As we all know, there are many architecture terms around in the world of architecture, yet some are overly hyped. Which architecture words are the ones you should know, and what exactly do they mean?
Read along to discover all the important architecture terms!
Active design is an approach to architecture and urban design that is based on evidence. Its main function is to promote healthy living and good wellbeing within communities. It does so mainly by influencing access to physical activity and healthy foods. Many buildings make people have to move, which encourages a healthier lifestyle.
A good example of active design are these stairs in Stockholm, which consist of piano keys. They tempt people to take the stairs rather than taking the elevator, and according to the statistics, it actually works!
Make sure to implement Active Design to your architecture vocabulary.
Within architecture, adaptive reuse is a architecture synonym for already built structures that are not being used anymore and can be brought back to use while conserving the building’s resources and (potential) historic value.
There are three main reasons to apply adaptive reuse to architecture; it is often a more sustainable alternative to building everything from scratch, available land may be scarce, or the site may have some historic or cultural value to the society.
An example of adaptive reuse can be this war bunker in the Netherlands, that architecture studio B-ILD has turned into an innovative holiday home.
An arcade consists of a series of arches that are carried by columns that serve as support for the structure. Arcades were used to support roofs of large and heavy buildings in the past, and can therefore often be found in old buildings.
Architectural Acoustics is the study of sounds within buildings, from which the best structures can be determined to have the most optimal acoustics throughout the building. It literally is in every aspect of a building, so for example in the walls and ceilings, but also in the furniture and materials used inside.
According to the WHO, noise can have a negative impact on their health, for which reason they adapted the Environmental Noise Guidelines in 2018. Therefore, architectural acoustics is a method said to enhance people’s health and well-being, as it attempts to limit the noise as much as possible. An important addition to the list of architectural terms.
Architecture Parlante is an architecture term and another word for a building constructed in such a manner that the appearance itself immediately displays the function of the building.
The style became a part of the architecture vocabulary during the French revolution, yet it still hasn’t lost its popularity in contemporary architecture.
A recent example of Architecture Parlante is this hotdog stand, by which its shape (a hot dog) immediately tells you the function of the stand.
Bauhaus can probably be considered the most influential art school in history. This German school has had a great impact on all art and design styles, amongst which architecture.
It rethought all concepts there were on the arts industry, and it placed the fine arts that were initially higher in rank equal to the functional crafts. The main focus of the Bauhaus style was on functionality and simplicity, aesthetics were placed second.
A good example of this style is the Bauhaus school building located in Dessau, that shows simplicity and functionality by having straight and simple lines in its structure, and little colors used.
Blobitecture is a style within architecture and another word for a building that is known for its curved and rounded shapes, and it is related to organic, natural forms. The buildings often show a ‘blob’ or amoeba, and quite frequently technology and computer modeling are being used to develop the structure. ‘Blobism’ is also an architecture synonym referring to Blobitecture.
One architectural example is this music hall in England, the Sage Gateshead. A perfect representation of these architecture terms.
Brutalism, an architecture synonym to Brutalist architecture, is a style that emerged in the UK that is known for its massive and monolithic design, and its large-scale use of concrete.
Often there is a modular, minimalistic design with unfinished, rough surfaces.
Even though this architectural style was mainly applied between the 1950s and 1980s, there is now a renewed interest. Therefore relevant for the current architecture vocabulary.
One classic example of brutal architecture is The Geisel library at the University of California San Diego.
A Building Envelope has the exact same meaning as a regular envelope, yet as the name says, it’s part architectural terms for a building. It protects the interior against exterior influences.
A good building envelope takes the climate, sounds, and aesthetics into consideration.
A building envelope can be tight, meaning it really controls or even limits, the air coming in; or it can be loose, meaning that the air can move freely without any restrictions throughout the building.
A Cantilever is an example of a very specific architecture term referring to a single part of a building. A Cantilever is a beam that extends horizontally and is only supported at one of its ends. They are used frequently in building constructions and machines and have been historically applied to many bridges. Nowadays more people are using it to increase space in their houses, and create great views.
