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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Architectural Terminology


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Apse: A shallow wing or bay which is semi-circular in plan and usually roofed with a half-dome. In a church, the sanctuary is often located in an apse.

Antefix: an ornament derived from the leaf-shaped tiles which, in the architecture of ancient Greece, were placed upright at the edge of a roof to hide the ends of the roofing tiles.

Arcade: a series of columns joined by arches. 

Architrave: The lowest part of an entablature.

Ashlar: Regular, uniformly shaped rectangular blocks of building stone.

Balcony: a platform with a railing projecting from a wall at the second storey or higher.

Balustrade: a series of short posts or balusters connected by a rail and used as a protective barrier or decoration.

Bargeboard: a wide, decoratively carved board, usually found under the deaves in the gable ends.

Basilica: an oblong building with an apse at one end and two parallel rows of columns dividing the main hall into a wide central space, or nave, with two narrow spaces, or aisles, on each side.

Battlement: a notched parapet.

Bay: a regularly repeated spatial element defined by vertical supports.

Bay Window: an angular or curved projection of an exterior wall which contains windows.

Belvedere: a rooftop pavilion from which a vista can be enjoyed.

Bellcast: eaves which flare outwards in a bell shape.

Belt Course: A horizontal embellishment of brick or wood across or around a building.

Beveled siding: horizontal wood siding in which each board overlaps the one below it.

Blind Arch: An arch which, while visible as such, has been blocked up.

Boomtown front: a front on a building which disguises its actual roof shape and increases the building’s apparent size. Also known as a false front.

Bow Window: A bay window, semicircular in plan.

Bulkheads: The low wall in a storefront which forms the base for display windows.

Bungalow: a one-storey house, or a multi-storey house with a roof sloping towards the front and back, with a large overhang creating a verandah at the front.

Buttress: an exterior mass of masonry set at an angle to or bonded into a wall which it strengthens or supports; buttresses often absorb lateral thrusts from roof vaults.

Capital: the topmost feature, usually decorated, of a column or pilaster.

Cast stone: cement cast to resemble stone.

Chaplet: A small chapel or prayer station,

Chinking: in log construction, the mud plaster or other material used to close in the gaps between logs.

Clapboard: The overlapping and wedge-shaped horizontal boards which cover a wood-frame wall.

Clinker brick: an overfired brick with textured surfaces.

Column: an upright cylindrical post, used for support or decoration.

Composite column: a style of column dating from the classical Roman period which is a composite of early Greek styles.

Console: a decorative bracket in the form of a vertical scroll, projecting from a wall to support a cornice, a door or window head, a piece of sculpture, etc.

Corbelling: a projection or series of stepped projections in masonry or brick built out from a wall to support the eaves of a roof or some other feature.

Corinthian order: the most slender and ornate of the three Greek orders, characterized by a bell-shaped capital with volutes and two rows of acanthus leaves, and with an elaborate cornice.

Cornbelt Cube: A house with generally cubic proportions, usually with a pyramidal roof and classically ­inspired detailing

Cornice: a projecting decorative band at the top of a building. Can be of wood, stone, plaster or pressed metal.

Coursed: (Masonry) Laid in horizontal rows or courses.

Crenellation: a notched parapet.

Cresting: ornamental wood or metal finish along the ridge of a roof.

Cross gable roof: a roof in which two gable roof forms intersect at a right angle, their ridge-lines forming a cross shape.

Cruciform Plan: A cross-shaped building; in Ukrainian churches, a five-part design.

Cupola: a small dome.

Dentils: a series of tooth-like blocks found below a cornice.

Dome: A hemispherical roof; in Ukrainian churches, the shape is varied to the characteris­tic Baroque "onion" shape. Symbolizes the heavens.

Doric Column: A classical style of column which has a smooth rounded shape with simple ornamentation at the top and bottom.

Dormer: a roofed window projecting from a sloping roof.

Double hung window: a window which has two separate, vertically sliding sashes, one or more of which may be counterbalanced with weights concealed in the window frame.

Dovetail Construction: A method of construction in which logs are fitted together with dovetail joints at the corners.

Drop siding: horizontal wood siding in which the boards have tongue and groove joints, producing a flat wall surface with grooves.  

Elevation: the vertical part of an architectural design; the view of a building from the side.

Entablature: a combination of decorative elements, of which the cornice is one, which form a wide band at the top of a wall or above a row of columns or pilasters.

Escutcheon: a shield-shaped ornament.

Façade: the front or main face of a building.

Fanlight: a semicircular window over the opening of a door, with radiating bars in the form of an open fan. Also called a sunburst light.

Finial: an ornament which is situated at the top of a roof gable, spire, etc.

Fretwork: Wooden decoration made by cutting into boards with a band or fret saw.

Frieze: the decorated band along the upper part of a wall, immediately below the cornice.


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Gable: the triangular upper portion of a wall formed by the sloped of a pitched roof; or the triangular hood over a window or door.

Gable roof: a roof with two sloping surfaces and an inverted v-shaped cross-section.

Gambrel roof: a roof which has two slopes, or pitches, on gentle and one steep, on each side of the ridge-line.

Giant order: columns or pillars two or more storeys in height.

Gothic window: window which is pointed at the top. 

Half-timbering: a medieval method of construction. An exposed timber-frame wall filled in with rubble or brickwork, or one which appears to be constructed in this way by applying surface decoration.

Hipped roof: a roof which slopes in four directions. Often resembles a pyramid in shape.

Hood: a small roof projecting from a wall above a window or door. 

Iconostasis: Icon wall separating nave from sanctuary in many Eastern-rite churches; symbolizes the division between God and man (Ukrainian: ikonostas).

