Glossary of Architectural Terms


Below you find a list of common architectural terms, sorted alphabetically.
Note this is a work in progress, more terms will be added over time.

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An often vaulted, semicircular or polygonal end of a room, usually in a church. Similar to the Roman exedra.
arcade

arcade

A series of arches supported by columns or piers, either attached to a wall or freestanding.
azulejo

azulejo

Painted and glazed ceramic tile, mainly in Portugal and Andalusia, Spain.
balustrade

balustrade

A railing with supporting balusters (small closely spaced posts).
barrel vault

barrel vault

A ceiling or roof consisting of a continuous semicircular or pointed arch. Also known as a tunnel vault.
blind arch

blind arch

An arch with no opening.
campanile

campanile

A freestanding bell tower, usually near a church.
cantilever

cantilever

A beam or other projection that is unsupported at one end.
Example:
    Falling Water, Mill Run
capital

capital

The top part of a column or pillar.
composite order

composite order

Very similar to the Corinthian order, but here ionic volutes are added to the capital.
coffer

coffer

A recessed, usually square or octagonal panel in a ceiling, often used to lighten the weight of a dome.
corbie gable

corbie gable

A gable with a series of steplike projections.
corinthian order

corinthian order

The most ornate of the classical Greek orders, characterized by a fluted column and a capital decorated with acanthus leaves.
cornice

cornice

A molding or ornamentation that projects from the top of a building.
crenelation

crenelation

A wall at the top of a fortified building with regular gaps allowing defenders to shoot from. Also known as battlement.
cross vault

cross vault

A tunnel or barrel vault intersecting at right angles. Also known as a groin vault; the groin is the line created by the intersection.
cupola

cupola

A small, domed structure on top of a roof.
curtain wall

curtain wall

A nonstructural exterior wall, usually of glass and steel.
dome

dome

A vaulted structure with an elliptical plan, usually a cross-section of a sphere, used to distribute an equal thrust in all directions.
doric order

doric order

The oldest of the five classical orders, characterized by a fluted column with no base and a plain capital.
dormer

dormer

A window in a small, often gabled structure set vertically on a sloping roof, allowing light to enter the attic.
drum

drum

A circular or polygonal wall which supports a dome or cupola.
exedra

exedra

Semicircular, often domed recess.
fanlight

fanlight

A semicircular window, usually located above a door.
festoon

festoon

Ornamental garland, usually suspended from both ends.
finial

finial

A sculptured ornament fixed to the top of a peak, arch, gable or similar structure.
flemish bond

flemish bond

A brickwork bond with alernating headers (short side) and stretchers (long side) in each course (row).
frieze

frieze

The horizontal part of a classical entablature just below the cornice, often decorated with carvings.
gable

gable

The triangular section of a wall on the side of a building with a double-pitched roof.
gargoyle

gargoyle

A grotesquely carved figure that serves as a spout to carry water from a gutter away from the building.
gazebo

gazebo

A freestanding ornamental pavilion - often at the top of a hill in a garden - that provides a view over the area.
ionic order

ionic order

One of the classical orders characterized by a fluted column, a molded base and a capital decorated with volutes.
keystone

keystone

The central wedge-shaped stone at the crown of an arch that locks all parts together.
lunette

lunette

The half-moon shaped space framed by an arch, often containing a window or painting.
mascaron

mascaron

An architectural ornament representing a face or head. The head - either from a human or an animal - is often grotesque or frightening.
mausoleum

mausoleum

A building constructed as a burial chamber for a deceased person or persons.
mudéjar architecture

mudéjar architecture

A style of Spanish architecture employed by Muslims after the Christian reconquest. Characterized by a fusion of Islamic with Gothic and Romanesque elements.
oculus

oculus

A circular opening, usually at the top of a dome.
oriel

oriel

A projecting bay window on an upper floor.
pagoda

pagoda

A tower structure, often rectangular or octagonal, with projecting roofs at each story. Commonly used as a temple, particularly in Asia.
pedestal

pedestal

A construction, often decorated with sculptures or reliefs, that supports a statue, column, vase, etc.
pediment

pediment

A wide, low-pitched gable, often surmounting a colonnade.
pilaster

pilaster

A rectangular column with a base, shaft and capital projecting from a wall as an ornamental motif.
plinth

plinth

A base, usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests.
pointed arch

pointed arch

An arch with a pointed crown, typically seen in Gothic architecture.
portico

portico

A roofed porch usually supported by columns, often leading to the entrance of the building.
quatrefoil

quatrefoil

A decorative element shaped in the form of four leaves.
reinforced concrete

reinforced concrete

Concrete containing steel rods or metal netting to increase its tensile strength.
richardsonian romanesque

richardsonian romanesque

A Romanesque revival style named after the American 19th century architect H.H. Richardson. Characterised by heavy arches and masonry walls.
rose window

rose window

A circular window, usually found in churches and symmetrically decorated with stained glass.
rotunda

rotunda

sgraffito

sgraffito

A technique used for the decoration of walls, where plaster is scratched to reveal a differently colored pattern beneath.
steeple

steeple

A tall ornamental structure, usually surmounting a tower and ending in a spire.
terracotta

terracotta

Clay material that has been molded and fired, often used for building ornaments or cladding. Also written terra cotta or terra-cotta.
tracery

tracery

Ornamental, often lacy stonework or timber pattern, in particular the openwork in the upper part of Gothic windows.
turret

turret

A small tower projected on a building.
tuscan order

tuscan order

A classical order characterized by an unfluted column and a plain base and capital.
vault

vault

An arched structure of stone, brick or reinforced concrete forming a ceiling or roof over a wholly or partially enclosed space.

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