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15 April 2021

Architectural terminology explained

A list of some of the most widely used terms you may hear used throughout your new build or renovation project.
interior designer, architectural jargons

Baffled or confused by some of the terms you have heard used by design professionals, architects, building designers, draftspeople or tradespeople? 

There’s a gazillion architectural and design related terms used by industry professionals and often these terms have name variations too. 

To help guide you through your project as easily as possible, we have created a list of some of the most widely used terms you may hear used throughout your new build or renovation project. 

Below we list from A-Z key terms and their definitions relevant to exterior spaces. 

For information on interior design terms please visit our article: Interior design terminology explained.

A

Aggregate

The crushed stones used in concrete for driveways and paving.

Arbour

An arbour is a garden feature that is similar to a pergola. It has a slatted roof and side posts but is much smaller. It offers shade and can be used at the entrance of a designated garden area to create a defined entryway. Generally made of treated timber, vines or flowers can be grown from it. It can be painted or left natural.

Apex

The highest point of a gable.

Arch

A curved structure that supports the weight of the material above it. Arches are becoming increasingly popular in building facades and interiors.

Arris

The sharp corner formed by joining 2 surfaces along a length of brick or timber.

Ashlar

The finest type of natural stone masonry, celebrated for its uneven, random form. Stones hewn and squared for use in building and cladding. The finish is raw and natural with blocks that vary in size.

Australian standards

Australian standards are documents that outline strict standards for design procedures and specifications. The purpose of these documents are to ensure the safety, reliability and consistency of products, materials, methods of construction and services in Australia. These standards can be accessed for free via the National Library of Australia.

B

Bagged brickwork

‘Bagging’ is a technique that is used to cover brickwork (to protect it or update the colour of it) while still allowing some of the bricks natural colour and texture to show through. It’s a cheaper alternative to rendering which completely hides the original brickwork.

BAL rating

A BAL rating is an Australian standard that measures the risk of a home’s level of exposure to bushfire attack. A BAL assessment is done by a qualified BAL assessor prior to the construction of a home in fire-prone areas.

READ: What these bushfire-resistant home designs taught us about safe rural living

Balconet (also known as a Juliet balcony)

A false balcony, often attached to the outer side of a window.

Batten

A batten is typically a beam of timber or steel mainly used for roof construction to create a framework for another surface to be fixed. Battens can also be used in flooring, wall and ceiling construction.

Beam

A beam is generally a horizontal load-bearing structural element used as a support for vertical building elements. Beams transfer loads and are used in construction for supporting roofs, floors, windows and doors. They can be constructed from timber, steel, concrete or composite depending on their application.

Building codes

Building codes of Australia are rules and regulations for construction that specify the standards that must be adhered to in building, architecture and interior design. All work carried out must comply with these stringent codes. These codes may change every year. It is essential that these codes are followed in order for Development Approval (DA) to be successful.

Building line

A line established by the local council which denotes the min. distance that must be maintained from the house to the street boundary.

C

CAD drafting

CAD stands for Computer-Aided Drafting and utilises CAD software to convey architectural design and documentation drawings rather than being drafted by hand as done so in the past and sometimes still today.

Cantilever

A horizontal projection, such as a balcony or beam, supported at one end only.

Carbon neutral

Carbon neutral is the term used to describe business’ offsets the amount of carbon dioxide their operations produce by some other means. One example are Brickworks who have achieved carbon neutral status with the production of their carbon neutral bricks which have been certified under the government’s National Carbon Offset Standard.

Casement window

This is a type of window that’s hinged at the side and open outward, to the left or to the right.

Cavity wall

A cavity wall is a masonry wall that has a double vertical layer of brick separated by air space that’s joined together with metal ties. This type of wall is used more so in cold climates as the heat-flow rate is 50% less than a solid wall.

Clerestory window

Installed at the very top part of a wall to permit the passage of light.

Column

A vertical support; in an order it consists of a shaft and capital, often resting on a base.

Common wall

A common wall that is common to adjoining buildings (such as the neighbours).

Coping

The capping or covering of a wall.

Curtain wall

A curtain wall is a non-load bearing external wall that is not a panel wall.

Custom home design (also known as bespoke home design)

A custom-designed home can provide a unique, one of a kind design that is specifically designed by an architect or building designer not just to meet a person’s living requirements and style preferences, but is also designed to fit within a particular site or location.

D

Detail drawing

Detail drawings show specific construction or design details at an enlarged scale. A floor plan will denote when there is a corresponding detail drawing for the builder to refer to and will generally show how something should be constructed and will include notes on materials and dimensions. 

Dormer

A dormer refers to a window that is generally placed on top of a sloping room.

