Key Architectural Terms

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Glossary of Key Architectural Terms

Architecture and construction has a unique language of its own. Please use this list of terms common to the design and construction industry to better understand and communicate with your architect.

Architectural Symmetry

A characteristic by which the two sides of a facade or architectural floor plan of a building present mirror images of one another.

Baluster/ Spindle

Vertical supports for a railing or balustrade.

Batten / Board & Batt

A narrow strip of wood or metal used to strengthen or fasten, such as a wall panel or board.

Bay Window

A bay window is a protruding window construction, with a flat front and angled sides.

Brick Ledge

The part of the foundation wall where brick (veneer) will rest.

Building Envelope

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

Bull Nose

A rounded edge on a surface or object. Typically seen in drywall corners, and countertop surface edges.

Caisson

A foundation type constructed by boring deep circular holes in the ground and filling with concrete.

Cantilever

A projecting beam or other rigid structural member supported at only one fixed end.

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.

Casing

An exposed trim piece most commonly around a door or window.

Chamfer

A beveled or rounded edge on a right angled corner.

Cladding

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

Clean Out

An opening providing access to a drain line, closed with a threaded plug.

Clerestory Window

A window or series of windows that are set above eye level to allow for light and ventilation.

Coffered Ceiling

The interior portion of a ceiling in a room that is higher than the ceiling around the perimeter of the room. It's purpose is decorative rather than structural.

Column

An upright pillar which is usually cylindrical in shape and made from a solid material.

Control Joint

A joint in a concrete slab, or other finished wall materials, which is cut in regular intervals to allow and control cracking in the material.

Corbel

A solid wood or stone element that can act as a structural load bearing bracket or as architectural decoration

Cornice

A molded projection that crowns a wall or divides it horizontally.

Counterfort Wall

A cross wall that stiffens the vertical slab and adds weight to the base.

Cricket

A ridge on a roof designed to divert water off of the roof.

Curtain Wall

The curtain wall is typically defined as a thin, aluminum-framed wall that contains in-fills. The framing is attached to the building structure, so it doesn’t carry the floor or roof loads of the building.

Demising Wall

A wall that separates one unit from another, as in a townhome.

Dormer

A protrusion from a sloped roof that can create usable space in the roof of a building.

Eave

The lower overhanging portion of the roof.

Excavation

The act of pulling dirt out of an area to put in a basement or other foundation type of a house or other structure.

Expansion Joint

An assembly that is designed to absorb the expansion/contraction of building materials, as well as allow movement due to settlement or earthquakes.

Façade

The face of a building, most commonly referring to the face that fronts the main street.

Fascia

A wooden board or other flat piece of material that covers the ends of rafters.

Fenestration

The arrangement and design of openings in a wall, including windows and doors.

Firewall

A wall or partition designed to inhibit or prevent the spread of fire.

Flashing (Weatherproofing)

An impervious material that is installed to prevent water from entering into a structure.

Flue

The duct through which smoke and other gases (from a gas heater for example) pass to exit the building.

Footings

Typically made of concrete with rebar reinforcement that has been poured into an excavated trench. The purpose of the footings is to support the foundation and prevent settling. Footings are especially important in areas with troublesome soil (expansive or other).

Furred Out Wall

Any wall that is used to extend an existing wall for various reasons. Some examples would be to allow the installation of more insulation in the wall or at an exterior wall where you have plumbing, it allows you to not have to put the plumbing lines in the exterior wall where they could freeze.

Furring

Thin strips of wood or another material applied to a stud or joist in order to form a level surface or create an air space.

Gable Roof

A roof sloping downward in two parts from a central ridge, as to form a gable at each end.

Gambrel Roof

A ridged roof with two slopes at each side, the lower slopes being steeper than the upper slopes.

Girder

The main horizontal structural support beam in a building system, different profiles are used to support smaller beams.

Grade

The level at which the dirt is around a house or any structure.

Grade Beam

A part of a building’s foundation system made up of reinforced concrete that transfers loads into caissons or  similar.

Header

A structural member in a wall that creates support for an opening for a window or door (#4 in above image). In brickwork, a header is a brick that is laid with the short side exposed.

Hip Roof

A roof with sloping ends and sides meeting at an inclined projecting angle.

House Wrap

A synthetic material applied to the exterior sheathing of a building to produce a weather-resistant barrier. Tyvek is a common brand.

King Stud

A stud to the left or right of a window or door that is continuous from the bottom plate to the top plate.

Knee Wall

A short wall, typical under three feet in height. It may or may not support anything. An example of where it would provide support is at an island where the cabinets butt up against it and it supports the countertop.

Lintel

A horizontal support of timber, stone, concrete, or steel across the top of a door or window.

Load Bearing Wall

A wall that supports any vertical load in addition to it's own weight, usually in reference to supporting the floor above it or the roof.

Loft

A room or space directly under the roof of a house or other building, which may be used for accommodations or storage.

Louver

A series of flat slats that make up a shutter or screen that are installed at an angle to allow or disallow light and air to pass through.

