The world of architecture comes with its own unique lexicon, comprehendible only to those schooled in its workings. Most budding architects will initially have to integrate certain words and phrases (Architecture Lingo) into their vocabulary over their first few years in the field, to communicate more effectively with their peers. This process may range from learning obscure words like ‘Corbusian’ or ‘Pediment’ or redefining common ones such as ‘Space’ or ‘Organic’. 

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Architecture Lingo ©

While such vocabulary may be necessary to explain complex concepts that cannot be oversimplified and rendered in everyday vernacular, target audiences must also understand explanations of design ideas without excessive effort. There has been much debate to this end regarding the necessity of such esoteric language in architecture, where the needless use of technical jargon often confuses listeners, however, architectural terminology has evolved over centuries to become essential within the lingua franca of practitioners. As the dispute rages on, it’s safe to say that we’re stuck with a vast supply of unique architectural lingo for the foreseeable future.

1. Anthropometry

In an architectural context, anthropometry is the comparative study and systematic measurement of the human body to provide standards for design decisions, which fit the ergonomic requirements of intended users. Elbow, shoulder, and eye height for seated and standing individuals are among the more commonly employed metrics employed in architectural design. 

2. Area/Design Programming

Essentially refers to the activities and functions to be housed within a designed space. These functions may range from everyday occurrences to special occasions, maintenance requirements, or services. Programming encompasses the research and decisions that define the scope of a structure’s intended purpose.

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Buttresses ©

3. Buttress

A common feature in Gothic architecture, buttresses are structures that are either built against or projecting from a wall or roof to reinforce it and handle lateral forces. They have also found more recent applications in the construction of certain types of dams.

4. Building Envelope

The term collectively refers to the system formed by exterior walls, floors, roofs, openings, curtain walls, or doors that separate a structure’s interior spaces from its external context. It is sometimes also called the shell or skin. A building envelope provides enclosure and regulates the influence of climatic elements within a structure’s interior.

5. Built Environment

A term that describes all man-made environments which act as settings for human activities. These environments can range from cities, towns, villages, and other settlements to green spaces such as parks or infrastructure projects such as water supply, energy, and transportation networks. 

6. Cornice

A horizontal, decorative moulding that crowns the top edge of a structure or wall. Previously found atop entablatures that feature columns from classical orders, cornices now adorn certain types of furniture as well as interior walls in pre and postmodern styles of architecture.

7. Cladding

Cladding is the term employed for both the process of applying a material over a building’s walls as an extra layer and for the material itself. It is either administered to improve weather and thermal resistance or for aesthetic purposes. Wet cladding utilizes mortar or adhesives while dry cladding is fixed to a frame (usually metal) attached to a building’s walls.  

8. Cantilever

A rigid, horizontal structural element such as a beam, slab, roof, or truss, fixed or supported only at one end. Cantilevers are commonly seen in balconies, terraces, or roof overhangs, and they are a prominent feature in modernist aesthetics.

9. Deconstructivism

A style of post-modern architecture that is personified by fragmented, expressive forms lacking obvious harmony or symmetry. Deconstructivism sought to break down the strict sense of order within modernism’s utilitarian approach and subsequently explored design concepts, forms, and elements with complex, moulded geometries generated by algorithms and digital models. 

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Deconstructivism ©Getty Images/Raymond Boyd

10. Fenestration

Fenestration is an architecture lingo that refers to the design and arrangement of openings such as windows, doors, vents, skylights, curtain walls, or louvres within a structure. 

11. Lintel

A horizontal support block/beam of concrete, wood, metal, or stone placed over the top of an opening. Lintels are either implemented for ornamental purposes or structural applications. They are commonly found above windows, doors, portals, and fireplaces. 

12. Louvre/Louver

Apart from being a French museum, Louvre/Louver is also a word within architectural terminology that refers to vertical, angled, or horizontal slats which permit light, air, and diffused light into space while shielding it from glare and direct solar radiation. Often featured on windows or building facades where they are occasionally called brise-soleil(sun-breakers), they are generally composed of wood, metal, stone, or concrete.

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Louvres ©Francisco Nogueira (left and bottom right) and Michael Sieber

13. Mullion

A vertical member that distinctly divides adjacent window units. Mullions are either installed decoratively or for structural purposes in curtain-walls where they act as rigid supports to attached glazing units. Its horizontal counterpart is called a transom.

14. Parametricism

An architectural style often dubbed the successor to modern and post-modern architecture that relies on algorithms and computer modelling technology. Contemporary parametric design has been responsible for most of the eye-catching, non-rectilinear building forms in recent decades, which have had varied effects on users.

15. Parti

Parti is short for Parti Pris meaning ‘decision taken’ in French and denotes the primary idea behind an architect’s design solution, often represented in a simple word, statement, or diagram. The term ‘design concept’, is also generally analogous to ‘Parti’.

16. Pilotis

As described in Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Modern Architecture, the pilot is an architecture lingo that refers to both the vertical support members such as stilts or piers that lift a building above the ground level and the structural grid of reinforced concrete or steel columns in framed structures. All five points are exhibited in Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, often regarded as the prime example of his manifesto.

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Villa Savoye ©Flickr user August Fischer

17. Served And Servant Spaces

One of Louis Kahn’s most important contributions to architectural theory is the notion of ‘Served’ and “Servant’ spaces – where the former designates primary activity spaces within a building such as halls, entrances, private quarters, or offices, and the latter refers to auxiliary areas such as staircases, toilets, ventilation shafts, ductwork, kitchens, and elevators.

18. Spatial Organization

The spatial organization describes the ideas and relationships behind the composition and arrangement of spaces within a building or structure. Areas are organized within a building in certain patterns with respect to the activities they house and their relation to other adjoining spaces. Several methods such as interlocking, adjacency, spaces within spaces, and spaces linked by common areas are employed for this purpose.  

19. Stucco

A type of textured plaster or finish is an architecture lingo that is composed of cement, water, and aggregates such as sand. It is a distinctive feature in Mediterranean architecture and is applied wet on walls and ceilings to ultimately dry and give surfaces a rock-like finish. Stucco is generally applied for decorative or artistic purposes or as a protective layer over a wall.

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Stucco ©

20. Truss

A truss is a structural assemblage of (wooden or metallic) vertical, diagonal and horizontal members often arranged in triangular units that forms a rigid support system for a roof, slab, bridge, or other structure. Two-dimensional trusses are termed planar trusses, and their three-dimensional counterparts are called space frames.


Jerry recently became an architect, but is still exploring what the title means to him. He arrived at architectural journalism as it seemed to be the most logical medium to combine his education and interests. Additionally, his healthy obsessions with music, sketching, binge watching and reading keep him fairly occupied for the majority of his waking hours

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