Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today's topic: a glossary of architectural terms!
Although most architectural features are usually referred to as "that thing on top of the thing," "the twisty thing over there on the side," or "some bricks in, like, a pattern around the thing," many of them also have technical names. Here is a brief glossary of common architectural terms that you may encounter during Landmarks Commission hearings, community board meetings, or here on this very website. (We've limited it to the ones that actually show up sometimes, so sorry, "fascia," whatever you are.) Bookmark this page and visit it during moments of great peril when you can't remember what a spandrel is.
Balustrade: A railing composed of small posts (balusters) with a rail running along the top, usually found along the edge of stairs, a porch, a balcony, a roof, or a stoop.
Bay Window: A window that protrudes from the rest of the building, usually polygonal or square.
Canopy: A metal frame covered with fabric that projects from a building entrance over the sidewalk.
Casement: A vertical window hinged on the side that opens either out or in.
Colonnade: A row of regularly spaced columns joined by an entablature.
Cornice: A projecting horizontal molding that tops the elements to which it is attached, usually decorative.
Cresting: An ornamental ridge usually located at the peak or edge of a roof, commonly iron.
Cupola: A small dome on a base crowning a roof.
Double Hung Windows: Windows with two vertical sliding sashes, one on top of the other.
Entablature: A superstructure consisting of an architrave, a frieze, and a cornice that lies horizontally across columns.
Façade: The main exterior face of a building.
Fenestration: The arrangement, proportioning, and design of windows and doors in a building.
Frieze: A wide decorative band in the middle of an entablature or below a cornice.
Gable: The triangle end of a wall formed by the slope of a roof.
Grille: A decorative grating used to protect a window, door, or other opening, usually iron.
Latticework: A framework of thin, criss-crossed strips of wood or metal.
Lintels: A horizontal structural element over an opening, can be load bearing or ornamental.
Lunette: A crescent-shaped or semicircular area or opening on a wall surface.
Mansard roof: A four-sided, double-sloped roof, where the lower slope is steeper than the upper slope. The lower slope is typically punctured by dormer windows.
Molding: A piece of trim that introduces varieties of outline or curved contours in edges or surfaces.
Oriel Window: A form of bay window that projects from the building but does not reach the ground, supported by corbels or brackets.
Parapet: A low wall that serves as a vertical barrier at the edge of a roof, terrace, or other raised area.
Portico: An open porch composed of a roof supported by columns, leading to the entrance of a building.
Relief: Carved or molded ornament that projects from a flat surface.
Spandrel: The roughly triangular space between two arches and a horizontal molding or cornice above them or a panel between the top of one window and the sill of another window.
Stucco: An exterior wall coating made from Portland cement, lime, sand, and water, often used to cover other construction materials such as concrete or brick.
Terra cotta: Hard fired clay often used for ornamental facade elements.
Turret: A small tower, usually supported by corbels.