Architecture Glossary
Meaning of Architectural & Tectonic Terms Used in Building/Construction.

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Glossary of Architectural Terms

See below for an explanation of fine art terminology used in Architecture history and practice.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H-J - K - L - M - N - O - P-Q - R - S - T - U-V - W-Z


Transfiguration Church (17th century)
Kizhi Pogost, Lake Onega, Karelia.
UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.
Amazing wooden architecture!!


A modern example of sand architecture
(2002). Victoria, Australia.


Nationale Nederlanden Building,
Prague (1992-97). Deconstructivist design
by Frank Gehry.

A

Abacus
uppermost part or division of the capital of a column, usually shaped like a parallelepiped; the architrave rests on it.
Abbey
collection of buildings, such as a church, cloisters, and guest rooms, that compose a monastery complex ruled by an abbot.
Abutment

structure supporting the lateral thrust of an arch or vault; see vault construction.
Acroterion
pedestal or figure placed at the three angles of a pediment.
Aedicule
opening, such as door or window, framed by columns, with a pediment; see Classic Greek architecture.
AEG Turbine Factory
Iconic example of early modernist architecture designed by Peter Behrens (1868-1940), who was also noted for his pupils Waler Gropius, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.

Aeolic
style of Greek architecture found in the 6th century BCE; sometimes called Proto-Ionic.
Aisle
division of space at the sides of a church, parallel to the nave and separated from it by piers or arcades.
Aiwan
recess, niche, or reception hall in ancient Parthian building or mosque.
Ajimez
architectural form created by two horseshoe arches paired at the sides of a central column.
Akropolis (or acropolis)
fortified citadel in Greek cities. "The Acropolis" usually refers to the one in Athens.
Alfiz
rectangular panel that frames an arch, usually horseshoe-shaped.
Altar
in antiquity, a raised structure composed of a wooden plank or stone on which sacrifices were offered. In Christian religion, the altar is used for the celebration of the Mass; initially made of wood, altars were later made of stone, marble, or other materials.
Altarpiece
in Christian church architecture, the picture or decorated screen behind the altar. It may consist of a single painting or an elaborate group of hinged panels.
Ambo
reading desk or pulpit in early Christian church, usually of stone. Normally there were two, facing each other on each side of the choir.
Ambulatory
continuation of the aisles of the choir around the apse, sometimes giving access to smaller chapels; see church.
Amorino (pl. amorini)
small Putto; usually winged.
Amphitheatre
arena surrounded by tiered seats. Used from the 1st century BCE throughout the Roman world for public spectacles.
Annular vault
vaulted roof over a ring-shaped (annular) space, between two concentric walls; see vault construction.
Antefix
upright architectural ornament found in Classical buildings, where it decorated the ends of a roof ridge.
Apex
uppermost point of a triangular or conical form.
Apse
semicircular or polygonal end of a church; usually the end of the chancel, at the east end.
Arcade
a series of arches, often supporting a wall, with their columns or piers. A blind arcade is an arcade set against a wall without openings in the arches.
Arch
usually curved architectural member spanning an opening and serving as support. According to the shape of the curve, arches are identified by a variety of names, including round arches, pointed or ogee arches, trefoil, lancet, basket-handle, or Tudor arches, or horseshoe arches, typical of Arab architecture. A rampant arch is an arch in which one abutment is higher than the other. Hanging arches are tall blind arches, often reaching the roofline.
Architecture
1 science or art of building. 2 the structure or style of what is built. See also: Greatest Architects (1400 on).
Architrave
the lowest division of an entablature; a horizontal beam supported by columns.
Archivolt
moulding or cornice, bare or decorated, that follows the contour of an arch, whether on the outside face (lintel) or on the inside (intrados).
Art Nouveau architecture
Decorative design movement centred on Europe, led by Victor Horta (1861-1947) in Belgium, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) in Spain and Hector Guimard (1867-1942) in France.
Ashlar
squared, even-faced block of stone.
Atlantes
figures of men used to support an entablature. The female equivalent is acaryatid.
Atrium
1 forecourt of Roman house leading to various rooms. 2 court in front of Early Christian and Romanesque churches.
Attic
in classical architecture, the part of a building above the main order on a facade. This area can often become a separate storey of the building.
Attic order
square column of Greek architectural order, or pilasters applied to upper story of building.
Azulejo
terracotta or majolica glazed tiles in bright colours, used for floors and both interior and exterior wall dressings. Of Arabic origin, their use spread in Spain beginning in the 13th century.

