A Construction Glossary for the Home Architect

Building under construction

Written by Brian Enright

Whether you live in a small town or a large city, architecture is everywhere. From your own apartment to giant skyscrapers, the process of building the structures around you is quite involved. You don't have to be a professional architect to know and understand some of the elements that go into a building's design. If you're interested in design of any kind, architecture is a wonderful way to learn about how something goes from an idea on paper to a real, viable building where people work, live, and thrive. Learning about construction and the intricacies involved can help you gain a new understanding of how architectural elements work in your own home.

  • Adobe: Often seen in Southwestern homes, adobe is a building material that combines natural elements like mud and straw. This material is used in many homes throughout the United States and is extremely energy-efficient.
  • Archway: Any curved or pointed opening between rooms, such as an arched entryway to a kitchen or living space. Archways also once served as grand entrances to buildings, dating back to ancient Rome.
  • Baluster: A short pillar or column that most commonly supports some kind of railing. Balusters can be cut round or square and are typically decorative.
  • Courtyard: An open space placed either at the front of or in the center of a building. Courtyards are typically exposed to the elements and are popular spaces for entertaining and relaxing outdoors.
  • Dormer Window: A window that opens at an angle to a sloped roof, most commonly seen in attics. These windows jut out from the roof's surface and can be seen in modern homes as an architectural accent.
  • Eaves: A projecting edge of a roof that borders a building. Eaves hang over an exterior wall of a structure to help protect it from rain and moisture.
  • Floor Plan: Typically used by builders and architects, a floor plan shows the layout of a space, including its dimensions and the architectural features of each room. The purpose of a floor plan is to show the relationship between rooms and physical features and give builders a plan to work from.
  • Gable Roof: Any roof that has a front and rear slope. Gable roofs are joined at a single ridge line. You can find this type of roof on almost any style of house, from a Victorian home to a modern one.
  • Latticework: A series of long, thin pieces, often made of wood, arranged in a grid pattern. Latticework is often used outside of a building in elements like fences and garden trellises, but they can also form unique dividers for an interior space.
  • Masonry: The art and work of building something using brick or stone. Each unit is laid individually and attached using mortar or cement to create columns, walls, and other structures.
  • Molding: A strip of wood used to add a decorative touch to a home, such as crown molding.
  • Patio: An extension of a building often used as an outdoor entertaining or living space. Many patios are open, while others are surrounded by screens to keep insects at bay.
  • Pergola: A structure often used in a garden that's made of evenly spaced columns with beams running overhead between them. Vines are often used to add color and life to a pergola, and these structures typically cover a walkway or connect one building to another.
  • Rafters: The sloping framing elements of a roof placed at an incline to give a roof structural support. Roofing materials and coverings are affixed to the rafters.
  • Spire: A slender, pointy accent affixed to the top of a building. Spires are most commonly seen on churches but can also be added to homes for decoration.
  • Stucco: A coating for walls made of a plaster mixture that is commonly seen on Spanish and other Mediterranean-style homes. Stucco is durable and can be made in a variety of colors for a pleasing aesthetic.
  • Transom Window : Frequently seen in older homes, this type of narrow window is placed above a door to let in more light. Transom windows are usually seen above exterior doors but can also be used inside a home.
  • Turret: A small tower installed above the roof line. Most turrets are cylindrical in shape and have a conical roof on top.
  • Veranda: A roofed porch that typically wraps around two or more sides of a building. Verandas are commonly enclosed with a railing or balustrade.
  • Window Sash: Sashes are movable frames found inside a window where the actual window panes will be set into place.
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