Architecture Dictionary 02

Here is some more architect vocabulary for you. Most of these are focused on the drawings that architects make. There are fewer words here, but the definitions are longer. I also have some pictures in there to hopefully clear up the especially tough ones. If you’re interested in more information about architectural drawings and conventions, I would recommend visiting Studio Maven (dot org), which is where I got all of these images from. If you have any questions or suggestions for new words, send me an email. The quiz is on Thursday.

Context (n): Usually refers to what is in the immediate area around your site. Are there trees? Are there other buildings? How tall are they? How old are they? These are questions an architect would need to consider if she wanted her building to be “contextual”.

Elevation (n): Drawing type showing vertical surfaces, usually exterior walls. Shows organization of openings, finishes and roof lines among other building elements.

Horizontality (n): Sounds better than “horizontal-ness”. Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style homes are detailed such that the seams in the material and even the heads of the screws mirror the horizontality of the spatial organization.

Juxtapose (v): To place contrasting building elements or shapes next to each other for interest. As you can see, I juxtaposed the rigid linearity of the building against the gentle curves of the meandering garden paths. Note: if your architect says “juxtapose”, he’s probably just going to keep going with a bunch of other expensive words. Just smile while he gets it out of his system.

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Lineweight (click to enlarge image from

Lineweight (n): A way of creating a hierarchy among the lines in a drawing. Heavy lines indicate dominant building features that orient the drawing, such as the ground line or where an object is “cut” in a sectional drawing. Light-weight lines indicate things like patterns in a tile layout, which are useful to see but are distracting if too heavy. Everything else is in between and requires a skilled draftsman to make a judgement call.

Orthogonal (n): 1: A grid whose organizing lines meet at 90 degree angles. The walls in your house are probably orthogonal. 2: An orthographic projection is a type of parallel projection.

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Axonometric drawing, a type of Parallel Projection (click to enlarge image from

Parallel Projection (n): A type of drawing in which lines of projection are parallel to each other. To see a parallel projection in real life, you would have to stand infinitely far away from an object and have one infinitely big eye. If this is hard to imagine, don’t feel left out; most people who have not been trained to read these drawings find them confusing because they do not show depth, which is how we experience the world through our eyes. Far-away objects are the same size as close-up objects in a parallel projection. The closest thing you can get to a parallel projection as a human is standing super-far away from something. Architectural drawings for construction are almost exclusively parallel projections because they accurately show the relative size of objects and can be dimensioned. See Perspective Projection.

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Perspective Projection (click to enlarge image from

Perspective Projection (n): A type of drawing in which the lines of projection converge on one point. You can approximate seeing in perspective by closing one eye; the lines of projection are converging on your open eye. Perspective drawings are much easier to understand than parallel projections because they approximate how we see the world. They are not perfect; most noticeably, objects at the extreme edge of a perspective look strange and distorted. See Parallel Projection.

Plan (n): 1. Drawing type showing horizontal surfaces. Primarily used to show organization of individual rooms and their relationship to one another. A plan is usually a parallel projection, and it’s not a “bird’s eye view”. 2. (pl) Used to collectively describe a set of drawings, as in “that information is on the plans, sheet A4.0”.

Read (v): How something visually comes across, especially as a first impression. Everything on your front elevation is in the same plane; I might recess the entry so that it reads as a separate element.

Section (n): Drawing type showing a cut through an element or an entire building. Used to show the relationship between vertical spaces and the structure of a building.

Verticality (n): Sounds better than “vertical-ness”. The “I”-shaped beams on the exterior of Mies Van Der Rohe’s Seagram Building emphasize the verticality of the structure.


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