Architectural Terms Used on this Web Site

As you discover the architecture of York, you may encounter some industry terms with which you aren't familiar.  Don't fret!  Below is a list of architectural terms used on Virtual York: An Architectural Experience.  Also note that you can click on hyperlinked terms in the various descriptions.  This will launch a new window with the applicable definition.

Arch – A curved span over an opening, sometimes decorative, sometimes a structural support.

Architrave – Bottom horizontal band of an entablature, found below the frieze.

Balustrade – A grouping of balusters with handrail; that is, a low railing supported by small vertical posts of stone or wood (balusters).

Battlement – A specialized wall with high and low parapets, originally built for military purposes to provide both protection and an opening to fire arrows.

Bracket – A supporting element frequently found below the eave.  Brackets can be both functional and decorative.

Cartouche – An ornamental frame or oval, frequently featuring a scroll or figure.

Column – A column is a vertical element, usually rounded and most often a structural support. Greek and Roman architecture is categorized by Order, though columns have been used throughout the world by many different cultures in many different times. If the column is physically touching an adjacent wall, or partially built into it, it is said to be "engaged."

Composite – The Composite Order is a hybrid of the Ionic and Corinthian Orders, and its capital (top of column) typically features scrolls and acanthus leaves.

Conical Roof – A cone-shaped roof.

Corbel – A bracket or block built into a wall to support weight. It can be of any material, though in York the feature is mostly found in brick or stone. A row of corbels is known as a corbel table, which usually occurs below roof eaves and can actually be both decorative and functional.

Corinthian – The Corinthian Order is by far the most ornate, and easily distinguished by the acanthus leaves on the capital (top of column).

Cornerstone – A special building block featuring an inscription, usually a significant date.

Cornice – In general use, the projection at the top of a wall, below the eaves. Specifically, the top horizontal band of an entablature, found above the frieze.

Course – A decorative horizontal band found on an exterior wall. Also known as a stringcourse, this feature is typically stone or brick.

Crenellations – Having battlements.

Cupola – An architectural feature usually crowning a roof, turret, or dome.

Dentil – An ornamental tooth-like block, frequently in a series (like a molding) and found under a cornice.

Dome – A roof or ceiling of hemispherical shape.

Doric – The Doric Order features a fluted, tapered column with a capital (top of the column) comprising a square abacus and spreading echinus.

Dormer – An architectural feature projecting from a sloping roof and usually containing a vertical-oriented window.

Eave – The lower portion of a roof projecting over a wall.

Entablature – Horizontal bands (architrave, frieze, and cornice) above the structural supports in a building (e.g., columns).

Faηade – The front of a building, or other side with significant architectural merit.

Fanlight – A semicircular window with ribbed bars, usually over a door or another window.

Finial – The top of a spire or pinnacle; usually decorative.

Fleche – French term for spire, though it also refers specifically to a small slender spire.

Florentine – Relating to Florence, Italy. Frequently used to reference the Florence Cathedral.

Fluted – Series of vertical grooves, most frequently found in a column.

Foliate – Leaf shaped.

Fresco – A wall or ceiling painting, typically on plaster.

Frieze – Central horizontal band of an entablature, found below the cornice and above the architrave.

Gable Roof – A sloping roof which resembles an "A." Gable roofs are also sometimes generically referred to as "pitched roofs."

Gambrel Roof – A roof with two slopes on either side, with the lower slope having a steeper pitch than the upper slope.

Gargoyle – Originally a decorative waterspout featuring a lion or grotesque creature.

Glazed Brick – Another term for enameled brick, it refers to a "glassy" or lustrous surface.

Half-Timber – Construction method utilizing timber frames for internal and external walls, with brick and plaster infill between the timbers.

Hipped Roof – A roof with all sides sloping upward, typically at a uniform pitch. Frequently found over a rectangular structure. When found over a square structure, it becomes a pyramidal roof.

Hood Mold – Also known as a dripstone, a hood mold projects above a door, window, or arch. It is both decorative and serves a purpose—to divert rain.  In modern usage, a hood mold is simply referred to as a lintel.

Ionic – The Ionic Order is easily distinguished by the scrolls (a.k.a., volutes) at the top of the column, known as the capital.

Keystone – A wedge-shaped piece, usually masonry, at the top of an arch, locking all the other pieces in place. However, it is also a decorative piece found above windows.

Mansard Roof – A roof with two slopes on all sides; the lower slope is steeper (almost vertical) than the upper slope (almost horizontal).

Modillion – Ornamental bracket or block under the cornice. Similar to a dentil, only larger.

Ogee – A pointed arch with reversed curve near the apex.

Order – Greek and Roman influenced columns are classified into various orders, including Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite. Also, the "Colossal" or "Giant" Order is sometimes used to refer to multi-story columns.

Oriel – A bay window projecting from an upper-story and usually supported by a bracket or corbel.

Parapet – A low wall along a roofline or balcony. Serves both as protection from falling as well as decorative purposes. A series of alternating low and high parapets is known as a battlement.

Pediment – A triangular gable found atop a portico, doorway, or window; typically features two gentle slopes.

Pilaster – A usually decorative, shallow rectangular column built into a wall.

Pinnacle – An ornamental feature of pyramidal or conical shape, frequently topped by a finial.

Pitched Roof – A roof with a slope.

Portico – An entrance structure (e.g., a porch) or covered walkway utilizing columns.

Pyramidal Roof – A roof shaped like a pyramid, typically found atop towers.

Quoin – Brick or stone corner pieces differing in size, color, shape, and/or material from the adjoining walls.

Rosette – A decorative element with a floral or foliate design.

Roundel – A round decorative object or figure.

Rusticated – Masonry feature referring to deep recessed joints between stones, usually creating horizontal bands.

Sidelight – A side window, as in a window on either side of a door.

Spire – A visual element frequently found in ecclesiastical architecture. Usually a pyramidal or conical element "reaching to the heavens."

Swag (Festoon) – A carved ornamental decoration like garland, typically on a building’s faηade.

Terra-Cotta – Fired clay. The Italian term means "baked earth." It is somewhat hollow, and thus frequently applied to a brick facing.

Tower – A tall structure either freestanding or attached to a building.

Transom – A horizontal bar over a window or door, or between a window and door.

Turret – A small tower, frequently ornamental, beginning above the ground level.

Tuscan – The Tuscan Order is the most basic of all columns, and is plain and unfluted.

Tympanum – The recessed triangular area within a pediment.

Watertable – A projecting stringcourse to divert water.

Widow’s Walk – Also known as a Captain’s Walk, it is a railed observation walk.


© 2002 by Scott D. Butcher

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