B

Baluster
small pillar or column supporting rail.
Balustrade
series of balusters, usually edging terrace or balcony.
Baptistery
a part of a church or a separate building near a church in which baptismal rites are performed.
Barbican
from the Arabic Persian bahhana (a fortified gallery), a defensive structure in front of a gate, such as a tower, an outer defensive work, a reinforced area on the
internal part of a wall, most of all in medieval and Renaissance fortresses.
Barchessa
a covered storage space attached to a farm house; the word is used for the bodies forming the wings of Palladian villas, which usually function as service areas.
Baroque architecture
In Italy: mostly religious building design, exemplified by the Roman designs of Bernini (1598-1680) and his rival, Francesco Borromini (1599-1667).
Basilica
medieval church in which the nave is taller than the aisles; early churches had an apse at one end. It was based on the Roman assembly hall, or the design of colonnaded halls in private houses. The most famous example is St Peter's Basilica in Rome, the second largest church in the world.
Bauhaus Design School
Avant-garde school of architecture and crafts in Weimar, founded by Walter Gropius (1883-1969).
Bay
the space formed, usually within a church where the limits are indicated by Orders, vaults, etc, rather than by walls. On an external wall a bay may be indicated by buttresses.
Beam
horizontal structural member, usually made of wood, bearing a load.
Beaux-Arts architecture
combination of Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance architecture that symbolized the Belle Epoque. The leading American exponents were Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95) and Cass Gilbert (1859-1934).
Benedictine, or stepped, choir
choir flanked by rectangular areas of decreasing size.
'Bernadine' plan
cruciform basilican plan with a nave and two aisles, projecting transept, choir, and flat-ended side chapels.
Billet
ornamentation formed by short cylindrical or rectangular blocks placed at regular intervals in hollow moldings.
Blenheim Palace
Like The Palace of Versailles in France, Blenheim - designed by Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) - was a symbol of the Baroque style in England.
Blobitecture
A form of postmodernist 20th-Century architecture, marked by bulging curves.
Boss
ornamental projection, of wood or stone, placed at the join of vaulting, ribs, etc; see vault construction.
Bosquet
a formal grove of trees, containing at least five of the same species, used in formal French gardens, such as those at the Palace of Versailles (see below), designed by Andre le Notre.
Bow window (also bay window)
a window forming a recess in a room while also projecting beyond the exterior wall, in so doing increasing the amount of light.
Bracket
projection that functions as a support; may also be decorative.
Brandenburg Gate
Iconic neoclassical building in Berlin designed and built by Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808) during the period 1789-94. His pioneering neoclassicism was further popularized by Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841).
Brise-soleil
shutter to block sunlight.
Buttress
reinforced, projecting wall, usually on the exterior of a building, supporting it at a point of stress. A flying buttress transmits the thrust of a vault to an outer support; see vault construction.

