Architectural Jargon includes words and terminology commonly used by those within the field of architecture.
According to the Collins English Dictionary,
‘You use jargon to refer to words and expressions that are used in special or technical ways by particular groups of people, often making the language difficult to understand.’
Architectural Jargon acts as a quicker way to deliver complex ideas more efficiently. Because architecture requires a clear communication and representation of ideas, it is imminent that you are equipped with the right terms to effectively do so.
This post will be useful to you if you are an architectural professional as it will help you broaden your architectural vocabulary. This will in turn help you communicate better with your peers as well as other industry professionals like contractors and engineers. Knowing some of these industry terms may help you avoid errors in your delivery of ideas or as an example the delivery of technical information that may affect the crucial construction phase.
Additionally, if you are an architecture student you can also use this post to familiarise with some commonly used architectural terms. This may help you understand your assignment briefs and research texts a lot better. You can also incorporate some of these terms into your presentations to show off your architectural ideas and wow your lecturers at your next crit!
You may also find this post quite helpful if you are new to the world of architecture or are an architecture enthusiast looking to learn more. In the same vein, if you are in the process of hiring an architect or are taking on a self-build project, this post can help you familiarise with some architectural language and effectively communicate your needs.
In this post, we will be sharing some architectural jargon terms to help you broaden your architectural vocabulary. We also provide easy to understand explanations along with image examples for each word, so you don’t have to spend ages figuring out what each word means and what it looks like. You may find that you have come across some of these terms while some might be completely new to you, as they were for us, when we were researching for this post.
Just as a word of caution, it is important to recognize that the purpose of using architectural jargon is not solely to sound fancy, but rather to convey ideas clearly and efficiently. Keep in mind that effective communication is key. If you can get your message across in a simpler way, you should always try to do that, especially if you are communicating with people outside of the architecture industry. This will help build trust and understanding as well as help to bridge the gap between our world of architecture and the general public.
Scroll to the end to download this article as a handy PDF guide!
Common Architectural Terms
Anthropometrics refers to the practice of measuring and analysing the physical dimensions of the human body. This data collected from these measurements is often used by us designers to design spaces that can comfortably accommodate human figures.
An atrium is a large open air or skylight covered space that allows natural light to enter the building from above. It can extend vertically through multiple floors and is often located in the central part of a building.
A bargeboard is a decorative architectural element we use on the gable end of a roof. It helps to create an aesthetic finish by concealing the ends of the timber beams that are within the roof. Bargeboards also provide strength and protection to the exposed ends of the roof rafters against weathering.
Béton brut also known as ‘raw concrete’ is a French term describing architectural concrete that is left unfinished after being cast. This type of concrete finishing retains the imprints from the formwork used during the pouring process.
‘Brutalism,’ the architectural style and movement from the mid-20th century, was derived from this term.
Biomimetic architecture defines an approach that seeks to derive design and construction solutions by taking inspiration from principles found in nature. The aim is to create adaptive, efficient, and sustainable buildings that work harmoniously with the environment.
Biophilic design in architecture and interior design, seeks to reconnect people with the natural environment. The concept of biophilic design is based on the idea of biophilia, which refers to the innate human connection with nature.
The primary objective is to incorporate elements like natural light, greenery, and natural materials into man-made spaces to emulate the benefits of being in nature, while indoors. The integration of these natural elements can help create environments that foster well-being, productivity, and a sense of tranquillity.
A bracing system is the strategic arrangement of structural elements to help support and stabilise a building subject to lateral loads caused by winds or earthquakes. We can see it being used to prevent the building from swaying excessively or even collapsing in extreme conditions.
Brise-soleil is a French term used to describe a break in the sun’s path. It translates to ‘sun-breaker’ or ‘sun-blocker’ in English.
In architecture, it is a feature we use to provide shade and control the amount of sunlight entering a building or space. Brise-soleil systems are usually strategically installed on the exterior of a building and also help to regulate temperature and reduce glare. They come in a variety of materials and forms.
The building envelope consists of elements like the roof, wall, windows, doors, and the foundation of a building. It acts as a protective barrier and separates the inside of the building from its outdoor environment.
Its main functions are to provide structural support to the building, control the flow of elements between the inside and outside and finally to enhance the building’s aesthetics.
