An Architectural Pocket Dictionary (K-Z)



Keystone: (noun) – Key-shaped stone at the top of the arch used to open a secluded vault in Egypt containing the secret to all Architectural success. The vault may be empty, and booby trapped.


Light: (noun) – The illumination at the end of the tunnel which has been turned off due to lack of financing.

Linear: (noun) – The shortest distance between your ideals and your client’s pocketbook.

Lintel: (noun) – A bean-soup used to span window openings.

Loggia: (noun) – A gallery or corridor on the façade of a building, open to interpretation on one side.


Mansard roof: (noun) – Steeply sloped roofs that screen HVAC equipment on fast food restaurants in France.

Materials: (noun) – Natural or manufactured elements used to populate specifications.

Members: (noun) – Only.

Mid-Century Modern: (noun) – The days before modernism was considered to be too expensive.

Mixed-use – Building type where-in the residents complain about the smells and noise from the restaurant and the restaurant patrons look up at the ceiling whenever the residents flush their toilet.

Modification: (noun) – Placing a butterfly chair next to a Charles Eames foot stool in a 1950s home.

Modulor: (noun) -The manufactured home that Le Corbusier lived in.

Molding: (noun) – Decorative trim work used to conceal the imperfections in one’s architectural ideals.

Mullion: (noun) – Time spent thinking about the window placement.

Muntin: (noun) – Window panes divided by sheep.


Nave: (noun) – The negative end of a sanctuary.

Neo-Classical: (noun) – New, yet oddly the same as the old, but, with more styrofoam.

New Urbanism: (noun) – Much like Classical Architecture, with more paperwork and guilt.

Newel post: (noun) – The stair element that reminds Jimmy Stewart that he does, in fact, have a wonderful life.

Niche: (noun) – Specialized area of concentration used to limit choices and relevance.

Node: (noun) – The state an Architectural concept exists in after it has been rejected by the client.


Oculus: (noun) – The hole in your ideal roof form.

Occupancy: (noun) – Group of strangers residing within an architecturally significant contribution to the community. (Strangers to be removed prior to photography).

Ornament: (noun) – Vestiges of nostalgia festooning a pure form.


Parti: (noun) – Gathering of 3 or more design professionals under the influence of alcohol, wherein the “big idea” for the project is formed.

Pavilion: (noun) – Architecturally significant structures devoid of context, program, and budget.

Pedestal: (noun) – Position preferred by most Architects.

Pedestrian oriented: (noun) – Buildings that allow people to approach on foot, while parking somewhere in the rear.

Pediment: (noun) – The slow, but steady build-up of an Architects resolve over time.

Permit: (noun) – The act of building officials allowing a structure to exist.

Piano nobile: (noun) – The principle floor marked by larger openings in the piano.

Piers: (noun) – Those equal to the Architect who help hold our values safely above the incoming waves of an economic tsunami.

Pilaster: (noun) – Semi-attached columns concealing HVAC dust work.

Placemaking – The circular drive or “round-about” near the entrance to a retail / lifestyle center.

Plane: (verb) – To remove all detail or ornament from a design.

Platonic: (noun) – Buildings that only want to be friends.

Porte-cochère: (noun) – The covering at the entry of a structure, used to keep the rain off of the elderly as they remove their belongings from the trunk of their car, in France.

Portico: (noun) – The opening between you and the fortified wine within.

Post-Modern: (noun) – When everything began to get away from us, somehow…things just weren’t the same. Hey, is that a Michael Graves gravy boat? cool…, I love Target.

Preservation – Allocating additional funding, by means of government grants and tax increment financing to leverage nostalgia and guilt to save non-functional buildings that bitter people value.

Proportion: (noun) – The professional amount.

Public Realm – Anything outside of your house, except for Walmart.


Quoin: (noun) – Quash


Radial: (noun) – Emanating from the center, like a tire.

Relief: (noun) – A façade broken up by the few moments of the day spent not thinking of the Architecture.

Repetition: (noun) – Repetition.

