If at all you get stuck with an architect on a city tour bus or a museum or life, in general, chances are you will not understand most of what comes out of their mouth.
That is because one of the first things architects learn in architecture school- or rather, in order to learn anything in architecture school, they had to familiarise themselves with the local language of architecture. Their vocabulary was squeezed out and sifted through by a thoroughly nasty panel of jurors each semester until they understood that architecture comes with its own fat dictionary which is best served with exaggeration.
The list below is not comprehensive (Architecture is a five-year course, y’all; It’ll be quite a disappointment if all of Architecture could be learnt in 50 words) but it may blow your mind enough to make you believe that you’re Ted Mosby:
1. Arch: An arch is a curved structure spanning an opening and typically supporting the weight of a bridge, roof, or wall above it.
The trick is, if there is one, it is an arch. If there is one too many, it is an arcade. Think of European architecture!
2. Buttress: A buttress is an architectural structure built against or projecting from a wall which serves to support the wall.
Apart from being an absolute delight of a word, it also forms an integral part of Medieval Gothic Architecture.
3. Bauhaus: Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, Bauhaus was a revolutionary German school of art that sought to integrate craft and technique, motored by the concept of ‘Form follows function’ and ‘Less, but better’. It discouraged decoration in favor of the true expression of forms.
To put simply: Straight lines over curves, geometric over organic and primary colors over, well, all other colors. The Bauhausian school of thought has also greatly influenced typography and furniture design.
4. Blobitecture: A 21st century post-modern style inspired by Bionic Architecture and characterised by curved and rounded building forms.
If the word ‘Blobitecture’ was not enough to amuse you, I must insist that you look at its examples and particularly so, the Graz Art Museum in Austria. It is quite a treat.
5. Bollard: A bollard is a short post used to create a protective or architectural perimeter.
Remember the shiny poles that jut out of nowhere before you walk onto a sidewalk? Well, it appears that they keep the big bad vehicles out of what is intended for pedestrians because who believes in roads and traffic ethics anymore? They sometimes go the extra mile and light up the sidewalk too.
6. Bond: The systematic arrangement in which bricks are laid to form a masonry wall so as to ensure its strength and stability, and for aesthetic purposes.
When the world thought of 007, Architects thought of brick patterns. Clearly, we do not believe in normalcy.
7. B. V. Doshi: The first Indian Architect to have won the Pritzker Prize in 2018, he is well-known to have contributed in shaping the discourse of architecture and improving the quality of life in his homeland through a vast array of projects in his career spanning over 7 decades.
Remember the sprawling campus of ICE in the movie ‘3 idiots’ with its stretches of sunkissed concrete corridors dotted with its characteristic columns and courtyards every few meters? You may not remember it that way, of course, but that campus was IIM-Bangalore and Doshi’s own mastermind among many, many others.
8. Courtyard: An open-to-sky area that is completely or partially enclosed by walls or buildings.
If there is one sure-shot way to architect, it is to add courtyards for light and ventilation in your design. Architects live for those green patches in their floor plans.
9. Concept: An idea, thought or notion that forms the backbone and foundation of a design project and one that drives it forward.
Oh, the bane of every architecture student.
10. Charles Correa: An Indian architect and urban planner, he is credited for moulding modernist principles into the local architecture of post-Independent India and celebrated for his sensitivity to the needs of the urban poor and for his use of traditional methods and materials.
The man was brilliant. He was named ‘India’s Greatest Architect’ by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1984.
11. Cantilever: A long projecting beam anchored at only one end, employed for the purpose of overhanging planes.
Think of balconies! Or better yet, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water! Architects especially love cantilevers as it immediately amps up the modernist aesthetic of the building while being structurally viable. Of course, the budget goes through the roof (Pun intended) but at least it looks good while at it.
12. Deconstructivism: A Post-Modern Architectural style pioneered by Jacques Derrida and characterised by the idea of fragmentation of the structure such that there is an absence of harmony, continuity, or symmetry.
When Bauhaus shouted ‘Form follows function’, Deconstructivism went ‘Nah!’ and introduced the world to buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Dancing House in Berlin, to name a few.
13. Dome: A rounded vault forming the roof of a building or structure, typically with a circular base.
What does Hadrian’s Pantheon, Taj Mahal and Hagia Sophia have in common? Aha, domes (Clearly not their religions)! No wonder it is called ‘The king of all roofs.’
14. Eaves: The edges of the roof which overhang the face of a wall and project beyond the side of a building.
While eaves may sound insignificant by definition, they are functionally attuned to keep rainwater from the walls and may also be used aesthetically. In fact, East-Asian Architecture is richly defined by the upturned eaves of its multi-layered pagodas.
15. Elevation: The face of the building that is visible to the eye.
Architects can kill (their interns) for the perfect elevation.