Although, known to most people as a beam or a girder, the architecture synonym is Cantilever.
A Charette is a tool often used in architecture, and it implies an intensive brainstorming session of a group of people over a specific topic or problem. The main proposed benefit of this tool is that all architects and people working on the topic will have a shared vision and are all informed about the plans.
It does not refer to the architecture of a building but for those looking to extend their architecture vocabulary it’s most certainly relevant.
When it comes to methods within architecture, Cladding is one that should be in everyone’s architecture vocabulary. It is an architecture synonym for applying one material over another, to protect the bottom layer. The top layer is the one visible, and hence it is usually visually more attractive.
Colour Theory in architecture terms
The Colour Theory has had an effect on any type of art, including architecture and is now a part of commonly used architecture words. This theory investigates the relationship between specific colors and viewers.
It is built on the assumption that colors evoke feelings, capture emotions and make sounds.
Concrete is a material often used by architects in a wide range of projects. It is even the second most used material on the planet, after water. Every year, three tonnes for every person on this planet is being used!
Concrete is known to have many beneficial properties that can all be adjusted to the desired end result, which explain its common use is architecture terms.
A Conversation Pit , in architectural terms, can be simplest described as a shallow square area usually filled with pillows, often located in the middle of a living room.
It got its fame at the start of the 50s, however, only 10 years later its fame completely disappeared since it had quite the flaws. Yet, recently it has been gaining popularity again, mainly thanks to media changing people’s perception.
Crumble in architecture terms
Even though this verb is frequently used in the cooking world, it also has a prominent use in architectural terms. Crumbling something literally means breaking something into little bits.
Many buildings, including iconic and historically valuable ones, are breaking down due to disrepair.
A great example is the Great Wall of China, where there has been quite the amount of decay over the wall. Even though they try to keep up with it, not all parts can be restored to their full glory anymore.
Curvilinear forms in architecture terms have been used from an early age. They originally came to existence by human beings that were inspired by nature, as curves are the most common shape that appears in nature.
Nowadays curvilinearism is up and coming, as it provides a good ground for innovative architectural structures.
A good example is this Galaxy SOHO made by Zaha Hadid Architects, in Beijing.
Architecture words can sometimes have more than one meaning. The verb demolish is a good example of such a word within the architecture vocabulary.
It can be used in two manners. The first is in an objective manner when it implies that something is broken down to the ground, for example when an architect wants to build some new structure on a site where there is already something.
The second is negative and might make you doubt your own qualities. If you as an architect were to develop a concept for some customers and they completely demolish your idea, you probably did something wrong…
Diagrammatic architecture is the usage of diagrams to develop a building or structure. The diagrams have the purpose to analyze problems and thereby develop solutions to them.
Deconstruction, or deconstructivist architecture an architecture synonym, is the breaking down of preconceived beliefs people had, and rather see the meaning of things as something ever developing.
Influencing factors can be the context, culture, the viewer’s demographic profile, time, and many others. Deconstruction in architecture words is hence questioning what a building actually is, and challenging possibilities in structures.
A good example is this Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A.
Dominance in architecture terms
Dominance literally means overpowering others. With regards to architectural terms, this means there are some elements with more visual weight, that thereby dominate other elements.
The more visual weight is given to an element, the more visual attraction it will provide. There are many aspects that can be adjusted to whether or not the element should create dominance, of which size, shape, and colour are just a few.
To elicit means drawing out or obtaining something, usually a specific reaction or comment of somebody. So in architecture terms, this would mean that the way something is built or constructed evokes some sort of reaction out of people.
This is must have in your architecture vocabulary.
The term enfilade has its origin in the army, yet it is also frequently used in architectural terms. Enfilade literally means that something is placed in a row, so with regards to buildings, this means there is a row of rooms that are all aligned along a line.
Enfilade used to signal status, yet it also provides the optical illusion of having a bigger space.
Enfilades are often used by museums, since this way larger groups can walk past each other. The National Museum of Roman Art in Spain is a good example of it.
