Useful Terms When Working With an Architect

Here’s a comprehensive list of the most important words to familiarize yourself with.



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.


Architectural Acoustics is the study of sounds within buildings, from which the best structures can be determined to have the most optimal acoustics throughout the building. It literally is in every aspect of a building, so for example in the walls and ceilings, but also in the furniture and materials used inside.


The philosophy behind a pleasing appearance or form

As-built Drawing

A drawing or print of a home which depicts the actual conditions of the structure as it exists. As-built drawings are necessary in remodeling projects for the architect to produce working drawings.


Arena surrounded by tiered seats. Used from the 1st century BCE throughout the Roman world for public spectacles.


Arena surrounded by tiered seats. Used from the 1st century BCE throughout the Roman world for public spectacles.


Science or art of building, the structure or style of what is built.


The lowest division of an entablature; a horizontal beam supported by columns.


Articulation is the manner or method of jointing parts such that each part is clear and distinct in relation to the others, even though joined.


Inner court of a Roman house; in a multi-story building, a toplit covered court rising through all stories.


Small top story within a roof above the uppermost ceiling.



A platform that projects from the wall of a building, and which is enclosed on its outer three sides by a balustrade, railing, or parapet.


The harmonious arrangement of the parts in a composition or design


A vertical supporting element, similar to a small column.


A railing consisting of a row of balusters supporting a rail.


Horizontal structural member, usually made of wood, bearing a load.


Lowest, subordinate storey of building often either entirely or partially below ground level


Brickwork with overlapping bricks.

BOQ (Bill of Quantities)

An itemized contract document featuring all the materials and workmanship used to help price out the project.


A reinforcing and/or stabilizing element of an architectural frame.


BIM stands for "Building Information Modeling." It’s a 3D model-based process that architects use to reduce errors and help the client envision a project. It digitally helps them plan, design and construct buildings and infrastructure.


A projection from a vertical surface that provides structural and/or visual support for overhanging elements such as cornices, balconies, and eaves.

Bubble Diagram

A bubble diagram is a diagram which represents information visually in the form of a series of bubbles. In architecture, the bubble diagram depicts the spatial relationship of areas and rooms within a building and the required circulation routes between these areas.

Building Engineer

An expert in design, construction and assessment technologies.

Building envelope

A building envelope, also referred to as a building skin, is the physical separator between the interior and exterior of the building. The envelope includes things like walls, floors, roofs, fenestrations, and doors.


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.


CAD (computer-aided design)

Architecture software used to create detailed building models.


Suspended or projected miniature roof over an altar, seat, statue, or similar.


A beam supported or fixed at one end carrying a load at the other.

Casement Window

A window frame that is hinged on one vertical side, and which swings open to either the inside or the outside of the building. Casement windows often occur in pairs.


An intense and focused design session incorporating collaboration from multiple sources and decision makers.


Describes the flow of people throughout a building.


Building cladding is the application of one material over another to add an extra skin or layer to the building. It could be any material—wood, metal, stone, vinyl—but the cladding must be waterproof because it’s primarily used to protect the building against leaking.


Classical architecture refers to Greek and Roman architecture of classical antiquity. These classical buildings influenced countless design ideas that came after and are still frequently used in public buildings around the world.


A supporting pillar consisting of a base, a cylindrical shaft, and a capital on top of the shaft. Columns may be plain or ornamental.


The act of combining parts or elements to create a whole or a pleasing and unified form


Mixture of sand, stone, and cement used as a building materia

Concrete Slab

In accordance with terminology used in construction technology, this is one of the very few construction elements used in majority of structures. The concrete slab happens to be a thick (about 10-40 cm) concrete platform horizontal in size. It is created for constructing floors or ceilings. Several designs have come up in today’s architectural world.

Construction Drawings

The construction drawings are a comprehensive set of drawings used in a building construction project: these will include the architect’s drawings and structural engineer’s drawings. Everything up to construction drawings is preliminary design, while the construction drawings represent the final design that completely describes what’s needed to build the project. (For a more detailed description, read our blog on Understanding the Architectural Design Process).


Architectural term for scrolled bracket. In furniture, a side table with marble top.

Contemporary architecture

Contemporary architecture is one of the hardest styles of architecture to define. Unlike other movements like modernism, the 21st century does not have one particular style that is consistent with most new projects. Some examples of contemporary architecture are postmodern others are futurist, and still many others are a combination of different styles.