16. Anthropometry: The comparative study of the measurements and capabilities of the human body. Human dimensions and capabilities are paramount in determining a building’s dimensions and overall design.
Architects do not discriminate on the basis of size, form and color. Only on the basis of money.
17. Facade: Essentially the face of the building, the exterior that looks out onto a street or open space.
You know it is a rich word when it goes ‘Fa-saa-d’ and written ‘facade’. Next time you like how a building looks, say ‘What an interesting facade!’ and sip your Earl Grey tea after in your French Chateau.
18. Fenestration: A fenestration refers to the design, construction and presence of any opening in the building envelope, be it windows, doors or skylights.
Fenestration is yet another rich word but this one would require you to understand its context because you will not just sound fancy, you will sound like an architect.
19. Filippo Brunelleschi: An Italian architect of the fifteenth century, he was considered the first Renaissance architect and is best known for the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. He also designed the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Hospital of Innocents) in Florence which is deemed to be the first hospital to be designed in its history.
He is also known to be the inventor of one-point perspective drawing! Who would have thought that such a thing could be invented!
20. Frank Lloyd Wright: The most famous American architect of the nineteenth century who introduced the world to Organic Architecture and the Prairie School of Architecture. His forms reflect the union of art and nature and are revered by the architectural community to this day.
He is the FRIENDS of architecture. An architect cannot possibly not know about him, and particularly his work, Fallingwater, which has been called “The Best All-Time Work of American Architecture”.
21. Golden Ratio: Used in Architecture to determine pleasing dimensional relationships between the width of a building and its height, the size of the portico and even the position of the columns supporting the structure to produce structures entirely in proportion.
Now you know the secret to Greek Architecture.
22. (Antonio) Gaudi: A Spanish-Catalan architect of the late-nineteenth century, Gaudí demonstrated his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion in his work. He was inspired by nature and favored curves over straight lines with varied textures and vibrant colors. His unique and somewhat bizarre style was part neo-Gothic, part avant-guarde, part surrealistic.
This is the reason why Barcelona is on every Architect’s Bucket-List (The other is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, of course) The city is synonymous to Gaudi, with the Cathedral of Sagrada Familia as his most famous work to be known all over the world.
23. Juxtaposition: Two opposites placed together for an increased effect of contrast.
Imagine this: The bricked and holed campus of IIM Ahmedabad on one end of the road with its linear, concrete campus extension built right across. That, my friend, is what architects proudly call the ‘juxtaposition of times’.
24. Landscape: Refers to the outdoor environment and its relationship with people.
A phenomenon which occurs when architects do not know what to do with the spaces between their buildings. Except Landscape Architects. They are the ones responsible for masterpieces such as Central Park in NYC.
25. Laurie Baker: The Gandhi of Architecture, this British-Indian architect advocated for sustainable architecture before it became cool (and necessary) and strongly deterred the use of concrete in favor of organic and artisanal materials that were locally available and climatologically viable for all his projects.
He is known for his humble vision, better understood by his motto- “A better building at half the cost”.
26. Le Corbusier: A Swiss-French architect and urban planner who predominantly used concrete to invent a modern language for buildings and cities.
LeCorb (as we lovingly call him) designed the city of Chandigarh and is responsible for making a building held up on stilts look elegant.
27. Louver: A window blind or shutter with horizontal slats angled to let in light and air, but keep out the rain, direct sunshine and noise.
Can be easily confused with the equally important pinnacle of architecture, The Louvre, a glass pyramid in Paris, designed by I.M.Pei.
28. Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe: One of the three architects who pioneered Modern Architecture, he is known for his famous statement ‘Less is more’ and his minimalistic approach to architecture.
Which brings us to-
29. Minimalism: Inspired by the Bauhaus movement, Minimalism involves the use of simple design elements, without ornamentation or decoration, so as to condense the content and form of a design to reveal the true essence of architecture.
It is NOT a banana stuck on a wall. It is getting rid of it because you do not need it.
30. Modular: A design approach that subdivides a system into smaller parts called modules that can be independently created and then used in different systems. This allows for flexibility in designs and reduction of costs.
Pretty much like Jenga, only you can build much more than the typical tower and it does not fall down. Hopefully.
31. Notre Dame: The Burning Notre Dame of Paris was the headline that spanned across and beyond architectural communities last year. This 850-year old Gothic cathedral had survived both world wars largely unscathed and was a UNESCO World Heritage Site until the fire of 2019, which ravaged the characteristic spire of the cathedral, one of the most recognisable sights in all of Paris and the wooden roof that was constructed during the 1200s. Though it is believed that the fire was due to the ongoing restoration work, the actual cause remains unclear.
With all the social media traction the event had garnered, this one should not have made this list. Even the Dummies should know about the tragedy.
32. Parametricism: Parametricism, often regarded as a successor to Post-Modernism in architecture, is an architectural style based on computer technology and algorithms which has resulted in many of the curving, non-rectilinear buildings completed in the last couple of decades. The term was coined by Patrik Schumacher, Zaha Hadid’s partner at Zaha Hadid Architects.