Residential: (noun) – American dreams bundled into mortgage-backed securities and leveraged to blame the middle-class for buying more than they can afford.

Restoration: (noun) – The discount clothing store that moves into the space formally occupied by the designer clothing store

Return: (noun) – The negative balance after construction, often reimbursed by the Architect by way of a change order.

Reveals: (noun) – ¾” glimpses into an Architect’s soul.

Ridge: (noun) – The crest of the nose under the black-rimmed circular glasses.

Roof: (noun) – The barrier between the elements and the lawsuit.

Rowhouse: (noun) – Narrow urban residences facing a flooded street to be approached by boat.

Rustication: (noun) – The use of wide-plank flooring and wool by hipsters and/or Nick Nolte.


Sash: (noun) – The portion of the window draped across the left shoulder of the building.

Scale: (noun) – The hard segmental reptilian skin covering most architectural egos.

Section: (noun) – 2-dimensional detail indecipherable by clients and ignored by contractors.

Sense of Place: (noun) – – That funny feeling of being watched by a 16 year old holding a skateboard and an energy drink.

Served and Servant Spaces: (noun) – A rectangular house in which Louis Kahn resides on the 2nd floor and his maid isn’t allowed to leave the 1st floor; also, the working title to a Robert Altman film.

Shaft: (noun) – The vertical opening within a structure capable of transporting a 5000lb, 400 ft/sec bad mutha — shut your mouth.

Sill: (noun) – y

Siteplan: (noun) – The first drawing the client sees that shows how little parking is available.

Soffit: (noun) – The exposed underbelly of the roof.

Spatial: (adj) – The smartest intern.

Stile and rail: (noun) – 1960s country duo popular for their top-20 hit “The 4-panel door to my heart”

Stoa: (noun) – Placing all Roman items below deck.

Streetscape – Popular city sponsored improvement projects involving very small trees and 19th century reproduction lighting.

Stoop: (noun) – The part of the building near the front door that bends to pick up occupants.

Stretcher: (noun) – Tool used to lengthen boards that were inadvertently cut too short for the stairway.

Stucco: (noun) – The sticky plaster-like residue used between the masonry facades due to value engineering.

Symmetry: (noun) – The place where the bodies of dead Architects are interred.


T-square: (noun) – Unsuccessful Architect and 1990s rapper.

Temple: (noun) – The edges of an Architects brow which are rubbed as they contemplate their fate in this world.

Transit Oriented Development: (noun) – Suburbs within a 10-mile radius of a future planned rail corridor (trains to be powered by rainbows and biofuel).

Transom: (noun) – Crossing the door above the head.

Triglyph: (noun) – Meaningless 3-letter acronyms used for architectural firm names (i.e. S.O.M. or H.O.K. or B.I.G. or F.L.W. or M.V.R.D.V)

Tuck-pointing: (noun) – The tradition of extending a finger towards the mason who pushes the ends of the bricks into his pants.

Turrets: (noun) – Uncontrollable Architectural swearing over the decorative tops of towers.


Urban design: (noun) – – Getting less for more, while waiting longer for approvals.


Vault: (noun) – The place where the profit on the job is rumored to be held. (Ref: Keystone for access)

Vernacular: (noun) – dirty.

Volute: (noun) – The act of placing ones right hand to ones forehead when passing the top of an ionic column.

Vomitorium: (noun) – The narrow hallway leading out of the Velvet Underground’s flat in Soho.


Wainscot: (noun) – The pants of the dining room walls.

Wall: (noun) – Autocad command shortcut which applies a W to all.

Window: (noun) – The part of the glazing that does not go from floor to ceiling; probably in the bathroom, or the closet.


Zinc: (noun) – Mythical metal cladding only specified as an add alternate.

Zoning: (noun) – – The act of removing the barriers to creative and thoughtful urban design, by only allowing development patterns covered in the seminars the local planners attended during a conference 5 years ago.


Cheers via { coffee with an architect }


photos are from FlickrDelusions’ photostream on Flickr (used under creative commons license).

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