C

Cable pattern
convex rope-like molding found in Norman architecture. Sometimes also refers to similar decoration in goldsmiths' work.
Campanile
freestanding bell tower of church.
Canopy
suspended or projected miniature roof over an altar, seat, statue, or similar.
Cantilever
a beam supported or fixed at one end carrying a load at the other.
Capital
architectural element that crowns a vertical support element (column, pilaster, or pier) and is thus located beneath a horizontal lintel, entablature, or arcade. It is composed of a lower part (echinus), often decorated, and a simpler upper part (abacus). The basic types of capitals are the Doric, composed of a square abacus resting on a circular echinus; Ionic, with a generally ornate echinus ending in spiral volutes and a somewhat flat abacus; Corinthian, a bell-shaped cone decorated by flowers and leaves; Tuscan, similar to the Doric, with wider and lower echinus; and composite, made up of Ionic elements (volutes) and Corinthian (leaves). There are also crocket, or hooked, capitals, Gothic capitals decorated with stylized leaves.
Castellation
decoration of a building with battlements and turrets, like a castle; the result may be described as castellated.
Cathedra
seat or throne made of wood, marble, or ivory, often decorated with inlays and bas-relief, located behind the altar at the end of the apse and used by the bishop during religious functions. Its presence creates a cathedral.
Cathedral
from the presence of the bishop's throne, or cathedra; the principal church of a diocese, the church where a bishop officiates.
Cell
a compartment, most especially one of the four triangular divisions of a vault.
Cenotaph
a sepulchral monument.
Centring
the temporary wooden structure built to support an arch or vault during construction.
Chamfered capital
capital whose square angles are cut obliquely.
Chancel
east end of church containing the altar.
Chapel
a small room used for worship. A chapel can be isolated or included within a larger architectural complex. In most cases numerous chapels, each with an altar, are arranged along the length of a nave or aisle or around the transept.
Chapter house
the large room in a convent, monastery, or cathedral in which the chapter meets (the canons or members of the religious order); in monasteries and convents it usually faces a large cloister.
Chevet
the far end of a church, beyond the transept and including the choir, apse, and ambulatory. It can have a variety of plans and in Gothic architecture often includes radiating chapels.
Chevron
1 zigzag molding in Norman architecture. 2 pattern of V shapes.
Chicago School of Architecture
leading group of pioneer skyscraper architects, led by William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907). Please see also: Second Chicago School of Architecture (c.1940-75) led by Mies van der Rohe.
Choir
term taken from ancient Greek drama (chorus); in a Christian church it is the area reserved for cantors and the clergy, usually composed of wooden stalls often carved or inlaid with a reading stand for the choristers. Today the term indicates the area included between the transept and the apse or the zone of the church located behind the main altar. According to its shape it can be ambulatory, stepped or Benedictine, or triconch.
Ciborium
1 vaulted canopy over an altar. 2 vessel for holding consecrated host.
Cimborio ("drum")
Drum-shaped structure, often pierced with windows, and supporting a dome.
Circus
in British usage, an open area at a street junction or intersection or a group of buildings arranged around such a space, which may then serve as a public garden.
Classic Greek architecture
apogee of Greek architectural design, much imitated in later architecture.
Clerestory
upper story of nave of chruch, pierced with windows; see vault construction.
Cloister
covered walk around a space, usually square, with a wall on one side and columns on the other. In Christian monasteries it often links the church and domestic quarters.
Coffer
1 Ornamental sunken panel recessed into ceiling or vault, which may then be described as coffered. 2 chest for valuable objects.
Colonnade
row of columns supporting entablature.
Colonnette
small column.
Colossus
gigantic statue.
Column
vertical architectural element with support function, usually cylindrical and composed of a base, shaft, and capital. The lower third of a column is often thicker (entasis) and then tapers slightly upward. Columns can be arranged in groups or can be free-standing. They can also be engaged, meaning set into a wall.
Composite order: see orders of architecture.
Concha (or conch)
the domed roof of a semicircular apse.
Concrete
mixture of sand, stone, and cement used as a building material, especially in the 20th century.
Console
1 architectural term for scrolled bracket. 2 in furniture, a side table with marble top.
Corbel
projection on a wall, bearing a weight.
Corbeling
series of corbels built one above the other.
Corinthian order: see orders of architecture.
Cornice
1 upper member of an entablature. 2 ornamental molding finishing the part to which it is attached, (eg) at the junction of a wall and ceiling.
Corps-de-logis
the principal section or block of a large building, such as a palace or mansion, containing the entrance and main rooms.
Cosmati work, Cosmatesque
a type of inlaid marble mosaic practised by Roman marble workers in the 12th and 13th centuries, so-named from the mistaken belief that all the city's leading marble workers came from the same family.
Coupled
architectural term for elements used in pairs, as in coupled columns.
Coupled pilaster
two pilasters standing on the same pedestal.
Cove
concave molding, especially between the ceiling and cornice of a room.
Crenellation
the formation of battlements, in which the openings are known as crenelles.
Crescent
in British usage, a group of buildings arranged along a curving street or terrace.
Cresting
line of ornament finishing a roof or wall.
Crocket
in Gothic architecture, a carved decoration, usually leaf-shaped, projecting from the sides of pinnacles or gables.
Crossing
the space in a church where nave, chancel, and transepts meet. Bay or other area of a church defined by the crossing of the main nave and the transept. According to how the two bodies intersect, the crossing can be isolated, in which the nave and transept are the same height and the square bay is defined by four equal and opposing arches, or suppressed, in which the bay is defined by lower and narrower arches that clearly separate the crossing from the transept, from the nave and from the choir.
Cross-in-rectangle
church plan, common in Armenia.
Cruciform
cross-shaped; used especially of a church that has transepts.
Crypt
underground area composed of one or more chambers located beneath the presbytery in a church. The crypt originated in the apostolic tombs made in Roman basilicas during the age of Constantine; beginning in the 7th century it assumed the function of housing the relics of the martyr saint to whom the church was dedicated. An annular crypt is surrounded by a semicircular ambulatory that follows the shape of the apse above; if other aisles and rooms are located off the crypt it is called a hall crypt. Beginning in the 10th-11th centuries the crypt took the shape of a nave and was enlarged, almost becoming a second, underground, church. Another name for the crypt is lower church.
Cupola
domed vault roof.
Curtain wall
outer wall of castle joining towers and gate-house. Also refers to a wall that divides space without bearing weight.
Cushion base
base of a capital associated with early medieval architecture; shaped like a cube but with rounded edges and corners. See Cushion capital.
Cushion capital
square capital with rounded corners, found chiefly in Romanesque and early medieval buildings; see vault construction.
Cusp
point at which two arcs meet in Gothic arch or tracery.

D

Dado
1 lower section of a wall, sometimes separated from the upper by a molding. 2 part of a pedestal between the base and cornice.
Deconstructivism
A type of skewed geometric postmodernist building design. See: American architecture (1600-present).
Deutscher Werkbund
Architecture and applied art organization in Germany set up by Hermann Muthesius (1861-1927).
Diaper
an all-over pattern of small square or lozenge-shaped units, found in Romanesque and Gothic buildings. The term is also applied to a similar pattern in stain glass.
Dogtooth
1 small ornament shaped like a pyramid, with the flat faces cut back. 2 ornament on a molding, in the form of four lobes or leaves radiating from a center, found in 13th-century English architecture.
Dome
convex covering set over circular or polygonal base. as a roof, a dome is usually placed over a circular or square structure. The complete covering is composed of a pendentive, drum, dome, and lantern. First seen in Roman Architecture during the early Empire.
Donjon
also called the keep, the principal stronghold in a medieval castle, also used as a residence.
Doric: see Orders of Architecture.
Drum
1 circular or polygonal wall supporting a dome. 2 circular blocks of stone forming a column.