Ergonomic means designed for efficiency and comfort in the work environment and is also used as another word for building of a particular type. As a part of the architecture vocabulary it is designing places and objects in a manner to provide optimal human use and performance. Often, the design is based on, and adjusted to, specific measurements of the human body.
This smart house in Pennsylvania is just one of many examples of an ergonomic design:
Expose in architecture terms
Of course we all know this verb, yet its uses can be widespread. It is often used when something is being uncovered or revealed.
In architecture words this usually is relevant once the new building/structure is being revealed to the public. Here it is not only about the design, but also the explanation of the building. Arquinetpolis has developed a good guide on how to make a great exposure of your building.
Exurbia refers to the area beyond the suburbia of a city (i.e. the suburbs). It consists of residential areas, where many commuters reside.
Add that to your list of architecture words.
The Facade, or façade, is the exterior front wall with an entrance to the building. Often, the facade is seen as the most important aspect of any building, obviously because it is the first thing any visitor will see. Hence, the facade is frequently more detailed or decorated than the other walls.
A good example that depicts the extra effort put into the façade is the Museum of Military History in Dresden, designed by Studio Libeskind:
The term fenestration is related to the architecture term building envelope, as this word refers to the openings the building has. It tells about the design, position, and proportion of the openings.
In the architecture vocabulary this often refers to the arrangement of windows and doors in a building
A Figure Ground refers to the visual association between the foreground and the background. It is necessary to be able to recognize objects through one’s vision. In architecture terms the foreground consists of all that has a form, whereas the background consists of all that is formless.
Not all words in the architecture vocabulary have to do with buildings and their design. A flâneur is an architecture synonym for a person that indirectly and unintentionally feels affected by an architectural design it only passed by.
Folly in architecture terms
A Folly in architectural terms is another word for a building that is often non-functional and costly to build, initially designed to enhance a landscape. This architecture word describes a building solely meant for decoration and pleasure, so no practical purpose.
A good example is this house-turned-upside-down church construction, which clearly serves the sole purpose of decoration, as there is no entrance into the building, and it is in no way related to religion.
Form follows nature
Form follows nature is a principle applied to both design and architecture, and it means that the shapes and forms are based on those found in nature. This can be done for functional reasons, but often it is also simply for aesthetic reasons.
The Natural History Museum of Shanghai is a good example to showcase form follows nature. Both the interior and exterior have been built upon concepts of the cellular networks of plants and animals.
Formal architecture relates to the structure or arrangement of the elements, rather than the content. This type of architecture is considered as a set of constructions.
Freehand architecture is a part of the list of architecture words. It means there were no devices or aids involved in drawing the design of the building or structure.
Paying attention to Genius Loci in architecture means the architect pays attention to the specific location and circumstances regarding culture, climate, geographics, politics, topographics, and situational aspects of a project.
An example of a genius loci design is this house located in the USA, where the client challenged the architect to adjust the design to the location, its culture, specific weather conditions, and heritage.
Architecture words can refer to cultural development within areas. Gentrification is a a good example and refers to the change that neighborhoods undergo when this change leads to a number of unplanned consequences.
First of all, many of the initial residents and businesses are forced to move out, as the land prices and rents have increased enormously as a result of the increased popularity of the area. Besides, the social history of the existing community is wiped out, and the previously diverse community becomes homogenized.
Gesamtkunstwerk originally meant the play of all types of art coming together into one work. Yet a gesamtkunstwerk within architecture terms means that the lead designer has the responsibility for any aspect of the project, both for the building, its exterior, and its interior.
Googie Architecture is another word for a building in hypermodern style that is based on futuristic principles. It had its peak after WWII in the USA, especially within the American Futurism stream.
Googie, in the architecture vocabulary, is all about exaggeration and is often dramatic and colourful.
A good example is this restaurant located in L.A., which clearly references to spaceships and the future.
Green Architecture is another word for building in a sustainable matter. For architecture to be as sustainable as possible, this implies that the environmental impact of the building should be minimized, for example by specific material usage, energy efficiency, or specific decisions made to enhance the local biodiversity.