Ionic order: one of the three orders of Greek architecture; characterized by ornamental scrolls on the capitals.

Jerkinhead roof: a roof in which the end of a gable roof is cut off by a secondary slope forming a hip.

Keystone: the wedge-shaped stone at the top of an arch, sometimes enlarged for decorative purposes.

Lattice window: a window wit small diamond-shaped pieces of glass held in glazing bars set diagonally.

Lintel: a horizontal beam or stone above an opening such as a door or window.  

Lunette: a crescent-shaped or semicircular area on a wall of vaulted ceiling, framed by an arch or vault.


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Mansard roof: a double-sloped roof. The upper slope has a low pitch, while the lower is steeply pitched.

Marquee: a roof-like structure sheltering a doorway; often incorporating signage, in the case of a theatre.

Millwork: pre-made wood products such as window and door frames, mouldings, stairs and cabinets. 

Modillion: a small ornamental bracket found below a cornice.

Monocline Roof: A roof which slopes in one direction only. Also known as a shed roof.

Mullions: Vertical wooden strips separating panes of glass in a window.

Narthex: The antechamber to the nave where those not permitted to take part in the service may stand. In Ukrainian churches, it is usually located on the west end and is called a prytvor or babynets.

Nave: The middle aisle of a church from the entrance to the crossing or chancel.

Nine-part Plan: The most complex Ukrainian church plan. An extension of the cruciform plan in which four additional areas – one in each angle of the cross – are included in the design.

Oculus: a round window.

Oriel window: a window projecting from an upper storey.

Ornamental shingling: fancy scalloped, diamond or other shapes of shingles, usually used on exterior walls, but sometimes seen on roofs.

Palisade: a tall fence used as a fortification, made of poles sharpened on top and driven into the ground.  

Palladian window: a three-part window with a round-arched central opening and smaller side openings with flat lintels.

Parapet: a low wall at the edge of a roof.

Pediment: the triangular end of a gable roof, or a triangular element resembling it.

Pendant: An architectural ornament hanging or pendant from the eaves or other projecting part of a building.

Pent Eave: A narrow roof cantilevered out from a smooth wall surface.

Pilaster: a pier or pillar projecting slightly from a wall.

Pillar: a square column.

Plinth: a platform or podium.

Pointed arch: An arch that is pointed at the top, often characteristic of Gothic architecture

Porch: an enclosed or semi-enclosed roofed structure sheltering an entrance.

Porte-cochère: a large doorway through which a vehicle or coach could pass.

Porthole dormer: a round window resembling a porthole projecting from a roof and having its own roof.

Portico: a roof supported by columns, usually attached to a building like a porch.

Post and beam: construction method involving vertical posts and horizontal beams (as opposed to arches or vaults).

Quarry glass: small, square pieces of glass set in a window by lead or wooden supports or canes.

Quoins: enlarged stones at the corners of a building for decoration or reinforcement.

Rose window: a circular window, generally large, with radial tracery and often with stained glass.

Roundel: a small flat appliqué moulding, circular in shape, applied to a surface as decoration.

Rusticated: masonry having strongly emphasized recessed joints and smooth or roughly cut block faces.


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Sacristy: A room or rooms in a church in which ecclesiastical vestments and other related materials are kept; almost always attached to one or both sides of the sanctuary.

Sanctuary: the part of a church in which the altar is located.

Segmental arch: an arch which uses a smaller segment of a circle than half a circle.

Shed Roof: A roof having only one slope.

Sidelight: A framed area of fixed glass next to a door or window opening.

Sill: the horizontal member at the bottom of a window or door.

Spandrel: in multi-storey buildings, the panel between the top of a window and the bottom of the window above it.

Spire: a slender, pointed feature located at the top of a tower.

Stained glass: coloured glass used decoratively in a window.

Stickwork: The carved or lathed wooden decorative work found underneath verandah eaves or in the pinnacle of a gable end.

String course: a horizontal band of stone or brick which encircles a building.

Stucco: an exterior finish composed of cement, lime and sand, mixed with water, applied in a semi-liquid form and drying to form an unbroken surface.

Swag: a semicircular ornament resembling draped fabric or a garland of flowers. 

Swept dormer: a dormer which appears as a swelling in a roof.

Terra Cotta: Moulded and fired clay, often used for decorative elements or to clad building exterior.

Through-the-eaves dormer: a dormer at the edge of a roof which rises vertically from the wall of a building and breaks through the line of an eave.

Tracery: a pattern of interlacing ribs in the upper part of a Gothic window.

Transept: In a cross-shaped church, the transverse portion of the church forming the small arms of the cross.

Transom glazing: the upper part of a window divided from the lower by a transom, or horizontal bar of wood or stone.

Trinity Window: a set of three windows which form a unit, representing the union of the three divine persons.

Tripartite Plan: A plan made up of three parts or units corresponding to the narthex, nave, and sanctuary. Abbreviated tripartite: same as the tripartite plan but without the narthex.

Truncated hipped roof: a hipped roof, the top of which is flat.

Tudor Arch: A shallow or flattened pointed Gothic arch.

Turret: a small tower.

Tyndall stone: a type of limestone from Tyndall, Manitoba.

Verandah: an exterior covered porch or balcony of relatively large dimensions intended for summer relaxation.

Verge board: a board, often decorated, on the projecting ends of a gable roof.

Vitrolite: opaque, highly reflective glass panels used as exterior cladding.

Volute: a spiral or scroll-shaped decoration.

Voussoirs: the wedge-shaped stones or brick composing an arch.

Widow’s walk: a railed platform surmounting a roof, usually decorative, but originally functional as a viewing platform.

Wood frame: construction methods using dimensioned lumber nailed together to form a supporting framework and covered with a variety of surfacing materials.  


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