E

Eave
lower edge of a roof, overhanging a wall.
Echinus
architectural element of the capital located beneath the abacus; in the Doric order, it has a convex shape without decoration; in the Ionic it is decorated with moulding.
Elevation
the side view of an architectural structure; a geometrical projection on a vertical plane.
Enfilade
distributional arrangement as though threaded on a string, in particular a series of rooms arranged so their doors form a continuous passage.
Entablature
upper section of a Classical Order consisting of architrave, frieze, and cornice.
Entasis (Greek)
a slight swelling of the contour of a column, designed to counteract the optical illusion of concavity and generally found in Classical architecture.
Exedra
semicircular or angular recess in a wall, common in Greek and Roman architecture.
Extrados
the exterior curve of an arch.

F

Facade
face of a building, usually the main face.
Finial
the ornamental termination of part of a building such as a spire or pediment.
Flamboyant
the last phase of French Gothic architecture, from c.1460, characterized by elaborate, flowing window tracery.
Flying buttress: see buttress.
Foil
in Gothic tracery, a small arc or lobe formed by cusps, making a leaflike design. The number of foils reflects the shape of a figure, as in trefoil, quatrefoil, cinquefoil.
Foliated
covered with leaf ornamentation.
Frieze
1 part of an Entablature between the architrave and cornice, sometimes decorated in relief. 2 horizontal band of decoration along the upper part of a wall or on furniture. 3 woolen cloth.

G

Gable
triangular part of a wall at the end of the roof ridge.
Gable End
gable-shaped canopy over a door or window, or a gable-topped wall.
Galerie des rois
carved band with the effigies of the kings of France located along the facade of a Gothic cathedral.
Gallery
1 an upper story in a church above the aisle. 2 in Elizabethan or Jacobean architecture, a long room, usually extending the full length of the house. 3 place where works of art are displayed.
Gargoyle
waterspout projecting from the gutters of a building (especially in Gothic architecture) often in the form of an open-mouthed grotesque human or animal head.
Giant order
Column or Pilaster that extends over more than one story of a building; also known as colossal order.
Gothic Revival
Resurgence of (neo) Gothic architecture, notably in 19th century Britain and America. Leading practitioners in America included Richard Upjohn (1802-78) and James Renwick (1818-95).
Greek cross
cross with arms of equal length, often used as an architectural ground plan.
Greek orders of architecture: see Doric, Ionic, Corinthian. See: Greek Architecture 900-27 BCE.
Groin
Arch supporting vault (see vault construction), or the intersection of two barrel vaults.
Grotesque
a style of decoration used in the 16th century adopting the fanciful or fantastic forms found on Roman wall decorations, most especially in grottoes.

H-J

Ha-ha
a ditch or other vertical drop separating a garden from the surrounding nature, thus forming a barrier without interrupting the view.
Hall church
church whose nave and aisles are about the same height.
Harmonic facade
a facade framed by two towers.
Hotel Tassel
Iconic Art Nouveau building in Brussels, designed by Victor Horta (1861-1947).
Iconostasis
in Russian or Byzantine churches, the screen on which Icons are placed.
Imafronte
the central part of the facade of a church.
International Style
A modernist style of architecture begun by Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier, and developed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Intrados
the interior curve of an arch.
Ionic
the second Classic order of Greek architecture; see Orders of architecture.
Irish architecture
see architectural monuments of Ireland.
Isabelline style
named after Queen Isabella of Castile, Spanish style of architecture noted for its extraordinary flair and Flamboyant Gothic elements; often called Hispano-Flemish as being more accurate and to avoid confusion with Spain's Queen Isabella II.
Jesuits, Church of Il Gesu
Famous church in Rome designed (1568-73) by Vignola (1507-73), which set the standard for ecclesiastical architecture during the early Baroque.

K

Kalighat
Indian temple in Calcutta, built in 1809 and dedicated to the Buddhist deity Kali.
Keep
the principal tower in a castle or bastion; the donjon.
Keystone
central wedge-shaped block of an arch.

L

Lancet
tall, narrow, acutely pointed window, a feature of Early English architecture (13th century).
Langchor
choir style used in the churches of German mendicant orders, separated from the nave by a screen.
Lantern
a drum with windows above a dome.
Linear perspective
In drawing, the creation of depth in the picture plane; the extension of parallel lines to one or more vanishing points.
Lierne
from the French, a cross rib or branch rib; a rib that runs from one rib to another to decorate a vault and thus does not spring from a main springer or a central boss.
Lintel
horizontal beam above a door or window.
Loggetta
small arcade or open gallery.
Loggia
covered colonade or archade, open on at least one side.
Lozenge
diamond shape with four equal sides.
Lunette
a crescent-shaped opening above a door or in a vault.