Especially with the increased focus on the environment and sustainability, and the common fact that architecture is one of the sectors demanding a lot of the planet, green architecture is up and coming.
Ha-Ha in architecture terms
Yeah, you read this term right. Ha-ha is a part of the list of architecture words. It is a fence or wall built in a specific way to provide an undisturbed and harmonious view for the passengers, yet at the same time create boundaries for the livestock.
It was mostly used in the 18th century in many gardens and parks throughout the UK. The photo below shows the structure of the ha-ha wall.
Juxtaposition refers to the placement of two elements close to each other, usually done to make both stand out more. Some ways how this can be influenced is by shape, size, the interior versus interior, usage of colours or textures, and the specific setting in which the elements are located.
Lavish in architecture terms
Lavish is an adjective meaning something is present is grand amounts, and often in a luxurious and expensive manner. Lavish architecture usually comes from wealthy clients, who are willing to spend a lot on an extravagant design.
A good example can be Casa Vicens, made by Gaudí.
The massing of architecture is the three-dimensional form of a building. It includes multiple aspects of a building, namely: size and scale, interior spaces, function, character, place, and the feasibility of the project.
Mastic is a heavy-weight material used as a protective layer, often applied to exterior surfaces of constructions. It is known to remain adhesive and pliable over time.
Modular Architecture is when the design is being divided into subunits, or so-called modules, that can each be developed individually. In architecture words these modules provide the main benefits of being scalable and reusable, and thereby flexibility in the design and ultimately lower costs for the project.
An example is this design proposal by the architecture company AEMSEN, who developed a modular construction design for the Netherlands, however, it could be placed in any part of the world, and could be adjusted in amount and size of modules.
Monolithic in architectural terms literally means that something is composed of one piece. Monolithic architecture, therefore, refers to buildings or structures that are composed of one single block or unit.
A mullion in architectural terms refers to a slim, vertical division between window frames, providing a structure in the frames. They mostly occur in the Gothic and early Renaissance architecture in Europe, with many of them being in religious buildings.
A muntin on the first view may seem similar to a mullion, as it also refers to a division between windows, yet muntins are small bars or strips that are used within the window frame, to hold smaller pieces of the window glass.
Muntins served both an aesthetic and a functional purpose since they were used to lower the raw material required (glass), and the potential repair and replacement costs when breaking a window.
Negative space architecture terms is the space that is not being used in architecture. Often it is unintentionally left empty, due to the area around it intentionally being chosen to serve some purpose. However, it can also be left empty intentionally, to place more emphasis on certain other architectural features (the so-called positive space), and create balance and harmony.
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Night Architecture is the design of specific light features on the exterior of buildings that will obviously become visible by nighttime. The lighting here is not used for functional reasons, but for decorative purposes.
Oblique architecture means that the floor is being tilted, to remove the verticality of walls. The main aim is to change the perception of space.
Organic Architecture means that the design of a building or structure is in balance with its surroundings and that it is tailored to the function it is meant to serve. Form and function have to be seen as one single element, and it has to be in harmony with the environment.
A good example to represent organic architecture is the Doolittle House in California, which is in great harmony with its surroundings, both in its interior and exterior design.
Ornamentation in architectural terms is the application of decorations to the building structure, either on the exterior or in the interior. It can either serve a specific purpose, such as religious symbols, yet it can also serve simply as an embellishment to a building.
Parametric architecture is when the architect uses computer algorithms to support solving certain problems. The algorithms can create a spectrum of options from which the architect then can choose which to build. Often it is used to create complex and unusual forms.
Parti Pris is the preconception of the architect when making the design. It is the primary concept behind the idea, often depicted by simple drawings. The final building should then reflect the parti pris and should align with the initial sketches.
Passive Design is a type of design that uses the climate to maintain a certain temperature within a home. By doing so, the energy usage can often be limited, which makes it a more sustainable and often ultimately cheaper design manner.
