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.

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


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


A projecting beam or other rigid structural member supported at only one fixed end (Ching, 2.15)


An exposed trim piece most commonly around a door or window


A beveled or rounded edge on a right angled corner

Clerestory window

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


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 are cut in regular intervals to allow and control cracking in the material.


Corbels are solid wood or stone elements that can act as structural load bearing brackets or as architectural decoration


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 (Ching,1.32)


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

Demising Wall

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


A protrusion from a sloped roof that can create usable space in the roof of a building, a dormer window creates a source of light and ventilation


The lower overhanging portion of the roof

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


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


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

Flashing (weatherproofing)

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


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

Furring (wood, metal)

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

Gable roofs slope downward in two parts from a central ridge, as to form a gable at each end (Ching, 6.16)


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

Grade Beam

A part of a building’s foundation system made up on reinforced concrete that transfers loads into caissons or pile caps


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

Hip roofs have sloping ends and sides meeting at an inclined projecting angle. (Ching, 6.17)

House Wrap

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


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.


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


The upright post that supports the handrail of a staircase


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


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


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


Sloped structural members that extend from the ridge or hip to the wall plate, and provide the spanning capability of the roof sheathing

Ridge Beam

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


The vertical members that make up stairs


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

Shed Roof/ Mono-pitched roof

Any roof with a single sloped surface


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


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


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.


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


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


The horizontal members of a stair


A small tower projecting vertically from a building


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.


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


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.

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