In architecture, context refers to the area around an architectural project. It is an important idea to understand because many architects believe that their buildings should fit well into the context. “Context plans” is a site plan that shows the larger area—or context—surrounding a project. Context can also refer to the conceptual related areas instead of a physical place. For example, someone might talk about a building’s relationship to historical context.


Projection on a wall, bearing a weight.


In architecture, a core is a vertical void in a building that can serve a few different purposes. A circulation core is the vertical grouping of an elevator, stair, or pair of the two. A core can also refer to a service core that is vertically continuous throughout the building. If you look at a series of floor plans of a building, you may be able to spot the core by finding the continuous program at the same spot on each floor—for example, the size and location of the stairs should generally stay the same for many levels.


A crowning projection at a roof line, often with molding or other classical detail.


Concave molding, especially between the ceiling and cornice of a room.

Cross Bracing

Reinforcements in an X-shape that provides enhanced durability to a structure.

Curtain wall

Outer wall of castle joining towers and gate-house. Also refers to a wall that divides space without bearing weight.

Cut & Fill

Creating canals or railways requires building cut slopes for installing railways. The soil moved (fills) would create some adjacent embankments, thereby minimizing labor. This approach has become frequent in today’s construction world regardless of its size.



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 is one form of Postmodern architecture. It is defined by fragmented and distorted architectural elements. The most famous example of deconstructivism is by starchitect Frank Gehry.

Deed Restriction

A limitation, which is recorded with the county register of deeds and to which subsequent owners are bound, on development, maintenance, or use of a property


A project delivery method where the owner or agency hires a single firm or company to handle both the design and construction of the building.

Design Development

An important drawing step between the preliminary sketches and the final set of construction drawings. While still sketchy and loose, design development drawings are where we really start to pin down dimensions, details, materials, and begin integrating systems.


In almost every project, construction is delayed frequently because of conflicts between or among teams involved. The motif behind the design-build is the same old team designing the project. Design-build happens to be a delivery system of a project in which construction and design are considered as single-point-responsibility that reduces costs and delivery time.


This is a drawing that will outline, explain, or clarify different elements of the building as it relates to the whole design. It’s not necessarily drawn exactly to scale.


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.

Dormer Window

A perpendicular window located in a sloping roof; triangular walls join the window to the roof. Dormer windows are sometimes crowned with pediments, and they often light attic sleeping rooms; “dormer” derives from “dormir,” French for “to sleep.”

Double Doors

Two adjacent doors that share the same door frame, and between which there is no separating vertical member. Double doors are often referred to as “French doors”, due to their preponderance in French architecture.



Lower edge of a roof, overhanging a wall.


An elevation is a view of a building seen from one side, a flat representation of one façade. This is the most common view used to describe the external appearance of a building. Each elevation is labelled in relation to the compass direction it faces, e.g. the north elevation of a building is the side that most closely faces north. Buildings are rarely a simple rectangular shape in plan, so a typical elevation may show all the parts of the building that are seen from a particular direction.

Elevation Drawing

A drawing of a structure that shows the front or side of the buildings facades; it is a first angle projection.


Written and recorded authorization by a property owner for the use of a designated part of the property by others for a specified purpose. Examples of easements include the use of private roads and paths, or the use of a landowner’s property for utilities. For instance, the back 20 feet of your property may contain an easement that was granted to the local power company for the purpose of a running a gas line. The power company has the right to enter and use that portion of your property no matter what improvements may exist.



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.


Fabrication refers to the way things are put together in architecture. Contemporary methods of fabrication include 3D printing and the use of robotics, but the term refers to any way of building of a physical object.


It’s a blanket terms for the design, construction, and presence of any openings in a building. Think windows, doors, vents, wall panels, skylights, curtain walls or louvers.

Floor Plan

A floor plan is one of the most critical forms of architectural drawing. It is the representation of a work from above that cuts through walls to show the clearest representation of all spaces. Many floor plans are labeled to best show the functions of each space. Other common details include the swinging directions of doors, entry, vertical circulation, wall thicknesses that designate material, window cut outs, and furniture.

Free-flowing Floor Plan

A floor plan in which there are no (or few) hallways, and rooms open directly onto one another, often through wide doorways. Sliding doors are popular in such a plan, as are central living rooms. The free-flowing floor plans of the Shingle and Prairie Styles are precursors to the modern floor plans of the 1930s onward, which emphasize a great deal of open space.


Covered with leaf ornamentation.


The shape and structure of a thing that distinguishes it from its material


You can consider formwork to be the best friend of Falsework! It is that construction of temporary structure which gets poured with concrete for settling and setting in its desired form.