Passive design uses natural sources of heating and cooling. Orientation and shading are just some of the aspects that can be taken into account when building something.
Passive Light in architecture is any design feature that uses the sun to light the interior, rather than using electronic light to do so. A well-known and simple example is placing a window, yet there are more complex options available as well.
Pastiche implies that something imitates some style, either of a piece of work, a period, or a specific person. Even though there is quite a stigma on copying others’ styles, it is often applied with the main reason that for many the past is comforting, and provokes thoughts about the history and culture of a place.
Obviously, it won’t be appreciated by anyone if an architect simply copies a whole building, there’s always the requirement to have some degree of originality. Blending old and new is hence the answer, of which the Convent de Sant Francesc, a renovated church, is a good example:
Permaculture is all about designing architecture while keeping the environment and people in mind and hence creating more sustainable projects. Permaculture consists of 12 principles that one must look into while creating a design. Permaculture is often related to the terms eco-architecture and regenerative architecture.
Phenomenology is the specific design of space, material, and light and shadow to create an unforgettable experience for the viewer by manipulating the human senses. This experience is intangible, yet perceived by the viewers, and it resides in their minds.
A Piloti is a construction support that lifts a building above the ground or water. Often pilotis are used in areas where there is a high chance of flooding, to protect the building against the water.
Plane in architecture terms
A plane in architecture is a spatial element creating spaces, defining boundaries, forming a bridge between divisions, or helping to organize certain elements.
Poché is the French word for posh, or fancy and refined. Poché as an architecture synonym is hence a fancy building or structure, often with many ornaments and decorations both on the interior and exterior, and a very detailed floor plan.
Poché also means a specific drawing technique to show the thickness and mass of the walls, columns and floors of a structure, usually done by shading specific areas in the floorplan drawings.
Regionalism in architecture means that the architect pays specific attention to the context and customs when designing something for a specific region. Knowledge of climate, geology, geography, and topography is being applied in the design, which makes the building very suitable for its surroundings.
A good and simple example of regionalism is the house in the photo below. It has been made with materials that were available in the area, and because there is a risk of flooding in this area, the house is put on stilts.
This word within the architecture vocabulary means that something is rough, and often coarse in its design. Often rugged architecture is within more rugged surroundings so that the design matches well with the context it is located in.
A good example is the Joshua Tree Rock House, a desert residence, where the architect tried to match the exterior of the building with the rocky surroundings.
Security Landscaping is designing a landscape in such a manner to enhance the security of the building and its surroundings. Some exemplary things that can be influenced are outdoor lighting, hedges, certain plants, loose rocks or gravel as pathways, or setting up a fence.
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Shell in architecture terms
A shell in architecture terms can be seen as a similar thing as a shell for any animal. This architecture synonym is the thin exterior layer, that consists of small structures assembled into a large structure. Typically the shell is curved. The purpose of this shell is to make the structure self-supporting and thereby omit the need for columns.
Shipping Container Architecture
Shipping Container Architecture in architecture words is a literal definition. It is another word for a building made out of empty shipping containers that are otherwise left unused.
Even though this seems like a very sustainable option (and certainly is, to some extent), there are many drawbacks in using containers for other purposes, of which the chemicals present in the container, and the need for many extra resources are just two. However, the containers do have a certain feel and are therefore trendy options in the upcoming areas.
This container housing in Roskilde is just one of many examples.
Skeuomorph is originally a Greek term. In architecture terms, skeuomorph means that some ornamental designs have been retained in a building just for decorative manners, not for the functionality they originally served.
An example of skeuomorphism is this fragment of a Greek temple.
Skin in architecture terms
The skin of a building or structure can be called a architecture synonym as it has the exact same meaning and function as human skin to a body. It’s that surface that ‘interacts with the world’ and protects the interior from exterior influences. Depending on the architect’s choices on for example texture and colour, the skin of the building can attract or repel people.
Soft Engineering in architectural terms means that there are no artificial structures being built. It usually involves the management of the coastal line. It is the opposite of hard engineering, which involves the building of artificial structures. Soft engineering compared to hard engineering is often a more natural and sustainable choice.