M

Marble
type of limestone used since Antiquity for sculpture and building. It occurs in various colours, from pure white to black, often veined.
Masonry
stonework.
Master Mason
skilled, senior mason.
Mausoleum
1 the tomb of Mausolus of Caria at Halicarnassus, 350 BCE. 2 large, imposing structure erected as a tomb.
Megaliths
large monumental stone structures (eg. Stonehenge) and tombs (eg. Newgrange) often embellished with abstract patterns of megalithic art.
Metope
space between Triglyphs in a Doric frieze (see Orders of architecture).
Mezzanine
intermediate level between two floors.
Middle Kingdom
An era of architectural design in Upper/Lower Egypt. See: Egyptian Middle Kingdom Architecture (2055-1650).
Mihrab
niche in the Qibla wall of a mosque, indicating the direction of Mecca.
Mimbar
pulpit in a mosque.
Minaret
slender tower of a mosque from which worshipers are called to prayer.
Module
a size taken as the unit of measure for establishing the proportions of an architectural structure.
Mortar
building material made from lime, sand, plaster of Paris, and fibrous materials mixed with water, which sets by hydration or carbonation. The term may refer to this mixture in the wet state, or to any similar mixture used as a cement for stone or brick.
Mosaic
design formed from small pieces of stone, glass, marble, etc.
Moulding
in architecture, a decorative recessed or relieved element.
Mozarabic art
art made in Spain during the Islamic domination by Christians whose work revealed the influence of Islam; from Mozarab, from Mustarib, meaning 'arabicized'.
Mudejar
name given to Moors who remained in Spain after the Christian reconquest but did not convert to Christianity; the term is applied in particular to their style of architecture; from mudajjan, 'allowed to remain'.
Mullion
the vertical member that divides a window into two or more lights; see tracery.
Mur epais
a gallery built within the thickness of a wall at the height of the windows.

N

Narthex
porch across the west end of a church, used by those not yet taking full communion, e.g. penitents. the portico of an ancient church, especially with columns or pillars; the vestibule of a church leading to the nave. The narthex is an endonarthex if it occupies a part of the nave of the church; an exonarthex if it is located on the exterior of the facade with an open portico.
Nave
main body or aisle of church. The longitudinal area of a church leading from the entrance to the altar, usually flanked by rows of columns or piers. The nave is usually flanked by aisles that run parallel to it but are shorter than it. A nave without illumination is a blind nave.
Neoclassical architecture
the late 18th-century European style, lasting from c.1770 to 1830, which reacted against the worst excesses of the Baroque and Rococo, reviving the Antique. It implies a return to classical sources which imposed restraint and simplicity on painting and architecture.
Neoclassical Architects
In America, these included Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), William Thornton (1759-1828), Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) and Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844).
Net Vault
Gothic vault in which the Lierne Ribs form a net-like pattern; see vault construction.
New Kingdom
Prolific period of temple building in Ancient Egypt. See: Egyptian New Kingdom Architecture (1550-1069).
Niche
a recess in a wall, usually semicircular, usually used to hold a statue.
Norman gallery
gallery running in front of the windows, typical of Anglo-Norman architecture.
Nymphaeum
Roman "temple of the nymphs" or house of pleasure, often with statues.

O

Obelisk
tall, four-sided free-standing pillar. It originated in Egypt as a solar symbol.
Oculus
originally the circular window at the west end of a church; it may also mean an illusionistic painting of a window or circular opening.
Ogive, ogival
diagonal or pointed, most especially in terms of an arch.
Old Kingdom
Main era of pyramid architecture in Ancient Egypt. See: Early Egyptian Architecture (3100-2181).
Open plan
building plan that is unencumbered by vertical support structures.
Opus reticulatum
Roman masonry of lozenge-shaped stones forming a net pattern.
Opus sectile
Roman wall or floor decoration composed of marble or stone pieces arranged to create geometric motifs.
Orders of Architecture
the five Classic orders, each composed of a column, having a base, shaft, capital, and entablature with Architrave frieze, and cornice. There are three Greek orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. These were adapted by the Romans, who added Tuscan and Composite.
Oriel
bay window on an upper story.