In architecture, we use the term canopy to describe an overhead structure or covering that provides shelter, shade, or protection over an area, mainly for pedestrians. Canopies are often found in outdoor spaces and can sometimes be connected to a building.
This is a structural element typically in the form of a beam, which is fixed at one end to a vertical support while the other end extends freely without any support. Cantilevers are commonly seen in platforms, balconies, bridges, and other overhanging structures that don’t require additional columns or supports.
In terms of architectural concepts, a cantilever has a building element that extends beyond its support and allows us architects to create the illusion that a part of the building is floating.
Chamfer, in architecture, refers to a type of bevelled or angled edge often incorporated into the design of buildings, structures, or building elements, connecting two surfaces at a 45° angle. They help us add visual interest to an otherwise plain surface by creating a sense of depth and shadow.
A charrette in architecture refers to a dynamic and intense collaborative design workshop or session aimed at generating creative solutions to a specific design problem within a predefined time frame. They are great platforms for architects, designers, and stakeholders to collaborate, exchange ideas, and tackle complex design challenges effectively.
Charrettes can be conducted for different stages of a design project from initial conceptualisation to final development. You can find them being organised in universities, architectural firms, and even in urban planning projects.
The term charrette is actually a French word meaning ‘cart’ and originated from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where architecture students frantically finished their work as it was collected in a cart (charrette) for review.
A clerestory is an architectural feature we use in the upper part of a building where the roofline is located. It consists of a row of windows placed above eye level allowing natural light or fresh air to enter the internal space. Clerestory windows are typically found in churches, cathedrals, or large public buildings.
This term in architecture refers to the act of leaving or exiting a building or space safely. It is used in relation to the crucial act of designing emergency escape/exit routes and related provisions for evacuating people in case of emergencies like fires, earthquakes, and other dangerous situations.
The UK Building Regulations provide specific guidelines and requirements for egress routes and exits to ensure compliance with safety standards. You can check them out here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-approved-document-b
Enfilade in the architectural sense refers to the design concept where we create a sequence of interconnected rooms that are aligned along the same axis or line. This straight-line arrangement helps us visually connect multiple spaces, creating spatial continuity while also enhancing the perceived depth within the space.
Enfilades have historically been popular during periods like the Baroque and Rococo where the representation of grandeur, opulence and symmetry was favoured.
Entourage is a term describing supporting elements like human figures, trees, and other contextual objects that we add to our architectural renderings and visualisations. These elements provide a sense of scale and movement that helps to enliven our drawings by making them seem more realistic and engaging. By using entourage, we can effectively communicate our design ideas to clients, stakeholders, and even the general public.
We have loads of entourage options for you to explore, do check out our Downloads page:
In architecture, ergonomics refers to the science of designing and arranging spaces and products in a way that ensures optimal human comfort, well-being, and efficiency. It involves using anthropometric data to accommodate the physical dimensions and capabilities of a broad range of users, thus providing them with safety and satisfaction. This approach helps us designers minimise the risk of discomfort or injuries resulting from repetitive tasks or poorly designed environments.
Façade is a word we often use to reference the exterior face or front elevation of a building. It is usually a very striking and prominent part of a building that plays a vital role in defining its character and style.
Fascia is the Latin word for ‘bandage,’ ‘band’ or ‘ribbon.’ In modern buildings, it is a flat board placed along the lower edge of the roof, covering exposed ends of rafters on the exterior of a building. The fascia board not only provides a neat finish but also acts as a protective barrier against the weather. Additionally, it can have rain guttering fixed to it to keep rainwater away from the building’s facade.
In classical architecture, it was an essential element for buildings of the time and took the form of a broad unadorned band that was part of the architrave section of the entablature.
Fenestration includes openings like doors and windows in a building’s exterior. The design and arrangement of these openings impacts the building’s aesthetics, functionality, and energy performance. Strategic and careful planning of these openings allows for the effective use of natural lighting and ventilation, further enhancing the building’s overall environmental quality and energy efficiency.
A finial also known as hip-knob, is a pointed decoration or ornament found on the tops or ends of architectural elements like gables, pinnacles, canopies, and spires. They range from very simplistic designs to extremely intricate ones featuring motifs like flowers and animals. Due to their prominent position, finials are often crafted from durable materials to endure exposure to different weather conditions.