This is how different materials intersect, which ultimately influences how the building will age or if any maintenance issues will come up. If the juncture between the building siding and a window isn’t correct, it’ll cause leaking.


The act of placing to things side by side oftentimes for the purpose of comparison or contrast



An upper story in a church above the aisle

Gable Roof

A roof with two slopes – front and rear– joining at a single ridge line parallel to the entrance façade. When the ridge line of a gable-roofed house is perpendicular to the street, the roof is said to be a “gable-end roof.”


A freestanding pavilion structure often found in parks, gardens and public areas.

General Contractor

The main contractor for the building construction. Their main responsibility is the oversight of the project as they manage subcontractors, handle scheduling and monitor the budget.

Green Building

Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.



An all-inclusive design perspective. All parts contribute to a unified whole.

HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning)

Abbreviation used to signify the heating, ventilation and cooling structures and systems of the building.



Industrial is a term often used to define contemporary projects with lots of steel, sleek polished surfaces, clean angular lines, and industrial style materials.


Isometrics are a form of architectural drawing that helps represent 3D objects in 2D drawings. It allows for an easily understandable view of a simple perspective.



A wooden grid of boards overlaid atop an exterior surface. See stick-work.

Lean Construction

These are new-developed delivery system where studies are conducted for minimizing waste of time, materials, as well as effort, thereby resulting in more effective and efficient projects.


Horizontal beam above a door or window.


A window blind or shutter with horizontal slats angled to let in light and air, but keep out the rain, direct sunshine and noise. Usually the angle of the slats is adjustable.

Lump Sum Contracts

A contract where a single price is quoted for the entire construction project.



Type of limestone used since Antiquity for sculpture and building. It occurs in various colours, from pure white to black, often veined.


The general shape, or shapes of a building, as well as its form and size. You could compare it to the overall composition of a painting, but in this case it’s three dimensional.


Being of stone, brick, or concrete.


Intermediate level between two floors.


Niche in the Qibla wall of a mosque, indicating the direction of Mecca.


The structural units that divide adjacent windows.


A size taken as the unit of measure for establishing the proportions of an architectural structure.


Architecture based on a modular concept uses a set system of repeated units aggregated to create a finished project. For example, a tower may use a modular system where each unit in the system is a set of units. These units can be stacked in interesting ways.

Modern architecture

Modern architecture does not just mean the architecture of today. It refers to a specific architectural movement in which architects attempted to find a universal language of design that would suit everyone. There were a few different specific kinds of modernism, but all followed the basic idea of using ideas of function to define architecture.


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.


Design formed from small pieces of stone, glass, marble, etc.


In architecture, a decorative recessed or relieved element.


Dividing bars between panes of glass.



A recess in a wall, usually semicircular, usually used to hold a statue.


Open plan

Building plan that is unencumbered by vertical support structures.



A smooth surface, usually rectangular (or sometimes circular) in shape and framed by a molding, and often featuring decorative, sculptural carving.


A low wall, located at the top of any sudden drop, such as at the top of the facade of a building.


It’s the basic scheme or concept for an architectural design that’s represented in a diagram.


One of the most iconic buildings of the classical world, erected in Athens around 440 B.C.E. The Parthenon temple was built in honor of the Greek goddess Athena; it was ringed with 46 columns, and crowned by two pediments containing a wealth of sculptural detail. Its stonework was originally brightly colored, but its paint has long since worn away. A large gilt statue of Athena once stood inside the temple.


Similar to a terrace, a patio is an outdoor extension of a building, situated above the ground level, and open to the sky. Colloquially, a patio is a more informal space than a terrace.


A small but prominent portion of a building that juts out from a main building, either above its roof line, or to the side, and which is identified by a unique (usually diminutive) height and individual roof type. A pavilion may also stand alone, separate from a larger building, or may be connected to a main building by a terrace or path.


A decorative triangular piece situated over a portico, door, window, fireplace, etc. The space inside the triangular piece is called the “tympanum,” and is often decorated.


A support or base for a column, statue, vase, or obelisk

Performance Gap

A performance gap is an instance where the expected work progress does not match to the results that are given.


A garden structure built up over a path or narrow terrace, lined with evenly spaced columns or posts that support a wooden-framed roof without sheathing. Often, vines are trained around the wooden framework of a pergola, and the pergola may lead from one building to another.

Permit Set

Basic construction drawings consisting of the necessary floor plans, four elevations, and a section or two which are required by the county or city where the construction is slated are considered a permit set. While a permit set is good enough to get a home’s construction started, it won’t have all of the information that’s needed to actually complete the project. Finishes, built-ins, cabinetry, special details, appliances etc. are all things that will have to be decided on but won’t show up in the permit set.


