An Architectural Pocket Dictionary (A-J)



Adaptive Re-use: (noun) – Removing soiled linens and empty colt 45 bottles prior to leasing a building to creative professionals.

Agora: (noun) – The fear of Architecture in public places.

Amphitheatre: (noun) – Large crowds in seating organized by their dislike of classical music.

Arcade: (noun) – Corridors lined with repetitive video games.

Architect: (noun) – An effete bon vivant with a drawing problem.

Architecture: (noun) – Load bearing walls plus optimism.

Architrave: (noun) – The lowest part of the entablature which rests on the laurels of the designer.

Armature: (noun) – The thin metallic shell protecting an Architect from public opinion.

Articulation: (noun) – The act of organizing Norwegian Designers by austerity.

Atrium: (noun) – The cold interior volume next to a food court.

Attic: (noun) – One who cannot stop designing unusable spaces under the roof.

Authentic: (noun) – Having to do with anything the Architect believes is more important than the work everyone else is producing.

Awning: (noun) – Cloth covering that directs rain water away from the entrance doors and into the masonry walls.


Balance: (noun) – The thin line between incorrect and profitable.

Balustrades: (noun) – Describing a stairway using only hand gestures.

Barrel Vault: (noun) – The curve generated by throwing a barrel over Louis Kahn.

Basement: (noun) – Architectural floor plan with the lowest level of detail.

Basilica: (noun) – The white packets at the bottom of a cathedral that remove moisture from the space. Do not eat.

Bays: (verb) – The act of breaking up a façade by howling at the moon.

Beams: (verb) –Architectural facial expression upon design approval and/or payment.

Belfry: (noun) – The space enclosing bats.

Bracket: (noun) – The list of Architectural firms competing to play against UNC or Duke in March.

Brise soleil: (noun) –Concrete exterior sunshades used to deplete construction budgets in France.

Bulkhead: (noun) – The discount contractors provide when the tops of all door frames are ordered at once.

Buttress: (noun) – The act of leaning your back-side against a cathedral.


Canopy: (noun) – The opposite of Cantopy.

Cantilever: (noun) – Handicap accessible door hardware that will not turn.

Capital: (noun) – “C”

Casement window: (noun) – The operable window used by potential thieves to determine the easiest means of access to the valuables.

Circulation: (noun) – The excitement Architects feel when they feel excitement about Architecture.

Classical Orders: (noun) – Demands passed down from Robert A.M. Stern.

Coffer: (noun) – Exchanging coffee for services.

Colonnade: (noun) – A refreshing beverage made from Portland cement and limes.

Columns: (noun) – Vertical structural elements that may be installed horizontally prior to lawsuits.

Compatibility: (noun) – The ability to blend into one’s surroundings while being better than everything around you.

Consultant: (noun) – One to whom blame is placed.

Commission: (noun) – Architectural prospect prior to 2009.

Configuration: (noun) – Placing scale figures and trees in a rendering to obscure the unfinished parts of the design.

Cornice: (noun) – A styrofoam replica of a classical ideal.

Corbel: (noun) – The act of stacking French Modern Architects on top of each other while offsetting each successive Architect.

Coping: (noun) – Dealing with Architecture.

Cupola: (noun) – Literally “putting a bird on it”.

Curtain wall: (noun) – The transparent screen between the lobby and the homeless.

Curvilinear: (noun) – not applicable.


Datum: (noun) – a line drawn from one irrelevant point to another. This line is never curved.

Decoration: (noun) – also, not applicable.

Demolition: (noun) – Removing earlier Architecture to make room for new Architecture that refers to the earlier Architecture.

Details: (noun) – Details.

Diametrically: (adj) – The opposite of the word your client will think you meant.

Dome: (noun) – The sound made by cross-legged meditating monks under a circular roof form.

Doric Order: (noun) – Gyro, hold the lettuce and tomatoes.

Dormers: (noun) – Those who dwell in student housing.

Double hung: (noun) – Windows which were reordered because the shop drawings mislabeled the “rough opening” as the “masonry opening”.

Draft: (verb) – Creating an initial version of the design to establish a project budget. This version will later be refined beyond recognition as the established budget remains unchanged.

Drip edge: (noun) – Flashing that directs water into the soffit.


Eave: (noun) – The sound construction workers make when lifting heavy objects, often followed by the word “ho”.

Elevation: (noun) – 2-dimensional drawings used to generate approval, while obscuring the design and confusing the appearance commission.

Entablature: (noun) – Child-proof lids on top of Greek medication bottles, often decorated with acanthus leaves.

Entrance: (verb) – The act of momentarily mesmerizing visitors upon entry into an excessively designed lobby space.


Façade: (noun) – The cooperative impression an Architect leaves on the storefront sales rep.

Fascia: (noun) – Architectural trim work placed at the edge of the eaves to conceal the rotted ends of the roof framing.

Fenestration: (noun) – The act of artfully arranging holes in any architectural theory.

Finial: (noun) – The last time I put a decorative form on the top of this stair rail, I swear.

Finish: (noun) – The last thing done in Finland.

Flashing: (noun) – Redirecting water from the building by quickly opening your trench coat.

Floor plan: (noun) – The level you intend to get to.

Flemish Bond: (noun) – “From Helsinki with Love”

Flying Buttress: (noun) – The act of leaning against a cathedral while only touching it with one hand.

Focal Point – An element on axis with an important vista (usually next to the fire department connection).

Form: (noun) – To follow function.

French Doors: (noun) – Portals that open to a grand vista prior to surrender.

Frieze: (noun) – Statement uttered by Greek police when apprehending criminals.


Gable: (noun) – Same-sex roof form.

Gambrel: (noun) – Roof forms with particularly long odds against them.

Gazebo: (noun) – Architectural follies placed in the landscape which have no proven medicinal effect, but may show positive results in clinical trials.

Galvanized: (noun) – Public opposition to anything metallic an Architect proposes adjacent to an existing elementary school.

Golden Proportion: (noun) – All-you-can-eat buffet-style Architectural scale-franchise.

Gothic: (noun) – Architecture produced while listening to “Arcade Fire”

Grid: (noun) – An Architect’s ego, (per Freud).

Grille: (noun) – Wherein one gets all up in the Architecture.

Gutter: (noun) – The personal residence of the Architecture Profession since 2009.


Hierarchy: (noun) – An arched opening positioned just above another arched opening.

Hip: (noun) – Ironic roof forms.

Historic: (noun) – Pre 1945, (except for Adolf Loos or Rennie Mackintosh)

Hood: (noun) – Architecture in an area with a high crime rate.

HVAC: (noun) – The awkward furred-down area in the ceiling of the most public space.


Ionic: (noun) – Greek Hipsters.

Infill(verb) – Removing dilapidated buildings and replacing them with condominiums to be sold to affluent homosexuals.

Interlocking: (noun) – Dutch town in which MVRDV is located.

Interstitial:  (noun) – The space between the Architectural commission you have and the one you hoped to have.

In Situ: (noun) – From the Greek, meaning “I know a phrase from the Greek”.


Jamb: (noun) – The side of the door frame with butter on it.

Joist: (noun) – The inexplicable happiness of framers.

Juxtaposition: (noun) – When the exact location of the building doesn’t really matter.



photos are from markleepower’s photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license)