A gazebo refers to an open-sided freestanding architectural structure typically found in gardens or parks, providing shelter in an otherwise exposed outdoor green space. They come in a variety of shapes and are inviting spots for people to relax and enjoy nature in.
Genius loci is a Latin term for ‘the genius of the place’ or ‘the spirit of the place’ and is rooted in ancient Roman religious beliefs. In architecture, it represents designing spaces that are in harmony with the distinctive characteristics of a site. This includes factors like its environmental, cultural, and historical context. The intent is to strengthen the connection of the building with its surroundings and give it a robust sense of identity.
Hierarchy in architecture is the organisation of design elements according to a clear structure to convey meaning, draw attention to certain elements and enhance user experiences. It can be applied in various aspects of architecture, from emphasising certain rooms in buildings to using a variety of lines and line weights in architectural drawings to signify different elements.
You may be familiar with the ‘hyphen (-),’ a punctuation mark used to join two words. Well, in architecture it has a similar purpose, it is a structure that connects two parts of a building. It can take the form of covered walkways, hallways, bridges, or tunnels. Hyphens can help us create interesting circulation paths for users, sometimes giving them views to the outside.
Jettying was the technique of extending floor space in the upper storeys of a building beyond its established ground floor walls by creating an overhang with the help of timber beams. A jetty can typically be seen in traditional Tudor houses.
Juxtaposition in architecture is the deliberate placement of contrasting elements, styles, forms, materials, or concepts. It can be employed within a single building and even in an urban context with multiple buildings. Juxtaposed objects or buildings are able to accentuate each other’s qualities and features as there can be a vast number of stark differences that the viewers are naturally inclined to compare.
Loggia in architecture is a covered exterior space that has columns or arches running along the sides. It comes from the Italian word for ‘lodge.’ These outdoor corridors often overlook green spaces with beautiful views like that in a garden or courtyard, making them ideal for relaxation. The overhead roof provides shelter and shade from the elements. Loggias serve as great transitional buffer spaces between the outside and inside.
Louvres are features made up of angled slats or blades organised either horizontally or vertically. They can be made of a variety of materials and designed to remain fixed or be adjustable. Louvres are commonly used to control the amount of natural light, allow ventilation and to provide privacy in areas where there are openings in a building. Additionally, they can be employed on building facades to shield against environmental elements while enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of the structure.
Mezzanine is derived from the Italian word ‘mezza’ meaning ‘half’ or ‘middle.’ In architecture it is a floor or level covering only a partial amount of the entire floor plan and is situated between two main floors in a building. Mezzanines are often found in buildings with double height ceiling spaces, providing an opportunity for views looking onto the floor below. For safety reasons their design requires provisions like railings.
Motifs are decorative and repeating elements, patterns or themes that are incorporated into a building or design. They carry symbolic meaning and have been in use throughout history. Each culture has unique motifs inspired from nature, history, and other sources. Motifs not only add visual intrigue to a building but also play a vital role in defining its character and identity.
In architecture, parametric design is a computational method allowing us architects and designers to use algorithms to control and generate architectural forms. It involves setting and defining certain parameters or requirements to produce desired design outputs. This is especially beneficial when designing complex and intricate geometries.
Parti refers to the main design concept or idea behind a building’s overall design and composition. It is mostly represented through diagrams but can also be shown using sketches, text and models. The parti serves as the fundamental basis for the entire architectural design process. This is why architects keep referring back to it when making design decisions to keep the original vision intact. Ultimately, the parti plays a pivotal role in shaping the character and identity of the building as a whole.
In architecture, pastiche is a word describing designs that borrow, reference, or take inspiration from various architectural styles of the past. The new composition looks as though it belongs to a historical period despite being contemporary.
A pavilion usually refers to a free-standing, temporary structure, often situated in greenery. These inviting and flexible spaces are usually constructed using lightweight materials. Being temporary in nature, pavilions offer great opportunities for us architects and designers to experiment and test new and innovative technologies and materials.
Pilotis are vertical columns that support a building, elevating it above ground level and creating an open space or void underneath that can be used for various purposes. They help free the building from load-bearing walls, allowing for flexible and open floor plans.
This concept was popularised by Swiss French architect Le Corbusier during the Modernist movement in the early 20th century.
Architects use the term ‘poche’ in reference to the solid areas within a building. In drawings, it is used to visually communicate a building’s massing, wall thickness and other structural elements. These drawings help us see how spaces within a building are organised and understand how they spatially relate to one another.