P-Q

Palladian style
Architectural design, in imitation of the style of Andrea Palladio; a reaction against the Baroque in favour of the Classical; also called Neo-Palladian.
Pantheon
literally, a temple of "all the gods"; usually the one at Rome built c.27-25 BCE. Sometimes also used as a collective noun for all the gods.
Parapet
low wall around a balcony or similar structure.
Parthenon
The chief temple of Athena in Athens, on the Acropolis, built c.447-433 BCE.
Pediment
in Classic Greek architecture, a triangular gable under the roof of a building, or similar triangular field.
Pendant
1 projecting or suspended boss in Gothic architecture. 2 decoration at the end of a Gable roof. 3 one of a pair of works.
Pendant vault
vault decorated with hanging stone bosses or terminals; found in late Gothic architecture: see vault construction.
Pendentive
one of the concave triangular members that supports a dome; a spherical triangular section of masonry making a transition from a square to a circular surface.
Peripteral temple
a classical temple surrounded by columns on all sides.
Peristyle
colonnade around Classical temple or court, or an inner court in a large house surrounded by a colonnade.
Perpendicular
the English Gothic style of c.1335 to c.1530; its most characteristic feature is vertical window tracery.
Pier
solid support between door or window openings, or supporting a bridge; usually square although it may be cylindrical, hence cylindrical pier. A compound pier in Gothic architecture is a group of Shafts. See vault construction.
Pilaster
rectangular attached column that projects from a wall by less than one third of its width.
Pilier cantonne
a pier composed of a core to which are attached four shafts projecting in the cardinal directions.
Pillar
vertical supporting member; unlike a column, it may be square.
Pilotis
French term meaning 'pile', as in 'foundation pile', used for the elements, usually made in reinforced concrete, that lift a building off the ground, creating a covered space without walls and thus in direct contact with the exterior nature.
Pinnacle
conical or pyramid-shaped ornament on top of a spire, especially in Gothic architecture.
Plan
design of an architectural complex, building, or part of a building in a horizontal projection, as though seen from above. A central-planned building is organized symmetrically around a geometric centre. The same term is applied to a Greek-cross plan, so-called when its four arms are of the same length. In the Latin-cross plan, the long arm is cut by the short arm at about a third of its length. In the Tau plan, the transept is located at the far end of the longitudinal nave.
Plate tracery
of windows, early form of Gothic tracery with simple wide mullions.
Plateresque
architectural style that flourished in Spain during the 16th century distinguished by its rich decorations ('silversmith', from the Spanishplata, 'silver').
Plinth
1 the rectangular stone slab or block that forms the lowest member on which a column or statue stands. 2 projecting base of a wall.
Podium
1 continuous base of a building or room. 2 raised platform.
Porch
covered entrance, usually at the main door of a building.
Portal
monumental entrance to a civil or religious building given architectural emphasis.
Portico
covered colonade at the entrance to a building.
Porticus
small porch built on the north or south side of English pre-Conquest churches. Sometimes a porticus was built on both sides, thus forming rudimentary transepts.
Prairie House
A style of midwestern architecture influenced by Japanese forms, invented by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). It later developed into the Usonian House style.
Predella
1 a platform on which an altar stands. 2 lower part of painted altarpiece.
Presbytery
in churches, the area around the altar reserved for the clergy, separated from the faithful by a screen. It may be elevated if above a crypt. Sometimes synonymous with sanctuary.
Pronaos
in Greek temples, the area between the colonnade and the area in front of the cell (temple); later, an architectural element to itself, composed of columns and piers outside or inside the facade of a building.
Propylaeum
in classical architecture, a colonnade located at the top of a flight of stairs, forming an interior or exterior portico through which one enters a monumental building, hence a monumental entranceway.
Pylon
a monumental gateway to an ancient Egyptian temple, formed by a pair of truncated pyramidal towers.
Pyramid
the most famous type of Egyptian Architecture, it was a stone or brick tomb; rising from a square base to a triangular apex. Leading exponents included Imhotep, who designed Djoser's Step Pyramid.
Qibla
west wall of a mosque, indicating the direction of Mecca.
Quadrangle
rectangular or square figure, or four-sided courtyard.
Quadratura
Trompe l'oeil fresco ceiling murals to extend architecture beyond the confines of the room.
Quadripartite vault
vault divided in four cells.
Quatrefoill
four-arc opening in Gothic tracery. 2 four-lobed decorative motif.
Quincunx
an arrangement of five objects with four at the corners of a square and one in the center.
Quoin
the keystone or voussoir of an arch; a solid exterior corner of a building.

