Glossary: Architectural Terms

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A roof shape with a very steep pitch forming a gable or "A" shape.

Align The faces of objects that are in line with each other, or when their center-lines lie on the same axis.

Aluminum Siding Lightweight material that is often painted rather than left in its natural color.

Arch A curved structure used as a support over an open space, as in a doorway.

Asbestos Shingles A shingling material made up of a non-conducting, fireproof mineral used in roofing and siding.

Asphalt Shingle A roofing material made of a brown or black tar like substance mixed with sand or gravel.

Awning Window A window hinged along the top edge.

Axis (pl. axes) The centerline of openings or objects that align in a row along an imaginary line.

A platform projecting from an upper story and enclosed by a railing.

Baluster Any of the small posts that make up a railing as in a staircase; may be plain, turned, or pierced.

Balustrade A railing held up by balusters.

Baseboard Finish trim where the floor and walls meet.

Bay Window A window projecting outward from the wall of a house.

Bell-cast Eaves A roof which curves, sloping more gently toward the bottom.

Belt-course A horizontal band similar to but thicker than a string course, marking subdivisions of a building.

Beveled A stone cut at angles for a more decorative display.  

Beveled Wood Ridge A wood strip that covers the ridge pole; commonly found on wood-shaked roofs.

Board and Batten Vertical siding where wood strips (battens) hide the seams where other boards are joined.

Bond Refers to the pattern formed by mortar joints between bricks, blocks or stones.

Bricks Common building blocks made from clay burnt in a kiln.

Buttress A structure built against a wall to support or reinforce it.

The elaboration at the top of a column, pillar, pier or pilaster.

Casement Window A window that opens in the manner of a door.

Casing The trim around a window or door.

Cedar Shingle A roofing material made of durable pinewood.

Cement Blocks Mass produced building blocks made from pouring concrete into a mold.

Chevron A decorative V-shaped line.

Chimney A passage or structure extending above the roof, through which smoke escapes.

Chiseled A stone shaped by a sharp-edged hand tool.

Circulation That part of a room or building required for movement of people from place to place.

Chamfer A beveled edge.

Cladding A term used to describe the siding or materials covering the exterior of a building.

Clapboard Tapered horizontal boards used as siding, thickest on their bottom edge; each overlaps the one below.

Column A slender, upright structure, usually a supporting member in a building.

Conical A furnace cap, resembling or shaped like a cone.

Coping A flat cover of stone or brick that protects the top of a wall.

Corbelling Stone or wood projecting from a wall or chimney for support or decoration. 

Corinthian The type of Greek column characterized by simulated acanthus leaves.

Cornice The uppermost section of moldings along the top of a wall; any molded projection of similar form.

Course A continuous row of building materials, such as shingle brick or stone.

Cresting The top line or surface of a structure.

Crown molding A molding where the wall and ceiling meet; uppermost molding along furniture or cabinetry.

Cupola A small, dome-like structure, on top of the house.

Cutstone Large stones cut individually, used for a foundation or wall of a house.

The zone between a chair rail or lower part of a sill and the baseboard.

Dentil A molding motif that projects from the edge of a roof line or cornice.

Doric The simplest of the three classical orders of Greek architecture.

Dormer A window which projects from a sloping roof.

Double-hung Window A window which operates by means of two sashes that slide vertically past each other.

Downspout A metal or plastic tubing connected to the gutter for runoff.

Dutch Door A door divided horizontally in half; the halves may be opened together or individually.

The projecting lower edge of a roof.

Entablature The area above an entryway in which the transom is contained.

Eyebrow Window A small, horizontally rectangular window, often located on the uppermost story, aligned with windows below.

One of the exterior faces (walls) of a building.

Fan-light A semi-circular or semi-elliptical window with a horizontal sill.

Fascia A horizontal band or board, often used to conceal the ends of rafters; the front of an object.

Fenestration The stylistic arrangement of windows in a building.

Fieldstone A stone used in its natural shape.

Finial A knob-like ornament.

Fish scale Shingles A shingle having straight sides and rounded bottoms.

Flat Roof A pitchless roof type most favorable in dry climates.

Fleche A very small wooden spire.

Flue The hollow passage that carries smoke and heat to the outside from the fireplace or furnace.

Flying Buttress A detached pier supporting the weight of a wall.

Footing A type of stone edging on a masonry wall.

Foundation The base of a house providing stability.

Frame Of wood construction.

Frieze A band with designs or carvings along a wall or above doorways and windows.

A triangular area of an exterior wall formed by two sloping roofs.

Gambrel A roof where each side has two slopes; a steeper lower slope and a flatter upper one; a 'barn roof'.

Gazebo A small summerhouse or pavilion with a view, or a belvedere on the roof of a house.

Glass Block A window type formed by a compilation of small translucent cubes of glass.

Gutter A metal or plastic pipe that collects water off the eave.

A framed construction method where spaces between members are filled with masonry.

Hipped Roof A roof which slopes to the eaves on all sides, a roof without gables.

The type of Greek column characterized by scroll-like decorations.

The vertical members of a window or door frame.

Jenkins-head Roof A gabled roof with its apex truncated by a small hipped roof.

