth capital that flared from the column to meet a square abacus at the intersection with the horizontal beam that they carried.

Dosseret, or impost block
Cubical block of stone above the capitals in a Byzantine church, used to carry the arches and vault, the springing of which had a superficial area greatly in excess of the column which carried them.

Entrance passage or avenue leading to a building, tomb or passageway. Those leading to beehive tombs are enclosed between stone walls and sometimes in-filled between successive uses of the tomb. In ancient Egypt the dromos was straight, paved avenue flanked by sphinxes.

E [ top ]

Large hall in the ancient Palaestra furnished with seats, the length of which should be a third larger than the width. It served for the exercises of youths of from sixteen to eighteen years of age.

Open vestibule behind the nave. The term is not found in any classic author, but is a modern coinage, originating in Germany, to differentiate the feature from opisthodomus, which in the Parthenon was an enclosed chamber.

French term for a raised platform. In the Levant the estrade of a divan is called Sopha (Blondel), from which comes our sofa.

Intercolumniation defined by Vitruvius as being of the best proportion, i.e. two and a half diameters.

F [ top ]

Enclosure or chapel within which the fereter shrine, or tomb (as in Henry VII.'s chapel), was placed.

Literally translation of “pedestal”, the lower part of a pier in architecture.

French term for the wall-rib carrying the web or filling-in of a vault.

G [ top ]

Triangular terminations to buttresses, much in use in the Early English and Decorated periods, after which the buttresses generally terminated in pinnacles. The Early English gablets are generally plain, and very sharp in pitch. In the Decorated period they are often enriched with panelling and crockets. They are sometimes finished with small crosses, but more often with finials.

Carved or curved molding used in architecture and interior design as decorative motiff, often consisting of flutes which are inverted and curved. Popular during the Italian Renaissance.

Garretting, properly Galletting
The process in which the gallets or small splinters of stone are inserted in the joints of coarse masonry to protect the mortar joints. They are stuck in while the mortar is wet.

The geison (Greek: γεῖσον - often interchangeable with cornice) is the part of the entablature that projects outward from the top of the frieze in the Doric order and from the top of the frieze course of the Ionic and Corinthan orders; it forms the outer edge of the roof on the sides of a structure with a sloped roof.

H [ top ]

Possibly from an older term "heifunon" - a structural section connecting the main portion of a building with its projecting "dependencies" or wings.

L [ top ]

The Latin name in architecture for paneled or coffered ceiling, soffit, or vault adorned with a pattern of recessed paneled .

A loggia is a gallery formed by a colonnade open on one or more sides. The space is often located on an upper floor of a building overlooking an open court or garden.

M [ top ]

Islamic architectural term given to the sanctuary or praying-chamber in a mosque, which was sometimes enclosed with a screen of lattice-work the word is occasionally used for a similar enclosure round a tomb.

Mansard Roof
A curb roof in which each face has two slopes, the lower one steeper than the upper. [f. F mansarde (F. M~, architect, d. 1666)]

Enriched block or horizontal bracket generally found under the cornice and above the bedmold of the Corinthian entablature. It is probably so called because of its arrangement in regulated distances.

Interval of the intercolumniation of the Doric column, which is observed by the intervention of one triglyph only between the triglyphs which come over the axes of the columns. This is the usual arrangement, but in the Propylaea at Athens there are two triglyphs over the central intercolumniation, in order to give increased width to the roadway, up which chariots and beasts of sacrifice ascended.

Moulding (Molding)
Decorative finishing strip.

Vertical bar of wood, metal or stone which divides a window into two or more parts.

A type of decorative corbel used in Islamic architecture that in some circumstances, resembles stalactites.

Rectangular block under the soffit of the cornice of the Greek Doric temple, which is studded with guttae. It is supposed to represent the piece of timber through which the wooden pegs were driven in order to hold the rafter in position, and it follows the sloping rake of the roof. In the Roman Doric order the mutule was horizontal, with sometimes a crowning fillet, so that it virtually fulfilled the purpose of the modillion in the Corinthian cornice.

O [ top ]

Arrow slits in the walls of medieval fortifications, but more strictly applied to the round hole or circle with which the openings terminate. The same term is applied to the small circles inserted in the tracery-head of the windows of the Decorated and Perpendicular periods, sometimes varied with trefoils and quatrefoils.

Greek architecture term for the lowest course of masonry of the external walls of the naos or cella, consisting of vertical slabs of stone or marble equal in height to two or three of the horizontal courses which constitute the inner part of the wall.

A range of columns placed in a straight row, as for instance those of the portico or flanks of a classic temple.

P [ top ]

Screen or railing used to enclose a chantry, tomb or chapel, in a church, and for the space thus enclosed.

Term applied to a temple or other structure where the columns of the front portico are returned along its sides as wings at the distance of one or two intercolumniations from the walls of the naos or cella. Almost all the Greek temples were peripteral, whether Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian

Planceer or Planchier
Building element sometimes used in the same sense as a soffit, but more correctly applied to the soffit of the corona in a cornice.

Poppy heads
Term given to the finials or other ornaments which terminate the tops of bench ends, either to pews or stalls. They are sometimes small human heads, sometimes richly carved images, knots of foliage or finials, and sometimes fleurs-de-lis simply cut out of the thickness of the bench end and chamfered. The term is probably derived from the French poupee doll or puppet used also in this sense, or from the flower, from a resemblance in shape.

A series of columns or arches in front of a building, generally as a covered walkway.

Prick post
Old architectural name given sometimes to the queen posts of a roof, and sometimes to the filling in quarters in framing.

Term defining free standing columns that are widely spaced apart in a row. The term is often used as an adjective when referring to a portico which projects from the main structure.

Temple in which the columns surrounding the naos have had walls built between them, so that they become engaged columns, as in the great temple at Agrigentum. In Roman temples, in order to increase the size of the celia, the columns on either side and at the rear became engaged columns, the portico only having isolated columns.

In Classical architecture, the enclosed space of a portico, peristyle, or stoa, generally behind a screen of columns.

Architectural term given by Vitruvius to the intercolumniation between the columns of a temple, when this was equal to 11/2 diameters.

R [ top ]

Rear vault
Vault of the internal hood of a doorway or window to which a splay has been given on the reveal, sometimes the vaulting surface is terminated by a small rib known as the scoinson rib, and a further development is given by angle shafts carrying this rib, known as scoinson shafts.

The receding edge of a flat face. On a flat signboard, for example, the return is the edge which makes up the board's depth.

Revolving Door
An entrance door for excluding drafts from an interior of a building. A revolving door typically consists of three or four doors that hang on a center shaft and rotate around a vertical axis within a round enclosure.

S [ top ]

Sommer or Summer
Girder or main "summer beam" of a floor: if supported on two storey posts and open below, also called a "bress" or "breast-summer". Often found at the centerline of the house to support one end of a joist, and to bear the weight of the structure above.

In the classical orders, this describes columns rather thickly set, with an intercolumniation to which two diameters are assigned.

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