25 Classical Architecture Terms

Introduction

Classical architecture represents the architectural styles of ancient Greek and Roman traditions that have had a great influence on the built environment, as we know today.

It is very important that we, as architecture students and professionals, understand the vocabulary associated with classical architecture. This is because it helps us have a better reading of the history, design principles and cultural significance that greatly influenced our buildings and structures.

In addition to this, this knowledge can act as sources of inspiration helping to inform our contemporary designs. Expanding your vocabulary may also help you with clear and effective communication.

In this post, we will be exploring 25 classical architecture terms to make them more accessible and to give you an insight into the enduring language of classical architecture.

So, whether you’re a casual observer or are passionate about architecture, we hope this post helps to make classical terms a bit more easy to understand.

Scroll to the end to download this article as a handy PDF guide!

25 Classical Architecture Terms

Without further ado, here is our list of classical architecture terms:

Acropolis

The term acropolis means ‘high city’ in Greek. It refers to a fortified section of an ancient Greek city, typically perched on a rocky outcrop above the city. The acropolis served various functions during ancient times and held significant religious, cultural, and historical connotations. One of the most famous examples is the Parthenon, the Acropolis of Athens.

Acropolis 1
Acropolis 2

Amphitheatre

Amphitheatres were significant structures in Roman and Greek civilisations. They were large open spaces used for gladiatorial combat, chariot races, theatrical performances, and other events. The architectural design of amphitheatres was particularly notable because they accommodated a large audience and ensured excellent visibility of the events from every seat. The Colosseum in Rome, Italy, is the largest example that still stands today.

Amphitheatre 1
Amphitheatre 2

Apse

An apse is an architectural recess that is typically semicircular in shape and has a vaulted or domed cover. It is commonly found at the end of a choir or aisle in buildings like churches or basilicas. Apses originated in pre-Christian Roman architecture and were used as niches that would have the statue of a deity in a temple. They were also used in Roman bath buildings and even some private houses.

Apse 1
Apse 2

Architrave

This term, also known as an epistyle in classical architecture, refers to the lowest section of the horizontal entablature. It functions as a lintel or beam that rests on the capitals of vertical columns. The architrave varies in design based on architectural orders such as Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

Architrave

Capital

A capital is the uppermost section of a column. It serves as a transitional element between the column shaft and the horizontal load it supports. This term is derived from the Latin word “caput” meaning head and is often used as a prominent form of ornamentation that reflects the building’s date and style.

The design of a capital is determined by the architectural order, with examples such as the Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite orders showcasing distinct styles and characteristics.

Capital

Caryatid

A caryatid refers to a sculpted female figure, in classical architecture. These sculptures are typically dressed in a long toga, and function as elegant substitutes for a column or pillar to support an entablature. The term originates from the Greek word “Karyatides,” referring to the inhabitants of Karyae, a town in Laconia. Caryatids offer both structural support and decorative embellishment.

Caryatid 1
Caryatid 2

Coffer

A coffer is a series of sunken panels, usually square, rectangular, or octagonal in shape, that are embedded in a ceiling, soffit, or vault. These panels are also called caissons or lacunaria and used for both structural and decorative purposes. They form the framework within which the strength of the architectural element resides.

Coffer 1
Coffer 2

Colonnade

A colonnade is a row of columns that are arranged at regular intervals. They often support a horizontal entablature or are a part of a porch, portico, or covered walkway. They originated in Ancient Greek and Roman architecture and have been used to define and enhance the grandeur of structures.

Colonnade

 Composite Order

The Composite order is a Roman-developed style that blends features of both the Ionic and Corinthian orders. It consists of a capital combining Ionic volutes with Corinthian acanthus leaves. This order is essentially treated as Corinthian, with no consistent differences above or below the capital, and is recognized as one of the five classical orders.

Composite order 1
Composite order 2

Corinthian Order

The Corinthian order originated in ancient Greece and was later adopted in Roman architecture. Its identifying features are its ornate capitals adorned with stylized acanthus leaves. The Corinthian column is the most elaborate of the three classical orders with its fluted shafts.

Corinthian order 1
Corinthian order 2

Dome

A dome is an architectural structure resembling the hollow upper half of a sphere. It is constructed with diverse materials and rests on various supports. Its shape, often derived from arches, has evolved to showcase grand structures, including religious buildings, legislative chambers, and sports stadiums.