Joist A beam supporting a floor or ceiling.


Keystone The central, topmost stone of an arch.

A grille created by criss-crossing or decoratively interlacing strips of material.

Leaded Window A window decorated by artistic inserts of lead.

Lintel A horizontal crosspiece over an opening.

Louver Vent An opening fitted with a series of sloping slats arranged to admit light and air but shed rain.

A roof type with two slopes on each of the four sides, the lower slope being steeper than the other; capped off with a cupola, typically Victorian.

Millwork Finished woodwork, cabinetry, carving, etc.

Molding Shaped decorative outlines on projecting cornices and members in wood and stone.

Modillion A bracket supporting the upper part of a composite or Corinthian cornice.

The end post of a stair railing.

Niche A recess in a wall to place various decorations.


Obelisk An Egyptian monument with a tall, tapering shaft of stone with a pyramidal top.

Outlet A passage connecting the gutter to the downspout.

Oriel A box-like window projecting from the wall of a house.

A motif having three openings, the center one being arched and larger than the other two.

Paneling The lining of a wall with a wainscot.

Parquet Floor Wood flooring laid to form geometric patterns.

Partition The name given to an interior wall.

Pediment A low triangular gable above a cornice, topped by raking cornices and ornamented.

Pendant A bulbous, knob-like ornament which hangs downward.

Pent Roof A small roof protruding from a facade, separating stories.

Picture Window One single, large window pane that does not open from either side.

Pilaster A rectangular vertical member projecting only slightly from a wall, with a base and capital as will a column.

Pier A vertical, non-circular masonry support, more massive than a column.

Pillar Similar to but more slender than a pier, also non-circular.

Pitch The rate at which a roof or other surface slopes.

Plaster A surface covering for walls and ceilings applied wet, dries to smooth, hard protective surface.

Ply Cap A plain shaped molding, 1/4 rounded to provide a smooth edge along the baseboard.

Pocket door A door which slides open into cavities within walls, seeming to disappear when open.

Porch An open or enclosed gallery or room on the outside of a building.

Portico A roof, generally gabled, supported on columns, usually more elaborate than a porch.

Prefabricated A house whose substantial parts are made entirely or in sections away from the building site.

A stone or block reinforcing or accenting the corners of a building.

A sloping beam which supports a roof.

Raking Cornice The sloping moldings of a pediment.

Ridgeboard A decorative board standing on edge, along the ridge of a roof.

Ridgepole The horizontal beam at the ridge of a roof, to which rafters are attached.

Riser The vertical portion of a step.

Rubble Masonry construction using stones of irregular shape and size.

Rusticated Stone Stonework, sometimes roughly finished, distinguished by having the joints deeply sunk.

An individual frame around a window.

Shaft A long, slender part of a pillar that adds support to an overhanging structure.

Sheathing A covering over the structural frame of a building, onto which the cladding is attached.

Shed A roof type with one high pitched plane covering the entire structure.

Shiplap A board siding with joints cut out of the board allowing pieces to fit together with no overlapping.

Shutter A movable cover for a window used for protection from weather and intruders.

Shutter Dogs Small metal structures used to hold the shutters against the wall.

Sill A horizontal piece forming the bottom frame of a window or door opening.

Skylight A window in a roof to give light to a loft or room without other lighting.

Slate A roof material made from a hard, fine-grained rock that cleaves into thin, smooth layers.

Sliding Window A window that opens by sliding large panes from one side to the other.

Soffit The underside of a member such as a beam or arch, or of an eave, overhang, dropped ceiling, etc.

Spandrel The part of a porch facade that reflects the balustrade.

Spanish Clay Tile A roofing material made from clay soil into red brick; common to Mediterranean Revival houses.   

Spire The pyramidal structure soaring from a tower or roof a church.

Steel Siding Heavy siding material which remains very durable and weather resistant.

Story A horizontal division of a building, from the floor to the ceiling above it.

String-course Similar to a belt-course but thinner; a horizontal band or molding marking architectural subdivisions, such as stories.

Stucco A mixture of cement, sand, and water spread over metal screening or chicken wire on wooden walls covered with tar paper.

Stud A vertical wood support in a frame wall.

Surround(s) The molding which outlines an object or opening.

Swiss Cap A decorative furnace cap that exhales smoke by spinning.

Symmetrical When two halves of an object are mirror images of each other.

A horizontal piece forming the bottom frame of a door opening.

Timber Large wooden boards used in creating the structure of a wall.

Tongue and Groove A type of wooden siding with the edge of one board fitting into the groove of the next.

Transom A small window just above a door.

Tread The horizontal portion of a step, usually with a rounded edge , or 'nosing' which overhangs the riser.

Trellis A system of horizontal joists supported on posts, designed to support growing plants.

Truss A framework for supporting a roof.

V-Type Ridge Cover
A series of clay shingles used to cover the ridge pole on tile and slate roofs.

Valley A low region on a roof between gables.

Veneer A thin facing of finishing material.

Vinyl A synthetic type of siding used for its economic value and durability.

A paneling applied to the lower portion of a wall.
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Created by Ingolf Vogeler on 15 June 1996. Last edited by Scott Zillmer and Shireen Bork on 10 June 1997.