A shallow, non-structural rectangular column, attached to, and projecting only slightly from, a wall surface.


A structural support, similar to a column, but larger and more massive, and often without ornamentation. Pillars can be round or square in section, and are most often made of brick, stone, cement, or other masonry, although substantial wooden timbers can be formed into pillars.


Design of an architectural complex, building, or part of a building in a horizontal projection, as though seen from above.


The rectangular stone slab or block that forms the lowest member on which a column or statue stands.


"Program" is a word architects throw around a lot as it refers to your big-picture project. When an architect asks, "What’s your program?" they want to know your wish list—a description of what you want out of a project and what you’re willing to pay for.

Project Manager

The project manager handles the entire management of the construction project. They oversee project deliverables, schedules and budgets.


Continuous base of a building or room


Covered entrance, usually at the main door of a building.


An entrance porch with columns or pilasters and a roof, and often crowned by a triangular pediment.

Postmodern architecture

Postmodern architecture is a design style that came about in the '60s as a response to modernism. The style was playful and quirky because it believed that modernists were too boring and focused on function. It was characterized by fun colors and interesting geometries.

Permit Set

Basic construction drawings consisting of the necessary floor plans, four elevations, and a section or two which are required by the county or city where the construction is slated are considered a permit set. While a permit set is good enough to get a home’s construction started, it won’t have all of the information that’s needed to actually complete the project. Finishes, built-ins, cabinetry, special details, appliances etc. are all things that will have to be decided on but won’t show up in the permit set.


This is a word architects like to throw around. It means a wish list — basically a written (or scribbled, drawn, recorded or other) description of what you want, what you need, and what you’re willing to pay for. The program is a vital part of the process as it defines scope, features, purpose, and functionality of your home. The “vision” of the project is established in the program.

Precast Concrete

Precast Concrete is a commonly used form of concrete and includes elements that create off-site to get lifted or transferred to site. Design can range from a block to a panel and make solid elements.

Purchase Orders (PO)

In construction, a purchase order is a document from the buyer that indicates their intent to purchase services and products from the seller, such as a supplier.


Quantity Take-off

Before initiating any construction phase, research is held for acquiring detailed measurements of the material as well as labor force required for the completion of the project. This particular process is safely called quantity take-off. With it, the project developers get allowance to have insight knowledge of what they can expect during any construction phase.



The inclined, sloping framing members of a roof, and to which the roof covering is affixed.

Red Line

Redlining refers to marking up the drawings with changes. Typically, redlining is used when two or more people are working on a drawing together; each individual can redline the drawing with changes. The redlined changes will then appear in a special color (or as bold) so that others can see the changes that have been made.


A form consisting of moving in a straight line or lines

Reinforced Concrete

Concrete reinforced with metal wire to give increased strength.

RFI (Request for Information)

This preliminary document contains general information about the capabilities provided by potential vendors or suppliers.

RFP (Request for Proposal)

A document request to vendors to obtain an overview of their costs and offerings for specific services.

RFQ (Request for Quote)

A document featuring predetermined specifications for the project as it requests the vendor’s costs to fulfill these specifications.

Roof Ridge

The horizontal intersection of two roof slopes at the top of a roof.


The part of a building that rises above the building’s eaves. Rooflines can be highly decorative, with balustrades, pediments, statuary, dormer windows, cross gables, etc.


Round building or internal room surmounted by a dome.



An architect’s scale is a specialized ruler designed to facilitate the drafting and measuring of architectural drawings, such as floor plans and orthographic projections. Because the scale of such drawings are often smaller than life-size, an architect’s scale features multiple units of length and proportional length increments.

Schematic Design

An initial design scheme that seeks to define the general scope and conceptual design of the project including scale and relationships between building components. At the end of the schematic design phase the architect will present some loose, possibly freehand rough sketches to the owner for approval.

Scope of Work (SOW)

A detail in the agreement outlining the work that will be performed for the project.


A section represents a vertical plane cut through the building, in the same way as a floor plan is a horizontal section viewed from the top. In the section view, everything cut by the section plane is shown as a bold line, often with a solid fill to show objects that are cut through, and anything seen beyond generally shown in a thinner line. Sections are used to describe the relationship between different levels of a building.

Section Drawing

A section represents a vertical plane cut through the building, in the same way as a floor plan is a horizontal section viewed from the top. In the section view, everything cut by the section plane is shown as a bold line, often with a solid fill to show objects that are cut through, and anything seen beyond generally shown in a thinner line. Sections are used to describe the relationship between different levels of a building.

