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Arranged in alphabetical order, discover a wide range of architectural vocabulary and terms commonly used in work with historic buildings. 


Acanthus A type of plant with deeply divide leaves

Aisle The part of a building divided off by an arcade

Altar A block or stand where offerings are made to a deity

Ambulatory An aisle enclosing a church choir

Antefix One of the vertical blocks used along the edge of a roof in the Classical period

Anthemion Stylized honeysuckle leaf

Antiquity The ancient Greek and Roman periods

Apex The pointed top of a gable or pediment

Applied Made separately and added later

Apse The curved east end of a church

Arabesques Scrolling foliage designs

Arcade A row of arches

Arch A curved opening in a wall

Architrave The lowest component of a Classical entablature; also the frame around an opening

Ashlar Stone masonry of regular blocks

Astragal A half round moulding

Atlas A support in the form of a male figure

Atrium An open-roofed entrance hall or central court


Balcony A projecting gallery or walkway

Baluster A vertical shaft supporting a rail

Balustrade A rail supported by balusters

Bargeboard A decorative board covering the angled sides of a roof gable

Baroque The extravagant European style of the 17th and 18th centuries

Base The lower part of a column

Basilica A Roman and Christian building type with an aisled nave

Battlement A parapet with alternating high and low sections; also call crenelation

Bay The vertical division of a building, often by windows or arches

BCE Before the current, Common or Christian era (period)

Beam A horizontal structural support

Beaux-Arts An elaborate late 19th and early 20th century architectural style

Bellcote A small gable holding bells

Bell tower A tower for bells

Biforate window A window with two openings, often with a roundel above; also called a Venetian arch

Blind (of an arch or tracery pattern) Placed against a wall without an opening behind it

Blind arcade A blank arcade without openings

Bond A pattern of laying bricks

Boss A central stone locking together vault ribs

Bow window A curved bay window

Brace A diagonal support linking a series of uprights

Bressumer A large, horizontal supporting beam that bears the weight of a wall starting on a first or higher storey

Bucrania Ox skulls used as ornament, usually with garlands

Bust The head and shoulders of a human figure

Buttery A room in a medieval house for storing wet foods

Buttress A mass of masonry built against a wall to reinforce it


Caisson A sealed, watertight concrete structure used as a foundation in wet conditions

Came A lead strip holding stained glass

Canopy A projecting ornamental hood

Canted Angled

Cantilever An overhanging projection with no support on its outside edge

Capital The top of a column

Cartouche An ornamental frame, usually oval or round

Caryatid A sculpted female figure used as a support

Casement window A window with hinged panes

CE In the current, Common or Christian era

Cella The enclosed inner sacred area of a Classical temple

Cement A lime-based paste that binds together and sets hard; it is used in mortar, concrete and as render

Chamfer A bevelled edge

Chapel A subsection of a church with its own altar; or a small church

Chevron A V-shape or zigzag

Choir That part of a church reserved for singers

Cladding An exterior covering

Clapboard A type of wooden cladding

Classical Of the ancient Greek and Roman periods

Clerestory A row of high level windows

Coffering A pattern of sunken panels

Colonette A small column

Colonnade A row of columns

Column A freestanding shaft often supporting an arch or entablature

Concrete A mixture of cement and aggregate (sand and stones) that dries very hard; used as a building material

Conoids Cone-shaped structures that form the fans of a fan vault

Console A bracket support with an inward curving scroll at the top and an outward curving scroll at the bottom

Corbel A projecting block or capital supporting an arch or shaft above

Corinthian One of the five Classical orders

Cornice A horizontal projecting moulding, especially the topmost component of an entablature;more recently a method of linear finish between wall and ceiling in a room

Cottage Orne An ornamental cottage in a fanciful rural style; often intended to form part of a picturesque landscape

Crenellation Battlement

Cresting An ornamental feature on top of a horizontal element

Crocket A projecting stylised foliage knob

Crossing The area in a church where nave, transepts and choir intercept

Cruciform Cross shaped

Cupola A small decorative form of dome

Curtain wall A thin non-structural wall in front of a structural frame

Cusp A decorative point within an arch

Cyclopean masonry Very large masonry


Dado Lower part of an internal wall when finished differently to the upper part; usually to about waist height

