Architectural Terminology

Trail End


 State Historic Site

Compiled by Cynde Georgen for the Western Alliance of Historic Structures & Properties, 1998

SO WHAT IS a quoin anyway … other than a great word to have in your head when playing Scrabble®? Or how about a rincleau? A belvedere? A radiating voussoir? If these questions leave you scratching your head in wonder and confusion, you’re not alone! Few people outside the confines of an architect’s office have a working knowledge of architectural terminology. For you, however, that’s about to change! After studying the following glossary, you’ll be able to amaze your friends as you walk through the streets of your town pointing out lancets, porticos, corbels and campaniles. 

For illustrations to go along with many of these terms, we recommend a visit to Buffalo, New York's Illustrated Architecture Dictionary.

NOTE: The definitions of some terms use words which themselves require definition. Such words are italicized in the definition. 

Acanthus Leaf - Motif in classical architecture found on Corinthian columns 
Aedicule - A pedimented entablature with columns used to frame a window or niche 
Arcade - Series of round arches supported by columns or posts 
Architrave - The lowest part of a classical entablature running from column to column 
Ashlar - Squared building stone laid in parallel courses 
Astragal - Molding with a semicircular profile 
Astylar - Facade without columns or pilasters 

Balconet - False balcony outside a window 
Baluster - The post supporting a handrail 
Balustrade - Railing at a stairway, porch or roof 
Bargeboard - Decorative boards located at the end of a gable 
Bas Relief - Shallow carving of figures and landscapes 
Battered Wall - Wall leaning inward from its base rather than outward 
Belt Course - Narrow horizontal band projecting from exterior walls, usually defining interior floor levels 
Belvedere - Projection from top of roof; also called cupola 
Bracket - Supporting element under a cornice 
Broken Pediment - Pediment with cornices ending before they meet at the top; finial often placed in the center 
Bulkhead - Horizontal or inclined door over exterior stairway to cellar

Cames - The lead portions of stained glass windows 
Campanile - A tower 
Cantilever - Projecting overhang 
Capital - The top part of a pilaster or column 
Cartouche - Ornamental panel; oval or scroll-shaped 
Casement Window - Window hinged on the side that opens like a door 
Clapboard - Long thin overlapping wooden boards placed horizontally on the outside of a building 
Colonet - Small decorative column 
Colonnade - Series of columns supporting an entablature 
Column - Round vertical support 
Columniation - Arrangement of columns
Composite Column - Elaborate combination of Ionic and Corinthian features         
Coping - Top course of a wall 
Coquillage - Seashell-styled decoration 
Corbel - Bracket or block projecting from the face of a wall 
Corbiestep - Stepped-end gable 
Corinthian Capital - Top part of a column characterized by large acanthus leaves and fluted column 
Cornice - A horizontal molded projection that completes a building or wall; or the upper slanting part of an entablature 
Crenellation - Square openings in the top of a parapet 
Cresting - Line of ornamentation finishing a roof         
Cupola - A cup-shaped cap over a structure; often found on carriage houses 
Cyclopean Block - Rock faced blocks often used in foundations 

Dado - Mid section of a pedestal, between base and cornice 
Dentil - Molding made up of rows of small square blocks 
Dimension Stone - Large blocks of stone used in foundations 
Doric Column - Column with plain capital, no base or fluting
Dormer Window - Window that projects from a sloping roof 
Double-Hung Windows - Windows with two sashes sliding up and down 

Eaves - Lowest projecting part of a sloped roof 
Egg & Dart - Molding in which an egg shape alternates with a dart shape 
Elephantine Columns - Tapered; used as porch supports on Bungalows. 
Entablature - Horizontal detailing above a classical column and below a pediment, consisting of cornice, frieze and architrave
Exedra - Wall alcove with bench space  
Eyebrow Window - Roof dormer having low sides; formed by raising small section of roof 

Facade - Main face or side of a building 
Fanlight - Fixed half-moon window sash above a door 
Fascia - Flat vertical board used to hide ends of roof rafters 
Fenestration - Design and placement of windows 
Finial - Decorative vertical roof ornament 
Flat Arch - Arch without rounded underside 
Fluting - Narrow vertical grooves on shafts of columns and pilasters 
Foliated - Decorative motif with leaflike ornament 
Frieze - Band below cornice 
Frontispiece - Small pediment over door or window 

Gable - Upper triangular portion of wall at the end of a roof 
Gable Roof - Shaped in an upside-down V 
Gambrel Roof - Double-pitched with end walls pointed at top 
Gargoyle - Carved figure with grotesque features; often on corners of buildings. 
Garland - Ornamental detail in the shape of a band of flowers 
Gingerbread - Elaborate wooden fretwork used on gables or as porch trim 
Gutta - Droplike element found underneath a triglyph or in a mutule 
Gothic Arch - Arch with pointed top 
Guilloche - Molding resembling twisted rope 