FAIA, once told Architectural Record, “You know, computers are getting so clever that they seem a bit like those pianos where you push a button and it plays the cha-cha and then a rumba. You may play very badly, but you feel like a great pianist.” Parametricism is basically that.
33. Pergola: An outdoor structure consisting of columns that support a roofing grid of beams and rafters. This roofing grid may be left open or covered so as to create an area sheltered from the elements.
These are usually paired with trellis to grow over them for the perfect vineyard experience.
34. Peri-urbanisation: Refers to the processes of dispersive urban growth that create hybrid landscapes of fragmented urban and rural characteristics.
It is the rural land the city keeps taking up to expand its perimeter and produce real estate gold because ‘Experience the feel of the countryside in the comfort of your new home’.
35. Pritzker Architecture Prize: An annual award ‘to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture’.
Basically, the Nobel Prize of Architecture.
36. Renaissance: Characterised as the European architecture of the period between the early 14th and early 16th centuries in different regions, demonstrating a conscious revival and development of Classical Architecture with elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture to replace medieval Gothic style.
It could conversely be called the Gucci of Architecture. Or maybe not.
37. Scaffolding: A temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials to aid in the construction, maintenance and repair of buildings, bridges and all other man made structures.
If one wondered what those timber lattices were called which were used during construction work, well now one knows.
38. Scale: Refers to how the sizes of different architectural elements relate to one another.
As opposed to the dimensional scale which is equally important in architecture, if not more, scale makes an architect appreciate the presence of humans in photographs to assess how big the surrounding buildings are. That is important.
39. Skyline: The horizon created by the overall structure of a city, or by a human intervention in a non-urban setting or in nature. They usually serve as a pseudo-fingerprint to the city as no two skylines are alike.
Quick, conjure up the skyline of Dubai.The Burj-Al-Khalifa spires up from the low-lying skyscrapers around, right, with the mast-like Burj-Al-Arab on the side? Yes, architecture has that effect on cities.
40. Spatial organization: Refers to the organisation of a series of spaces into one recognizable whole by understanding the relationships between spaces and their functions with the surrounding context.
It is like a map of the building on the Visitor’s Board, only the architects are responsible for constructing it on land so that you are able to move around comfortably and efficiently without getting lost.
41. Streetscape: The collective appearance of all buildings, footpaths, gardens and landscaping along a street that form its visual character.
Think of the row-houses in Amsterdam. They form an identity of the city because they add a richly unique character to its streetscapes.
42. Sustainability: Refers to the structure, and the processes related to the structure, that is environmentally responsible and energy efficient.
The grading system of today’s architecture. The more sustainable, the better the building.
43. Truss: A triangular supporting structure or framework that’s composed of beams, girders or rod, usually made of steel of wood that supports the building’s roof and allows for large spans.
Look up the next time you are under a pitched roof or in a warehouse. These are surprisingly quite elegant elements of a building.
44. Typology: Refers to the study and documentation of a set of buildings which have similarities in their type of function, form or schools of thought.
Just a fancier way of saying ‘type’.
45. Tadao Ando: A Japanese self-taught architect who won the Pritzker Prize in 1995 and is known for defining spaces, primarily in reinforced concrete, in unique new ways that allow constantly changing patterns of light and wind in all his structures.
Believe it or not, Tadao Ando was actually a boxer with no formal education in architecture. He only realised this dream upon his travels and thereafter, set about to educate himself to become an architect. You never know, maybe this list could be what you needed to find your way into Architecture.
46. Vault: A self-supporting arched ceiling traditionally made of bricks or stone.
Like a dome doing Origami.
47. Vernacular: Characterised by the use of local materials and knowledge, usually without the supervision of professional architects.
Igloos were not built by architects, the Ice Hotel in Sweden was. See the difference?
48. Vitruvius: A prominent and widely celebrated Roman architect, author and engineer of the first century BC, Vitruvius is best known for his influential treatise, titled “De Architectura” that is considered a handbook for architects. Vitruvius’ outlook is essentially Hellenistic and therefore, was used as a guide to propagate renaissance throughout history.
The Vitruvian theory of ‘Firmitas, utilitas and venustas’ (Strength, functionality and beauty) is the ‘veni, vidi, vici’ of architecture.
49. Walkability: A function of how close everything is in a neighborhood or an urban area.
A measure of convenience. The market that is a 10-minute walk from your house was not just a happy coincidence- Urban planners designed it that way.
50. Zaha Hadid: The first woman architect to have won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. Zaha Hadid is known for her futuristic, unconventional and theatrical forms, with only imagination forming the boundaries of the spaces she designs.
This woman changed the playing field of architecture by doing what she does: She changed the future and brought it to life.