Decorated A style of English Gothic architecture

Dentil moulding A row of small square blocks

Diaper A pattern of repeated squares or lozenges

Diocletian window A half round opening with three subsections

Doric One of the five classical orders

Dormer A window projecting from a roof

Double-hung window A sash window with two sliding sections

Dovecote A building for raising doves or pigeons for food

Drip moulding Hood moulding

Dry stone walling Masonry made without mortar


Eared Of an architrave; with projections at upper corners

Eaves That part of a roof that projects beyond the wall

Egg and dart A type of moulding resembling egg shapes alternating with dart shapes

Elevation Any of the vertical faces of a building, internal or external

Embrassure The sides of a window opening

English garden wall bond An arrangement of bricks with three courses laid as stretchers followed by one las headers

Enfilade A series of rooms leading off each other with the doors aligned

Engaged Attached to the wall; of a column particularly

Entablature The whole of the horizontal structure above capitals in a Classical order

Exedra A large niche


Façade The front exterior face of a building

Facet One exterior face of a geometric shape

Fanligh A semi-circular window over a door

Federal style American neoclassical architecture 1776-1830 CE

Fenestration Openings in a building’s façade; the arrangement of windows and doors

Festoon Curved foliage and fruit garland tied with ribbons

Fielded panel Square or rectangular panel with raised central sections

Finial Decorative knob on top of a gable, post or other upright

Flamboyant Late medieval style of Gothic architecture characterised by flowing motifs

Fleche Small spire, usually of lead covered timber

Flemish bond An arrangement of bricks with alternate stretchers and headers in each course

Flue The pipe inside a chimney that conducts smoke outwards

Fluting Parallel concave channels on a column or surface

Flying buttress Freestanding arched buttress

Flying freehold Part of a freehold property that overhangs or projects over neighbouring land not belonging to it

Framing A structural skeleton in wood or metal

Frieze A decorative horizontal band, especially the central component of an entablature

French doors or windows Full length casement windows opening like doors onto a balcony orterrace

Fresco A painting with pigment applied directly into wet plaster


Gable The pointed end wall of a roof

Gallery An internal passage, usually open on one side

Gargoyle A grotesque water spout

Garland A band of flowers and foliage

Georgian English architectural style c1714-1830

Giant order An arch encompassing two or more storeys

Glazed Made of glass; glossy

Glazing bar Small vertical or horizontal wooden bar holding the panes in a sash window; also called a muntin

Gothic European architectural style c1150-1500

Gothic revival A late 18th and 19th century Gothic inspired style

Greek Architectural style of ancient Greece from 7th to 2nd centuries BCE

Greek revival A late 18th and early 19th century style drawing on ancient Greek examples

Groin vault An intersecting barrel vault without ribs

Grotesque Fantastic or mythical; often refers to figure combing human, animal and foliage forms

Guilloche Decorative pattern of interlaced circles


Half-timber Having exposed timber framing

Hall An entranceway; also the main room of a medieval house

Hammerbeam A short roof timber cantilevered out to carry an upright

Header A brick laid with its end appearing on the face of the wall

Head stop The end of a moulding that is carved with a human face

Hearth A fireproof floor area for making a fire

Heraldic Using, or pertaining to, heraldry

Heraldry The system of coats of arms and symbolic badges

Hipped roof A roof that is pitched at the ends as well as the sides

Historiated Depicting a narrative

Hood moulding A three-sided moulding over a window or door; also called drip moulding

Imbrex (pl imbrices) A curved tile used to cover joints between Roman tiles (tegulae)

Infill Material used to fill spaces between the components of a framework

Ionic One of the five Classical orders


Jamb The vertical part of a door or window opening

Jetty An overhanging upper storey

Joist A horizontal timber supporting a floor or ceiling

Keep The main tower of a castle

Keystone The central block that locks an arch together

Kingpost A central vertical post in a roof

Lancet A tall, narrow, pointed, early Gothic window

Lantern A turret or tower, on top of a roof or dome, to let in light

Lath and plaster Thin strips of wood to which plaster adheres to form both walls and ceilings; laths are usually riven (split)