Dome

Doric Order

The Doric order, originating in ancient Greece and later being adopted by the Romans, is the earliest and simplest of the classical architectural orders. It is characterised by its unadorned, sturdy columns with distinctive fluting and a plain, rounded capital. Doric columns were often associated with strength and masculinity.

Doric order 1
Doric order 2

Entablature

The entablature is a horizontal arrangement of mouldings, bands, and detailing that rests on the columns of classical buildings. It is made up of the architrave, frieze, and cornice and plays a significant role in defining the visual character of a structure. Each of the classical orders of architecture have unique entablature designs.

Entablature

Fluting

Fluting, also known as reeding, is a decorative technique in architecture involving the creation of shallow, regular grooves or convex ridges that run vertically or spirally along a surface. It is primarily found on column shafts or pilasters.

Fluting

Frieze

In classical architecture, a frieze is the central and horizontal section of an entablature, situated between the architrave and cornice. It is often adorned with sculptural reliefs or decorative elements.

Frieze 1
Frieze

Ionic Order

The Ionic order, one of the classical orders of architecture, is characterised by its slender proportions and distinctive capital with twin volutes or scrolls. Originating in Ionia, the order is associated with femininity and stands in contrast to the Doric order.

Ionic order 1
Ionic order 2

Keystone

A keystone, also known as a capstone or lockstone, is the wedge-shaped stone placed at the apex of a masonry arch or vault. It serves as the final piece in construction that securely locks all stones into place, enabling the arch or vault to bear weight.

Keystones are not only essential for structural integrity but also serve as decorative hallmarks of strength in architecture.

Keystone

Oculus

The term oculus is derived from the Latin word for ‘eye,’ and refers to a circular opening positioned at the centre of a dome or wall in architectural design. A prominent example is the round aperture present on the dome in the Pantheon, Rome.

Oculus 1
Oculus 2

Pediment

A pediment is a triangular gable situated at the end of a pitched roof or above a portico’s horizontal entablature. It is supported by columns. This architectural feature is often adorned with relief sculptures, depicting mythological scenes, and served as a prominent element in the design of temples and other structures.

Pediment 1
Pediment

Peristyle

This term originates from the Greek words ‘peri,’ meaning ‘around,’ and ‘stylos,’ meaning ‘column,’ signifying a space that is enclosed by columns. It is like a covered walkway, providing an open view into a garden or courtyard.

Peristyle 1
Peristyle 2

Pilaster

A pilaster is a shallow rectangular column that projects slightly from a wall. It resembles a flat column with features such as a capital, shaft, base, and sometimes a fluted surface. Pilasters are used primarily for ornamentation rather than structural purposes. They are often employed to break up empty wall expanses.

Pilaster

Portico

A portico is a roofed entrance porch supported by columns, attached to the front entryway of a building. It is a classical architectural feature with regularly spaced columns. Porticos come in various styles such as tetrastyle, hexastyle, octastyle, and decastyle, depending on the number of supporting columns.

Portico 1
Portico 2
Portico

Triglyph

A triglyph is a decorative element found in the Doric frieze. It consists of a slightly projecting rectangular tablet with two vertical channels and chamfers. Alternating with receding square panels called metopes, the triglyph’s three vertical bands separated by grooves contribute to the distinctive aesthetic of the Doric order.

Triglyph 1
Triglyph 2

Tuscan Order

The Tuscan order is the simplest of the five classical orders of Roman architecture. It is characterised by unfluted columns, a plain entablature, and a simple capital. There is resemblance to the Doric order but the Tuscan order features a less adorned frieze and a distinct base design.

Tuscan order 1
Tuscan order 2

Volute

A volute, also called a helix, is a spiral or scroll-like feature that is used as an ornament in the capitals of columns, most notably the Ionic column.

Volute 1
Volute 2

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25 Classical Architecture Terms

Conclusion

In summary, delving into these 25 classical architecture terms offers a glimpse into the rich history and enduring beauty of architectural design. So, whether you are an architect or someone simply intrigued by history, we hope these terms provide a valuable insight into classical architecture. Stay curious and keep expanding your architectural vocabulary.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

 

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2 Comments

  1. Such a great service – wish this were around when I were a younger more active designer.

    It is still useful – and so good to see what you are doing

    Reply
    • Thank you 🙂

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