R

Radiating chapel
chapel radiating from the apse or Ambulatory of a church.
Rayonnant
style of Gothic architecture of the late 13th and 14th centuries, usually referring to the tracery of windows, e.g. rose windows. It preceded the Flamboyant Style.
Rectilinear
style of architecture. the last phase of Gothic architecture c.1335-1530 characterized by vertical tracery; also called Perpendicular.
Regency Style
Early 19th century architectural style (notably in London) associated with the British Prince Regent, later King George IV (1762-1830). Its greatest exponent was John Nash (1752-1835).
Reinforced Concrete
concrete reinforced with metal wire to give increased strength.
Renaissance architecture
exemplified by Brunelleschi's dome for the cathedral of Florence, and St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Retable/Retablo
both from the Spanish word retablo, meaning'tablet', in reference to a frame for decorative panels at the back of an altar. Retables, which became widespread in Europe in the 14th century, most of all in Spain, can be richly decorated with painting or sculpture, and can include several compartments. There is also the similar reredos.
Reredos
ornamental screen hehind an altar.
Restoration Architecture
Most popular in the 19th century. One of the top architects involved in restorations was Viollet-le-Duc, who specialized in restoring Gothic and Romanesque buildings.
Reveal
the inside surface of a door or window, cut at right angles to the face of the wall. revetment
wall built to hold back a mass of earth. water. etc; also called a retaining wall.
Revivalism
Reached its apogee in 19th-Century architecture, notably in Britain and America.
Rib
a support element, usually a moulded band, used in Romanesque and Gothic architecture to support the cells of a vault or a dome.
Ribbon windows
same-size windows arranged to form long bands or ribbons along the facade of a building.
Rib Vault
a cross vault with arched ribs across the sides and diagonals of the bay that support, or seem to support, the infilling; see vault construction.
Ridgepole
the horizontal timber at the ridge of a roof where the rafters are fastened.
Ridge Rib
a supporting or decorative rib running along the central axis of a vault; see vault Construction.
Rococo
elegant, decorative style of c.1730-80. During the 19th century the term acquired pejorative connotations, meaning trivial or over-ornate.
Romanesque architecture
style of architecture that lasted from 1000 to 1150 in France and to the 13th century in the rest of Europe; characterized by massive vaults and rounded arches. The term is also applied to the fine and decorative arts of the period.
Romanesque Revival
style of 19th century architecture which borrowed heavily from its medieval parent idiom. In America, the leading Romanesque architect was Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86).
Rood
screen screen separating the nave and choir in a church.
Rosette
circular ornament, especially in architecture, shaped like a formalized rose.
Rose window
large circular window filled with ornamental tracery, usually located at the centre of the facade of a Romanesque or Gothic church.
Rotunda
round building or internal room surmounted by a dome.
Russian Baroque
Architectural style associated with Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-71).
Rustication
the working of a stone surface to make it rough.

S

Sacellum
from the Latin sacrum, 'sacred enclosure', a small votive chapel, thus any small structure made for worship, such as an oratory, chapel, small temple, or sepulchre.
Sacristy
room attached to a church in which the vestments and sacred vessels are kept, and where priests are attired.
Sanctuary
holiest part of temple or church, containing the altar.
Scalloped capital
block capital whose four sides have a series of curves or scallops.
Schola cantorum
area of the presbytery reserved for the singers, separated by a screen.
Scroll
architectural ornament similar in form to a scroll of parchment.
Serlian motif
a three-part window, in which the central, larger part is a round arch that rests on a trabeation supported by columns that form the two side parts of the window. It is named after Sebastiano Serlio, who illustrated such a window in his treatise on architecture (1551).
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
the world's most successful firm of architects - see, in particular Fazlur Khan (1929-82).
Skyscraper
Originating in New York and Chicago, involving high-rise multi-storey buildings with a height of at least 330 feet. See Skyscraper Architecture (1850-present).
Slab
flat, rectangular architectural element, usually formed of a single piece, as in a concrete slab used to make floors and projecting or cantilevered parts.
Socle
architectural member that projects at the foot of a wall or pier or beneath the base of a column or structure.
Span
the distance between abutments or supports in a bridge or arch.
Spandrel
the triangular space formed by the curve of arches in an arcade.
Spire
a tall, tapering element, usually rising over a tower.
Splaying
spread outward, as the bevelling of a door jamb.
Springers
the stones supporting the arc of an arch.
Squinch
an arch or niche set across the corner of a square bay to convert the space into an octagon on which a round dome or vault can rest.
St Paul's Cathedral
Iconic example of English Baroque architecture, designed by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723).
Stavkirke
'stave church', a type of timber church found in northern Europe, most of all Scandinavia.
Strapwork
ornament composed of bands with the appearance of leather or metal twisted and rolled into fantastic shapes.
Stuccatore
plasterer, someone who works in stucco.
Stucco
slow-setting lime and marble plaster that can be modeled and carved for decorating interiors.
Stylobate
continuous base of a Colonnade.