Lesesne A decorative stonework strip

Lierne A purely decorative vaulting rib running between two other ribs

Light An individual opening in a window

Lintel The beam over an opening, supported on jambs or columns

Loggia A gallery with an open colonnade along one or more sides

Louvre A small structure or opening for ventilation

Lozenge A diamond shape

Lucarne A small Gothic dormer window

Lunette A half round window; often a fanlight


Machicolation An opening that enabled missiles to be dropped from a parapet onto an enemy

Mantel A lintel or shelf above a fireplace

Mantelpiece A decorative structure around a fireplace

Mask Decorative human or animal face

Mason Someone who builds in stone or brick

Masonry Stone or brick construction

Meander A snaking pattern of straight lines joined at angles

Medieval The period or European history c1000-1550 CE

Metope A plain or decorated slab on a Doric frieze; alternates with triglyphs

Micro-architecture Miniature architectural motifs such as arches and gables used decoratively

Minaret A tower associated with a mosque, for calling the faithful to prayer

Modernist The architectural style current from c1920 to the late 20th century

Modillion A horizontal scroll bracket below a cornice

Moulding A strip with a shaped or decorated surface

Mortar Paste made of lime or cement, used in between blocks or bricks

Mortice Hole or slot for a tenon; used to join pieces of wood

Mosaic A picture made of tiny colour tiles

Motif A decorative element, usually repeated

Mouchette A teardrop shape used in Gothic tracery

Mullion A vertical element dividing a window into sections

Muntin Small vertical or horizontal wooden bar holding the panes in a sash window; also called a glazing bar


Naturalistic Lifelike

Nave The area of a church reserved for lay people

Neoclassical An architectural style based on Classical precedents; fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries

Newel Central post of a spiral stair; also the end post of a straight stair

Niche Ornamental recess, often curved at the back and top

Norman An architectural style c1000-1200 CE; also known as Romanesque

Obelisk A tall, four-sided, tapering form

Oculus A round window

Oeil de boeuf A round or oval window

Ogee Compound curve of two parts, one convex, the other concave

Orders The five accepted styles of Classical columns and entablatures

Oriel A bay window starting above ground level

Overmantel Decorative feature or panel above a fireplace surround


Palladian In the style of Andrea Palladio 1508-80 CE

Palladian window An opening with two straight sidelights whose entablatures support a central arched opening

Palmette Stylised palm leaf

Panelling Decorative wooden or plaster wall covering with areas defined by mouldings

Pantile A curved clay overlapping roof tile

Parapet The edge of a wall projecting above roof level

Pedestal The substructure below a column; or supporting a statue

Pediment The gable above a Classical portico; also a gable form used decoratively

Pelmet See Valance

Pendentive A curved triangular area between a round dome and its rectangular base

Peristyle A Classical colonnade around a building or courtyard

Perpendicular A 15th century style of English Gothic architecture, characterised by panelled effects on walls and windows

Picturesque A late 18th century aesthetic movement that stressed variety and drama; literally like a picture

Pier A masonry support like a column, but larger and more solid

Pilaster A flat column form, usually attached to a wall

Pillar A column or pier

Pinnacle An ornamental structure, usually pointed, on top of a buttress or other structure

Pitch The slope of a roof

Plan A horizontal section or drawing showing the arrangement of spaces in a building

Plaster Finely ground lime or gypsum paste for interior wall finishings

Plate glass Large sheet glass

Plinth A plain projecting support at the bottom of a wall, column or other upright

Podium A platform supporting a Classical temple

Polychrome Multicoloured

Porch A partially enclosed space in front of a door

Portal A door

Porte cochere A covered passage allowing access for vehicles, or an open porch large enough to drive under

Portico A covered area with a colonnaded front

Post A vertical timber support

Purlin A horizontal beam along the length of a roof

Putlog hole A gap left in masonry to support scaffolding; sometimes known as putlock


Quatrefoil A four lobed shape

Queen Anne An eclectic 19th century style with mixed Gothic and Baroque detailing

Quoin Large block used to strengthen angles and corners

Rafter A long, angled roof timber supporting the covering

Renaissance The revival of Classical forms and learning in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries; and in Northern Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries

Render A paste of lime or cement and aggregates (sand, stone, shells) used as a waterproof wallcovering; also called stucco