Set Back

The minimum distance required by code or ordinance between a building and a property line or other reference.

Shop Drawings:

A contractor’s drawings that details the fabrication of components.

Site Plan

A site plan is a specific type of scaled plan which accurately and completely shows the site boundaries, dimensions and locations of all buildings and structures, uses, and principal site development features, proposed for a specific lot. A site plan shows means of access to the site, and nearby structures if they are relevant to the design.


Flat, rectangular architectural element, usually formed of a single piece, as in a concrete slab used to make floors and projecting or cantilevered parts.


Architectural member that projects at the foot of a wall or pier or beneath the base of a column or structure.

Sculptural Forms

Architectural elements that have the appearance of having been sculpted.

Spatial organization

Architects, unsurprisingly, think about space a lot, and there’s plenty of language to go along with it. Spatial organization refers to organizing a series of spaces into one recognizable whole. Then there’s spacial unity, where architects look for a series of spaces to read as a whole. Spatial thinking refers to your perception of relationships between empty space and objects. And spatial definition means using the elements of design to make spaces recognizable and separate from one another.


A detailed description of requirements, composition and materials for a proposed building. Specifications are often a part of the Contract Documents contained in the Project Manual consisting of written descriptions of a technical nature of materials, equipment construction systems, standards and workmanship.

Stained Glass

Colored glass. Stained glass windows are fitted with pieces of colored glass, which often depict a picture or scene.


A plaster used as a coating for walls and ceilings, and often used for decoration; it is common to many parts of the world, particularly to the Mediterranean region and to the regions of the United States once colonized by Spain


A property survey report is a legal document that clearly indicates the location of all improvements relative to a property’s boundaries. A real property survey report generally contains an illustration of the physical features of the property such as roadways, rivers, creeks, structures, easements and encroachments. Some surveys also note topographical information, like elevation and soil density.


Sustainability is a term that’s becoming more and more prevalent in architecture. A green or sustainable building refers to the structure, and the processes related to the structure, that’s environmentally responsible and energy efficient. Environmental factors are taken into account from the initial designs to the construction, as well as the operation and maintenance of a building, to any renovation or demolition.


Correct or pleasing proportion of parts of a thing



An outdoor extension of a building, situated above the ground level, and open to the sky. See patio.


A contractor’s or supplier’s submission response about the supplies and services that they can offer to the project when receiving a bid invitation.


Typology is the way to classify things according to similar characteristics. In architecture, typology is a common term that helps characterize different types of buildings by styles, programs, and other similarities.


A rigid framework, as of wooden beams or metal bars, which supports a structure, such as a roof.



An open, roofed porch, usually enclosed on the outside by a railing or balustrade, and often wrapping around two or more (or all of the) sides of a building.


Architectural roof or ceiling based on the principle of the arch

Ventilation shaft

A small, vertical space within a tall building which permits ventilation of the building.


A veneer is a thin material applied to another material. A veneer can be a thin sheet of stone, wood, or many other options. They are a cheap and simple way to create a new desired effect.

Vernacular Architecture

Architecture created from mostly local materials, by and for the use of local people. Vernacular architecture responds to local methods of building construction, local climates, and local living needs and traditions. As local environments evolve over time, so too does vernacular architecture. Vernacular architecture typically exhibits the traditional ethos of its builders. See Traditional Ethos.


Architectural visualization, or arch viz as it is sometimes called, is the process of creating 2D images of a 3D model. It is used as a presentation tool during the design and construction of an architectural work.

Volume Spaces

Architecture is essentially the enclosure of space. Volume space is created when ceilings are raised from the old standard of 8’ or 9’ (9’ has become new standard). The incorporation of volume space can add interest and excitement.


Wooden Clapboards

Long slats of wood that are nailed to an exterior surface in a horizontal fashion, overlapping one another from top to bottom. Clapboards are a traditional weather-proofing device.

Wooden Shingles

Small, rectangular-shaped slats of wood that are nailed to an exterior surface, overlapping one another from top to bottom. Shingling is a traditional weather-proofing method for building.



Zones are areas designated for separate uses in a home. Examples are ‘the children’s wing’ or the ‘play’ area. Zones can be created with walls, level changes, halls, distance and various design elements.

Zero Net Energy

A zero-energy building, also known as a zero net energy (ZNE) building, net-zero energy building (NZEB), or net zero building, is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used by the building on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. These buildings consequently do not increase the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They do at times consume non-renewable energy and produce greenhouse gases, but at other times reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas production elsewhere by the same amount.

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