Helicline - Curved ramp
Hipped Roof - Slopes upward from all four sides 
Hoodmold - Decorative projecting trim above a window             
Horseshoe Arch - Arch in which the bottom is smaller than the mid-span; found in Moorish architecture 

Imbrication - Overlapping of shingles or tiles
Impost - Horizontal band from which arch begins 
Ionic Column - Slender, fluted, with spiral volutes on capital 

Jamb - Sidepiece on doors and windows  
Jerkinhead - Gable roof with hipped end; also called hipped gable
Jutty - Upper story projecting beyond the one below; also called jetty

Keystone - Wedge-shaped stone found in the center of some arches 

Lanai - Furnished veranda
Lancet Window - Window with a pointed arch 
Leaded Light - Window made up of small rectangular or diamond shaped panes of glass set in lead came
Lintel - Horizontal structural member that spans an opening 
Lites - Individual panes of glass 
Loggia - Arcade or gallery open on at least one side 
Lug Sill - One that extends beyond bottom window         
Lunette - Semicircular window or wall panel 

Mansard Roof - Double pitched roof in which lower pitch is nearly vertical and upper is nearly horizontal 
Mezzanine - Partial story between two main stories; usually projects as a balcony
Modillion Blocks - Ornamental scroll-shaped brackets or blocks found under the cornice 
Mullion - Vertical member separating two or more windows 
Muntin - Vertical or horizontal divisions between lites in a window or door         
Mutule - Block under the soffit of a cornice 

Newel - Post supporting one end of a handrail at top or bottom of stairs
Niche - Wall recess reserved for statue

Oculus - Circular opening in a wall 
Ogee - Molding with both concave and convex curves 
Oriel - Upper-story projecting bay window with corbels or brackets 
Ovolo - Convex molding also called quarter round 

Palladin Window - One with an arched center section flanked by lower flat-topped sections 
Parapet - Part of a wall that extends beyond the roof 
Patera - Round or oval disc, usually ornamented with a rosette in the center  
Pediment - Triangular gable end of roof above cornice 
Pendant - Hanging ornament 
Pent Roof - Sloping roof attached to side of building 
Pier - Square pillar or post 
Pilaster - Half column or pier attached to a wall 
Plinth - Raised platform upon which sits a column 
Porte Cochere - Porch roof projecting over a driveway 
Portico - Porch supported by columns, usually above entrance 
Postern - Side entrance
Putto - Statue of naked chubby baby; similar to a cherub with no wings 

Quatrefoil - Four-lobed motif; usually in block shape 
Quoins - Units of cut stone or brick used to accentuate the vertical corners of buildings 

Reeding - Opposite of fluting; protruding half-round molding 
Ridge Roll - Rounded cap covering exterior peak of roof
Rincleau - Scroll or vines cut in stone 
Rubble - Undressed broken stone used in construction 
Rusticated - Stonework with beveled or angled edges 

Sash - Frame in which the glass panes or a window are set 
Scrollwork - Ornamental work with curvilinear open patterns 
Segmented Arch - Arch that does not form complete semi-circle 
Sill - Bottom member of a window or door 
Soffit - Underside of an eave, lintel or other horizontal element 
Spindle - Turned vertical wooden element used in stair railings and porch trim 
Stoop - Small porch leading to entrance of a house 
String Course - Horizontal band of masonry wrapping around entire facade of building

Terrace - Open area connected to building; usually paved
Terra Cotta - Fired clay used for decorative ornamental details 
Tracery - Interlaced lines that form the lacy openwork of a Gothic-style window         
Transom - Small window above door 
Trayle - Decorative motif of continuous vine, leaf and grape clusters 
Trefoil - Clover-leaved pattern 
Triglyph - Banded decoration in a frieze 
Turpet - Small tower on corner of building supported by corbels 
Tuscan Column - Simple column with plain shaft 
Tympanum - Triangular face of a pediment 

Uncoursed Masonry - Not set in layers; no continuous horizontal joints 

Veranda - Porch that runs along front or side of a building; supported by pillars or columns 
Vermiculation - Decorative masonry surface with shallow channels 
Volutes - Scroll shape found on Ionic capital 
Voussoir - Wedge-shaped stones forming curved parts of an arch 

Wainscot - Facing of wood paneling, usually covering lower portion of interior wall
Water Table - Molding or projection on the exterior located at the intersection of the basement and first story 
Wheel Window - Round window with mullions radiating from the center 
Widow’s Walk - Narrow platform on roof; usually with wooden or wrought-iron balustrade
Wing - Building part projecting from a central or main part

Xystus - Tree-lined walk 
Yoke - Top of a double-hung window

Zoophorous - Frieze decorated with animal or human figures