Respond An attached half shaft at the end of an arcade

Reveal Vertical inner face of an opening

Rib An arched moulding on a vault

Ridge The top edge of a roof

Riser The vertical part of a step

Riven Split rather than sawn; of wood and stone

Rococo A light and delicate 18th century style

Roman Pertaining to ancient Rome, especially the Roman empire 27 BCE - 330 CE

Romanesque The architectural style of c1000-1200 CE; known also as Norman in both England and Normandy

Rotunda A circular room

Roundel Small circular frame or motif

Rubble Masonry with irregular shaped blocks

Rustication Masonry cut so the centre of each block projects


Sash window A window with vertically, or occasionally horizontally, sliding wooden frames that hold the glass panes

Scagliola A paste made of pigment, plaster and glue

Scotia A hollow moulding

Scroll An S shaped curve

Semidome A half dome

Serlian window A Palladian window; also known as a Venetian window

Shaft The cylindrical body of a column

Shingle A wooden tile; also a late 19th century variation of the Queen Anne style

Shutters Wooden doors used to cover a window

Soffit The underside of an architectural component, such as an arch

Slate Fine grained grey, green or bluish-purple stone easily split into smooth flat plates; mostly used as a roofing material

Spandrel The triangular area between an arch and its rectangular surround

Spire The tall, tapering top of a church tower; also called a steeple

Splay An angled surface

Spolia Reused material, often with a symbolic meaning

Springer The blocks from which a vault rises

Squinch Filling between a dome and the building below; blocky in appearance, less sophisticated than a pendentive

Stained glass Coloured glass

Stall riser The solid lower section of a shop window

Steeple See spire

Storey A level, or floor of a building

Strapwork Decorative pattern resembling leather straps

Stretcher bond Bricks laid so their sides are visible at the wall face

String The diagonal side of a staircase; it can be closed (solid) or open, showing the ends of the treads and risers

String course A raised horizontal moulding that visually divides storeys; also called a plat band

Stucco See render

Studs Uprights, the common posts, in timber framed walls

Stylised Abstract or symbolic in depiction

Stylobate The upper step of the base, or podium, of a Classical temple

Subdome A partial dome, often used to support a larger dome

Surround A frame or architrave

Tas de charge The point at which vault ribs begin to emerge, or spring, from the wall surface

Temple A religious building, especially Greek or Roman

Tegula (pl tegulea) Roman roof tile, originally flat but later having small raised edges to support an imbrex tile over the joint

Terrace A row of houses joined together; a raised platform in a garden

Tierceron A decorative rib running between a structural rib and the central ridge rib

Torus A half round, or roll, moulding

Tourelle A small turret projecting from the wall above ground level

Tower A structure, considerably taller than it is wide

Trabeated A form of construction with vertical posts and horizontal beams (lintels)

Tracery Decorative stone bars in a Gothic window

Transept Part of a church that projects at right angles from the nave

Transom Horizontal bar across a window; also the upper part of a door frame

Tread The horizontal part of a step

Trefoil A three-lobed form

Triforium The middle story of a Gothic cathedral

Triglyph A three grooved panel on a Doric frieze; its alternates with metopes

Trumeau A post in the centre of a portal supporting the centre of tympanum

Tudor The period of English history from 1485 to 1603 CE

Tufa A type of lightweight volcanic stone

Turret A small tower, especially one starting above ground level

Tuscan One of the five Classic orders

Tympanum The area between a door lintel and an arch above


Valance The fabric or wooden covering above a window; also called a pelmet

Vault A curve stone ceiling

Venetian arch Two openings, often with a roundel above; also called a biforate window

Victorian Pertaining to the reign of Queen Victoria 1837-1901 CE

Villa A country or suburban house

Volute Spiral curve or scroll

Voussoir Wedge shaped block in an arch


Wainscot An area of wooden panelling on the lower parts of walls in a room

Wall plate In timber framed buildings, a timber laid lengthwise at ground level to receive studs; also on top of a wall in masonry buildings, to receive the end of roof rafters and other joists

Weatherboarding Cladding formed of overlapping horizontal boards

Weathervane A pivoting roof ornament to show wind direction

Webbing Surfaces between the ribs of a vault

Wing The side part of a building


Yorkshire sash Sash window sliding horizontally

York stone A tight grained sandstone specifically from quarries in Yorkshire and worked since the middle ages. Known for hard wearing, durable qualities

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