Architect, architectural terms, drawings

Architectural terms – A quick guide for non-architects!

| 20 : 00 – 12 December 2018 |

Architectural terms, Person looking at drawings


Architecture has a language of it’s own which is evident from a talk with an architect whose conversation is all about architectural terms.

Let’s read an example –

“The fenestration’s, constructive reinforcement of the silo walls, which became necessary due to newly created vault form and arcade, have a spatial arrangement.”

You just read a statement about a design project from an architect.

Architectural terms, client and architect meeting, discussion


From construction terms, to drawing sheet titles to groovy words like ‘fenestration’, a simple conversation with an architect will easily make you feel lost. There are times when we have architect as friends or approach them for design services. Architects usually use short terms and phrases to convey complex architecture. This allows the architect to converse and explain various building aesthetics. So we are listing here some common architectural terms for your next architect-friend or client-architect conversations.

By the way the groovy word ‘fenestration’ means – presence of openings in a building which include doors, windows, skylight, louvers, curtain walls and glazed system !

Here’s the list of some common architectural terms –

Arcade – A series of arches (pointed/curved elements) supported by columns or other vertical elements.

Atrium – An open area in center of a multistory building.

Arcade, atrium, architectural terms, architect

An arcade with a central atrium in Rochester city hall.       Photo – © Ray Sheley

Baluster – A 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 is called balustrade.

BIM – It stands for ‘Building Information Modeling’. Quite heard nowadays in architecture and engineering sector, it’s a 3D-model based digital system used to plan, design and construct buildings and infrastructure facilities.

Cantilever – An unsupported overhanging beam that has support at one end only, like a flagpole sticking out of the side of a wall.

Curtain wall – It typically refers to a framework of aluminium/steel members with glass fit-in between them. Examples are easily spotted in malls, office buildings.

Curtain wall, glass curtain wall, tall building, glass

Glass curtain wall.       Photo – © Pexels

Diagram – It’s not like your science diagram at all ! In architecture, diagram means a graphical representation of concepts that are part of the building including its principle elements and composition.

Dado – The part of a wall below the dado rail, sometimes decorated with wood panels. Its purpose it to cover the lower part of wall which can be subject to stains.

Eaves – The projecting edge of a roof that overhangs an exterior wall to protect it from the rain.

Eclectic style/décor – It’s a popular term used in interior design projects used to define a décor which has a mix of various styles, trends and colors.

Kompaniya restaurant, eclectic decor, raw concrete

Eclectic decor at the Kompaniya Restaurant, Moskovski prospect in St. Petersburg.     Photo – © DA Architecture Bureau

By now you will understand what this sentence means –‘The shopping mall has a central atrium lined by an arcade.’

Facade – An exterior wall, or face of a building. The front facade of a building contains the building’s main entrance, the rear facade is the building’s rear exterior wall, and the side facades are a building’s side exterior walls.

Floor plan – A floor plan refers to the actual layout of the building showing arrangement of rooms in a building. Usually when printed on a paper it shows dimensions, notes, and any other details needed for construction.

Gable roof – A roof with two slopes joined at a single edge parallel to the entrance.

Gazebo – A free standing structure open from all sides usually found in public gardens and parks.


Gazebo, Lake view

Gazebo.      Photo – © Pexels

Hip roof – A roof with four sloping sides. Two sides of roof are triangular while other two are trapezoidal in shape.

Herringbone pattern – Resembling to bones of herring fish, it is arrangement of blocks or rectangles used in floor tiles and pavements.

Industrial decor and style – This interior design style is used in loft apartments, modern homes and commercial spaces around the world. It highlights neutral tones, utilitarian objects, wood and metal surfaces. One can find presence of unfinished concrete columns and beam, exposed electrical pipes, and mechanical ducts.

Interlaced arches – A decoration style emerged from Roman architecture in which arches from alternate column intersect each other to form a pattern.

Here’s another statement for you to recollect the terms read above – 

‘The floor plan showed the living room floor tiles in herringbone pattern.’

Joinery – Refers to joinery details in carpentry woodworking.

Jamb – A pair of vertical surfaces or posts that form the side’s of door or window frame.

Key plan – It is usually a small ‘map’ in a drawing that shows the geographical location of the building in reference with the surrounding buildings or landmarks in that area.

Keystone – The central piece of stone located in curve of an arch or vault.

Lintel – A horizontal beam that spans the space between two vertical supports. Usually found over an opening such as a window or door.

Louver – A window blind or shutter having a set of angled slats angled to let in light and air, but control direct sunshine and noise.

louvers, seagram building

Louvers in a commercial building.     Photo – © Jules Antonio

Masonry – Art of building and fabricating a structure in stone, brick, clay or concrete.

Molding – Decorative treatment given to a surface either to project or recede as a finishing strip.

Niche – A decorative recess or hollow space set in a wall or structure.

Newel post – It refers to the central supporting pillar in a spiral staircase along which the stairs wind up.

‘Building load must be calculated for design masonry of lintels’.


Oculus – A opening in the top center of a dome.

Onion dome – A dome that resembles the shape of an onion.

Parapet – A low height wall usually built on roof levels to provide protection against falling down.

Pergola – Overhead trellis or a wooden, steel framed roof usually having a flat roof.

Pergola, architectural terms, garden, wooden pergola

Wooden pergola in a garden.       Photo – © Marc Denning

Queen post – One of the two vertical supports in a queen-post truss.

Quoins – The dressed stones at the corners of buildings laid so that their faces are alternatively large and small.

RCC/reinforced concrete – Concrete containing steel rods or metal netting to increase its tensile strength.

Revolving door – 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.

Scale – Refers to how different sizes of the building elements relate to each other. Also architects use a triangular measuring ruler for marking dimensions on drawings.

Sustainable building – Also termed as green building, used for referring to a structure or building process that environment friendly, cost and energy efficient.

‘The purpose of the pergola is to provide a shaded area in a garden or around swimming pool. If placed on a higher floor level, a decorative parapet must be added’.

Timber framing – It’s the method of creating structures using heavy wood with precise joinery details.

Tower – Tall portion of a high-rise building.


400 Fairview building in Seattle by SkB Architects. The white building block is called as tower.             Photo – © Spencer Lowell

Veranda – An open or roofed porch usually enclosed by a railing. Usually located on the entrance way of a building.

Vernacular architecture – It’s an architectural style that is based on the use of local materials, resources reflecting traditional building technique.

Window sash – Refers to window frame holding glass panes in a window.

Wooden shingles – Thin, tapered roof covering material made from wood used for covering roofs and walls of a building for weather protection.

Zigzag – A pattern of lines formed by abrupt left and right turns.


wooden shingles

Cedar wood shingles covering the ‘Escape Pod’ by Podmakers Ltd.         Photo – © Tim Brotherton


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