Common Architectural Terms

This glossary of architectural terms and definitions is provided to help with some confusing terms.


American Bond: A brickwork pattern where most courses are laid flat, with the long "stretcher" edge exposed, but every fifth to eighth course is laid perpendicularly with the small "header" end exposed, to structurally tie the wall together.


Apron: A decorative, horizontal trim piece on the lower portion of an architectural element.


Attic: The upper level of a building, not of full ceiling height, directly beneath the roof.


Baluster: One of a series of short, vertical, often vase-shaped members used to support a stair or porch handrail, forming a balustrade.


Balustrade:  An entire rail system with top rail and balusters.


Bay window: A projecting window that forms an extension to the floor space of the internal rooms; usually extends to the ground level.


Bracket: A projecting element of wood, stone or metal which spans between horizontal and vertical surfaces (eaves, shelves, overhangs) as decorative support.


Bungalow: Common house form of the early 20th century distinguished by horizontal emphasis, wide eaves, large porches and multi-light doors and windows.


Casement window: A window with one or two sashes which are hinged at the sides and usually open outward.


Character: The qualities and attributes of any structure, site, street or district.


Colonial Revival: House style of the early 20th century based on interpretations of architectural forms of the American colonies prior to the Revolution.


Column: A circular or square vertical structural member.


Contemporary: Reflecting characteristics of the current period. Contemporary denotes characteristics which illustrate that a building, sturcture, or detail was constructed in the present or recent past rather than being imitative or reflective of a historic design.


Corbel: In masonry, a projection, or one of a series of projections, each stepped progressively farther forward with height and articulating a cornice or supporting an overhanging member.


Cornice: The uppermost, projecting part of an entablature, or feature resembling it. Any projecting ornamental molding along the top of a wall, building, etc.


Cross-gable: A secondary gable roof which meets the primary roof at right angles.


Dentils: A row of small tooth-like blocks in a classical cornice.


Design guidelines: The "standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings" as adopted by the Secretary fo the United States Department of the Interior, and other guidelines which may be adopted from the time to time.


Dormer window: A window that projects from a roof.


Double-hung window: A window with two shashes, one sliding vertically over the other.


Eave: The edge of a roof that projects beyond the face of a wall.


Facade: Any one of the external faces or elevations of a building.


Fascia: A projecting flat horizontal member or molding; forms the trim of a flat roof or a pitched roof; also part of a classical entableture.


Flashing: Thin metal sheets used to prevent moisture infiltration at joints of roof planes and between the roof and vertical surfaces.


Gable: The triangular section of a wall to carry a pitched roof.


Gable roof:  A pitched roof with one downward slope on either side of a central, horizontal ridge.


Greek Revival style:  Mid- 19th century revival of forms and ornament of architecture of ancient Greece.


Hipped roof:  A roof with uniform slopes on all sides.


Historic District: An area designated as a "historic district" by ordinance of the city council and which may contain within definable geographic boundaries one or more landmarks and which may have within its boundaries other proportions or structures that, while not of such historic or architectural significance to be designated at landmarks, nevertheless contribute to the overall historic or architectural characteristics of the historic district.


Homestead Style: An architectural form of the late 19th and early 20th centuries featuring dwelling built in Gable Front plans with limited architectural detailing and generally of frame construction. These dwellings were commonly built throughout the Midwest.


Landscape: The totality of the built or human-influenced habitat experienced at any one place. Dominant features are topography, plant cover, buildings, or other structures and their patterns.


Lattice: An openwork grill of interlacing wood strips used as screening.


Mansard roof: A roof with a double slope on all four sides, with the lower slope being almost vertical and the upper almost horizontal.


Mullion: A heavy vertical divider between windows or doors.


Multi-light window: A window sash composed of more than one pane of glass.


Oriel window: A bay window which emerges above the ground floor level.


Palladian window: A window with three openings, the central one arched and wider than the flanking ones.


Paneled door: A door composed of solid panels (either raised or recessed) held within a framework of rails and stiles.


Pitch: The degree of the slope of a roof.


Pyramidal roof: A roof with four identical sides rising to a central peak.


Queen Anne style: Popular late 19th century revival style of early eighteenth-century English architecture, characterized by irregularity of plan and massing and a variety of texture.


Quoins: A series of stone, bricks, or wood panels ornamenting the outside of a wall.


Rehabilitation: The process of returning a property to a state of utility, through repair of alteration, which makes possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those portions and features of the property which are significant to its historic, architectural and cultural values.


Restoration: the act or process of accurately taking a building's appearance back to a specific period of time by removing later work and by replacing missing earlier features to match the original.


Ridge: The top horizontal member of a roof where the sloping surfaces meet.


Shed roof: A gently-pitched alomst flat roof with only one slope.


Shingles: Wood which is split into flat shingles and different shaped. Wood shingles are common elements to the Queen Anne and Bungalow styles.


Sidelight: A vertical area of fixed glass on either side of a door or window.


Siding: The exterior wall covering or sheathing of a structure.


Spindles: Slender, elaborately turned wood dowels or rods often used in screens and porch trim.


Style: A type of architecture distinguished by special characteristics of structure and ornament and often related in time; also a general quality of distinctive character.


Transom: A horizontal opening (or bar) over a door or window.


Trim: The deocrative framing of openings and other feature on a facade.


Turret: A small slender tower.


Veranda: A covered proch or balcony on a building's exterior.


Vernacular: A regional form or adaptation of an architectural style.


Wall dormer: Dormer created by the upward extension of a wall and a breaking of the roofline.