Streamline Moderne is an architecture and design style that has its roots in the Art Deco style, and that emerged in the 1930s. It is based on the study of how air moves around objects, and of how projectiles move in flight. The style resembles the mechanical engineering industry and transportation vehicles, and any overabundant ornaments are being removed.
A classic example of a building made in the streamline moderne style is this bus station located in Arkansas.
A stylobate is the top step of the crepidoma, which forms the platform for the columns. It is a common feature of classical Greek architecture. Its main purpose was to flatten the ground surface below the building.
A sunken room in the architecture vocabulary is when the living room in a house is a little bit lower than the rest of the house. They had their popularity peak in the 60s and 70s, thanks to providing a feeling of intimacy and hence conversations, and they visually make the room feel larger.
Just like the conversation pits sunken rooms also had their drawbacks, however, which led to the fall of their popularity. Nowadays they are still being built, yet not in such high numbers anymore.
A tartan grid is a design of straight lines with varying distances and widths among them. The lines are crossing in right angles.
Tectonics is when the construction of a building becomes an art form. It is about the ornaments, shapes, and/or materials assembled within the construction.
When something is timeless, its design and construction will endure over time, and it will never go out of style. There are actually many theories on timeless architecture, from which this essay is just an example.
Timeless architecture often goes hand in hand with sustainability attempts, as an ageless design will ultimately require fewer resources and adaptations over time.
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Transitional Design is an architectural term for design in which multiple styles are being combined, that together create a cohesive feeling.
It has 3 main features. Firstly, it’s all about creating classic and modern styles and making them blend visually pleasing. Secondly, the outdoors is being brought inside, by integrating natural elements in the interior. And lastly, the design is considered smart, in the sense that elements are adaptable, and can enhance the building’s sustainability and technology.
The word truncated means that something is made shorter by cutting off the top part. Truncated architecture, therefore, refers to a building or structure of which it looks like the top has been cut off.
An example is this pyramid room, where it seems as if the top has been cut off.
Typology is the study and classification of attributes of buildings and structures. The studied objects are being put into types (groups) and subtypes (subgroups), according to their specific characteristics.
There are many elements that can be looked at, such as whether the attributes are qualitative or quantitative, the technological capacity of the attributes, and their functionality.
Unity in architecture terms
Unity in design and architecture depends on 7 key elements: texture, colour, tone, direction, proportion, solid and void, and form and shape. Unity is all about arranging all materials and structures into one composition that looks like one whole.
The adjective ‘unpretentious’ implies that something is simple and clear.
A good example here in Copenhagen is CPH Porthouse, where the focus was mainly to let the design breathe simplicity, balance, and well-being.
Urban Design is the art of shaping cities and towns, and it involves the arrangement and design of buildings and really any space within a city or town. It is all about designing society in such a manner to provide the best well-being for its citizens.
Modern urban design includes a focus on mix-used spaces – with retail and leisure facilities being in close proximity to beautiful apartments for the community.
Variety in architectural terms
Variety in the architecture vocabulary reflects the different personal tastes people can have, on either the interior or exterior. This variety will be reflected in the methods and materials used.
Vault in architecture terms
A vault is a specific type of construction that has the purpose to support the structure of large buildings, by redirecting the weight. It consists of curved arches and often serves as a ceiling or roof.
Vernacular architecture is another word for a building that is developed specifically for the time and place it is in, so there is no replication happening. Both the materials and the design are chosen for the specific location and moment the project is in. The local culture, history, economy, environment, and climate will hence play a role in the architect’s choices.
Walkability in architecture refers, quite simply, to the design of an urban area to encourage people to walk over using other means of transport. The walkability of an area is good when there is a mixture of land uses integrated with the streets and walking spaces, and it is promoted for people to walk around.
The walkability is one of the aspects that define good urban design, and even though the term seems quite obvious, it is often difficult to accomplish in many areas, especially if they were initially designed for cars or other vehicles.