Massing

The general three dimensional shape, as well as form and size of a building.

Mechanical Chase

The framed out portions on a floor plan, usually about 12", to allow ductwork from the furnace to get to the adjoining floors in order to heat or cool the space.

Mullion/Muntin

Mullion: A vertical framing member that divides a series of windows or doorways.

Muntin: Vertical and horizontal elements (usually made up of wood or metal) that separate and hold window/door panes within a sash.

Newel

The upright post that supports the handrail of a staircase.

Oriented Strand Board (OSB)

Also known as flakeboard, sterling board and aspenite, is a type of engineered wood similar to particle board, formed by adding adhesives and then compressing layers of wood strands (flakes) in specific orientations.

Outrigger

A projecting beam that supports a roof or floor that extends past a wall and is built perpendicular to the joists

Parapet

An exterior low wall along the edge of a roof or balcony.

Partition

An interior wall that separates spaces, only supports its own weight, and is not used to support any other loads.

Rafter

A sloped structural members that extend from the ridge or hip to the wall plate, and provides the spanning capability of the roof sheathing.

Raked Wall

A sloped or angled wall next to a stair that is used in residential design to open up a stair so that it doesn't feel so closed off.

Ridge Beam

A are structural elements (such as a 2x6) that support rafters and transfer loads from the roof to walls.

Riser

The vertical members that make up stairs.

Roof Pitch

The angle at which the roof slopes.

Roof Vents

A vent installed on the roof to allow air to escape an attic space and to cool the attic in the summer also allowing moisture in the attic to evaporate.

Rowlock

A brick laid horizontally with the short end exposed.

Shear Wall

A structural wall (wood, concrete, or masonry) that resists the effects of lateral loads, such as wind or seismic, and transfers loads to the ground foundation.

Sheathing

Plywood or OSB that covers the framing of a house or structure. It is usually used on wood frame construction at the exterior walls and used to cover the roof trusses but can be used in various parts of a house as well.

Shed Roof/ Mono-Pitched Roof

Any roof with a single sloped surface.

Sill Plate

The bottom horizontal member of a wall or building to which vertical members are attached. Other names are ground plate, ground sill, groundsel, and midnight sill.

Slab on Grade Foundation

Aconcrete slab, in conjunction with footings, that serves as the foundation for a home or building with no space between the floor and earth.

Sleeper

A strip of wood anchored to the subflooring, allowing a place for the finish floor material to attach.

Soffit

The underside of a roof overhang that allows for venting, or a dropped soffit interior to a building that serves as a chase for mechanical or electrical chases or a ceiling treatment.

Soffit Vents

A screened or perforated soffit that allows air to flow into the attic or the space below the roof sheathing. This helps keep the attic cool in the summer and allows moisture in the attic to evaporate.

Soldier

A brick laid vertically with the long narrow side exposed.

Stick Built

Refers to the process of building a structure piece-by-piece or stud-by-stud (instead of pre-manufactured or pre-fabricated trusses), on the construction site.

Stretcher

In brickwork, a brick laid horizontally with the long narrow face exposed.

Stringer

A structural element that supports the risers and treads of a stair.

Stucco Band

On the elevation of a house or structure where the stucco protrudes about 2" or more from the face of the building. The stucco band is usually made by attaching foam board to the face of the building and covering it with stucco.

Stud

A wall stud is a vertical framing member in a building's wall of smaller cross section than a post. They are a fundamental element in frame building.

Sump Pump

A pump, usually installed in your basement and where the low point of the grade happens to be, used to remove water that has accumulated in a water-collecting sump basin. The water is then pumped out to the outside to prevent the water from collecting underneath your house.

Thread

The horizontal members of a stair.

Transom Light

A narrow window, sometimes hinged at the top, positioned over a doorway or larger window.

Trimmer

A stud to the left or right of a window or door that runs from the bottom plate to the underside of a lintel or header.

Truss

A truss is the supporting structure or framework that’s composed of beams, girders or rod, usually made of steel of wood. Its shape usually looks like the triangle, as it’s the frame that supports the building’s roof.

Turret

A small tower projecting vertically from a building

Underlayment

A smooth, hard material such as hardboard or plywood placed on top of a rough material, in order for a smooth finish floor tile to be laid. A water resistant layer of thin material placed under roofing materials.

Underpinning

A process used to rebuild or strengthen existing foundations that uses temporary supports such as hydraulic jacks

Volume Ceiling

Any ceiling type, either sloped or raised, that creates volume by being higher than surrounding ceilings.

Wainscot

A change in material where the lower part of the wall is of a different material than the top, can be applied to the interior or exterior.

Walk-Out Basement

A walkout basement is most frequently found in houses situated on a slope, since part of the basement level is above ground – however a walkabout basement is most simply defined as a basement with full windows and a door to the outside.

Wall Plate

A piece of lumber or other material laid horizontally in or on a wall as a support for a girder, rafter, or joist.

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