T

Tabernacle
small receptacle, often shaped like a small temple, located at the centre of the altar and used to hold the holy sacrament, the host, or relics; a niche or chapel with a sacred image.
Tectonic
related to building and construction.
Templon
Colonnade in a Middle Byzantine church that closes off the chancel.
Tessellation
pattern of mosaic or pavement floor, composed of blocks of stone, marble, etc.
Tiercerone
secondary, accessory rib without support function that springs from the intersection of two other ribs.
Topiary
the art of training, cutting, and trimming trees or shrubs into ornamental shapes.
Towers
Supertall skyscrapers, typically containing more than 30 stories. For tower designers like Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, see: American Architects (1700-2000).
Trabeation
in classical architecture, the horizontal elements resting on columns; in general, a horizontal beam or lintel supported by vertical elements and contributing to the support of architectural elements.
Tracery
ornamental stone work in window openings, especially in Gothic architecture. Bar tracery dates from c.1245 and has narrow shafts of stone branching out to form a decorative pattern; it is more delicate and elaborate than plate tracery, which has more solid stone.
Transept
transverse arm of a basilican church that intersects the nave to form a cross shape; it is often as high or higher and as wide as the nave.
Transitional style
the style that developed between Romanesque and Gothic.
Tribune
1 upper story in a church, above the aisle. 2 a bishop's throne. 3 raised floor in a Roman Basilica. In Roman basilicas the area used for the exercise of justice; in early Christian churches, the seats in the presbytery reserved for the bishop and the clergy during ceremonies; thus the space of the presbytery and the apse, including radiating chapels; more in general, an arcaded gallery above the aisle and open to the nave of the church or any loggia or gallery inside or outside the building.
Triconch choir
choir structure with three semicircular areas of the same size forming a trefoil.
Triforium
passage in the wall of the nave, between the main arcade and clerestory: see vault construction.
Triglyph
projecting block with three vertical grooves, found alternately with Metopes in a Doric frieze.
Triumphal arch
Roman monument erected to commemorate a victory; later adopted by 19th-century town planning as an architectural feature.
Trompe l'oeil
Illusionistic architectural feature. As exemplified by Pietro da Cortona's many church frescoes and Tiepolo's ceiling murals in the Wurzburg Residenz (1720-44), designed by Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753).
Trumeau
The central post of a portal supporting a lintel and tympanum, often bearing sculptural decoration in medieval churches.
Truss
timber framework forming triangles to support the roof.
Tufa
any easily hewn rock such as limestone, used for building. Also used as a synonym for sandstone.
Twentieth century architecture
Period which featured the following architectural styles: Art Nouveau (1900-1920), Early Modernism (1900-1925), Continental Avant-Garde (De Stijl, Neue Sachlichkeit) (1900-1925), Steel-frame Skyscraper architecture (1900-2000), Bauhaus (1919-1933), Art Deco (1925-1940), Totalitarian architecture (Germany, USSR) (1928-1940), Late Modernism (1945-1970), High Tech Corporate Design architecture (1945-2000), Postmodernism (1960-2000), Minimalism (1970-2000), Deconstructivism (1980-2000), Blobitecture (1990-2000).
Tympanum
triangular surface enclosed by a pediment, or the semicircle above an arched doorway.

U-V

Valve
leaf of a folding door.
Vault
architectural roof or ceiling based on the principle of the arch. Numerous types of vault exist. The simplest is the barrel vault, a tunnellike extension of an arch with its weight resting on side walls. A groin vault is composed of the intersection of two barrel vaults of the same size. A cross vault is the intersection of two barrel vaults crossing in a right angle. The domical or cloister vault is a domelike vault with a square or polygonal base from which curved segments rise to a central point. A ribbed vault has masonry ribs that concentrate the thrust.
Vault construction
in Gothic architecture, the architectural structure for directing pressures to maintain vaults.
Vaulting
series of vaults, or style of vault.
Vernacular
architectural style; using native, local materials and styles.
Versailles Palace
Iconic architectural building of the 17th century French Baroque. Among the many architects who worked at Versailles were: Louis Le Vau (1612-70), Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708), and Andre Le Notre (1613-1700).
Vienna Secession House
The iconic building known as Haus der Wiener Sezession (1897-98), designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908), to exhibit modern art in Vienna at the turn of the century.
Vitruvius
Celebrated 1st-century Roman architect whose treatise De Architectura ("On Architecture"), written around 27 BCE, is the oldest account of Greek/Roman architectural methods, materials and technology.
Volute
spiral scroll ornament, usually on Greek Ionic Captials, also on furniture.
Voussoir
a wedge-shaped piece, as of stone, used in the construction of an arch or vault; the central voussoir is the keystone.

W-Z

Wall Arcade
series of arches attached to a wall.
Watch tower
in medieval fortifications, a powerful tower used for observation or as a final refuge for the inhabitants, although unlike a donjon it was not normally equipped with living quarters.
Westbau
evolution of the Carolingian west-work, a result of the loss of the political and civil uses of Ottonian churches. It is a large turreted body on the western side of the church; it later assumed the form of the harmonic facade.
Westwerk
large structure with several floors built on the western end of the church, typical of Carolingian church architecture, serving political and civil functions. It is shaped like a tower and is usually framed by a pair of stair turrets; internally it is composed of a vestibule beneath an open tribune wrapped by a two-storey ambulatory. During the Ottonian age it evolved into the Westbau.
Ziggurat
ancient Babylonian and Assyrian pyramid-shaped construction.
Zigzag
pattern formed of lines that make abrupt right and left turns; in Norman architecture, zigzag is synonymous with Chevron.

• For a general explanation of visual arts terminology, see: Art Glossary.
• For oils, watercolours, acrylics and other picture-making materials, see: Painting Glossary.
• For engraving, etching, lithography and woodcut, see: Printmaking Glossary.
• For art colours, pigments and lakes, see: Colour in Art Glossary.
• For camera terminology, see: Art Photography Glossary.

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