A quoin is basically a corner with decorative elements. It consists of a pattern of rectangular blocks that are bound to catch the eye as they contrast with the colour and texture of the wall. Quoins can be made of materials like brick, stone, concrete or stucco. Originally, quoining was used to provide structural stability to a building’s corners but over time it evolved into a design feature.
Rotundas are structures with circular or oval floor plans, and dome covered roofs surrounded by walls or columns. They create these large central open spaces that are used for gatherings. The term comes from the Latin word ‘rotundus’ meaning ‘round’ or ‘circular.’ A famous example includes the Pantheon in Rome.
The skin is the external cladding layer of a building. The skin protects the underlying building structure from environmental factors. It affects the aesthetics and energy efficiency of a building. The selection of materials used for the skin is crucial, as each material possesses unique properties that can influence the overall performance of the building.
Stucco, also known as ‘render,’ is a type of plaster traditionally made from a mixture of cement, lime, sand, and water. It is a popular material in building construction and is used to coat surfaces like walls and ceilings. It offers various finishes which makes it quite versatile. It is fire resistant, durable, and needs minimal maintenance.
A threshold is an element that marks the passage between two different areas within a building. It is a point establishing where one space ends and the other begins. They help users identify and recognise the different spaces that they are moving through in a building.
Traditionally, thresholds have been marked by a strip or a door sill. However, now there are level thresholds that can be used to create more accessible and inclusive spaces.
Tracery can mostly be found in Gothic architecture and refers to the intricate and decorative patterns adorning openings like windows. Its main purpose is to enhance how a building looks and allow light to enter in a manner that creates unique shadows. This craft comes in various types and showcases different motifs.
Turrets are small tower features attached to buildings like castles and fortifications. They are typically circular in shape. Despite not being as popular in modern construction, they still remain an iconic architectural feature.
In architecture, typology is the study and classification of different building types based on their form, function, and construction. It helps us architects and other industry professionals understand and analyse various building forms and their evolution. This is valuable when designing new buildings and preserving existing ones.
Veneer is a thin layer of decorative material often applied to a surface or object to improve its aesthetic quality. This application allows less attractive surfaces to be covered, creating attractive finishes without the need to use expensive solid materials.
Veneers are often applied to surfaces like walls, columns, and furniture. They can be made from both naturally occurring and synthetic materials.
The term vernacular in the architectural sense, embraces local crafts and traditional styles of building and construction. The building techniques, materials and resources used are specific to the location of the building, thereby showcasing how the local community has adapted to their environment over generations.
A vestibule is a small, enclosed space/entryway located at the main entrance that acts as a buffer zone allowing for a smooth comfortable transition between the exterior and interior of a building. It is like a protective barrier helping to prevent direct exposure of external elements like the weather or pollutants to the inside.
Vestibules are typically used to store things like outdoor clothing, shoes, and umbrellas. Depending on the size, they can also be used by visitors as a place to gather or wait before proceeding further into the building.
Ziggurats were stepped pyramid-like structures commonly found in ancient Mesopotamia. These tall, sacred, and prominent landmarks consisted of a series of levels or terraces that become smaller and smaller as you reach the top. Built with baked mud bricks, they were dedicated to various gods. The Great Ziggurat of Ur, located near Nasiriyah, Iraq is a famous example.
You might also be interested in:
We have loads of other incredible architecture content. Be sure to check it out:
Download the Guide!
Download this helpful article as a pdf to keep for reference later.
Architectural jargon is a powerful tool that helps us communicate our architectural visions and complex ideas effectively. Embracing this language can allow us to navigate the architectural world with ease and confidence. However, it is important that you strike a good balance with your use of architectural jargon. Try not to go overboard with your use of architectural jargon, just for the sake of sounding fancy or trying to impress. Remember the main focus is to communicate your ideas clearly. So, try to keep it simple.
We hope this post helps you learn some new architectural terms!
Thank you for reading! 🙂
Do you have any favourite architectural jargon terms? Let us know in the comments below.
Also, feel free to share this post with a friend.
Written by Valanne Fernandes, a Part 1 Architecture graduate. Valanne is a content creator with First In Architecture, spending her time researching, writing and designing inspiring new content for the website.