Dimensions

Dimensions refer to the measurements on an architectural design drawing such as a floor plan or elevation.

E

Eaves

An eave is the section of a roof that juts out past the walls (when the ends of the rafters extend beyond the house) to shade the house from direct sunlight. They are made up of 2 elements referred to as a fascia and a soffit.

Elevation

An elevation is an architectural exterior or interior drawing that conveys design information and height measurements vertically (in a front view). Unlike a floor plan which conveys information from above in a top view.

G

Gable

The triangular portion of an end wall sits between the edges of a sloping roof.

Gas lift window

A gas lift window is the cool indoor / outdoor window that appears to be all the rage at the moment. They don’t have a sill or mullions and lift from the bottom out and upward. Once in the open position the window sits up and out instead of sliding open and allows for an unobstructed view to the outside. The gas lift allows it to open up effortlessly.

Gyprock (also known as plasterboard or drywall)

A branded name of a plasterboard sheet used to construct interior walls.

H

Hard wall plaster

Hardwall plaster is a finish applied to concrete or cement render walls to provide a smooth finish for painting. It can also be applied to masonry.

J

Joint

A joint is a junction where building elements meet without applying a static load from one element to another.

Joist

Joists consist of horizontal beams that run from one wall to another and are generally used in ceiling and floor construction. They run from the front to the back of a home and help to support not just the floor and ceiling but walls also.

L

Lintel 

A horizontal beam that spans the space between two supports generally over an opening such as a window or door.

Load-bearing

A load-bearing wall is a wall that is constructed as the building proceeds and supports its own mass.

M

Masonry

Masonry is another term for brickwork. 

Mortise and tenon joints

A mortise (occasionally mortice) and tenon joint connect two pieces of wood.

Mullion

A vertical bar of wood, metal or stone which separates two or more windows in a series.

P

Passive solar

Passive solar refers to building design that focuses on achieving optimal heat distribution and climate control from solar energy by employing passive solar design techniques. This can include optimum property orientation in relation to the sun, window placement and size, double glazing, thermal insulation, thermal mass, shading, cross ventilation, efficient lighting and smart home automation.

Parapet

According to Wikipedia, it is defined as a barrier that is an extension at the edge of the roof, terrace, balcony, walkway or other structures. It is designed to be a stylish safety feature. 

Pitch

A pitch refers to the steepness of an angular roofline. A standard roof pitch can be 15 degrees or 22.5 degrees depending on the roof construction. 

Porch

A porch is a covered outdoor shelter at the front of a home that can  be slightly raised and gives the house a lovely welcoming feeling. Not to be confused with a veranda that generall wraps around the perimeter of a home.

Portico 

A structure usually attached to a building, such as a porch, consisting of a roof supported by piers or columns.

R

Rendered 

A rendered wall finish can be smooth or irregular and is usually painted or acts a base for a finishing coat.

S

Sash

The horizontal and vertical frame that encloses the glazing of a window. A sash may be fixed or operable and may be of several different types depending on operation (i.e. casement, single or double hung, awning, hopper or sliding).

Section

A section in an architectural drawing is a form of detail drawing that provides specific information that shows the building cut through to illustrate details that may be concealed and tricky to see from elevations or plans. It can also show varying levels of a building and nominate construction materials. 

Site-specific architecture

Architecture which is of its time and of its place. It is designed to respond to both its physical context, and the metaphysical context within which it has been conceived and executed.

Sofit

A soffit is the exterior underside of an overhang where the roof meets the side of the house. 

Steel framed windows

Steel framed windows are very popular for both exterior and interior applications. They are usually powdercoated black and are available in a variety for profiles.

Substrate

A substrate is generally used to describe the foundations of a building and refers to the underlying layer that supports a primary layer. 

Sustainable

A sustainable home is energy efficient that optimises water use and is made from low impact / high performing materials that don’t harm the environment or its occupants.

T

Tender

Tendering is the process of inviting bids to receive the best price on a new build or renovation project. A tender is a submission document for a project that is prepared by a contractor or builder in response to an invitation to tender. An invitation to tender is sent out to help compare inclusions and prices and obtain the best deal. Speak to Superdraft about how we can assist you with the tender process.

Thermal mass

The term thermal mass refers to the ability of a building material to absorb and store energy. Materials such as bricks, terracotta roof tiles and concrete are said to have high thermal mass and are a good option for helping to maintain consistent temperatures around the home all year round.

Timber framing

Is the method of creating structures using heavy timbers joined by pegged Mortise and tenon joints.

Transom (architectural)

Window or element, fixed or operable, above a door but within its vertical frame.

Truss

A structural component made of straight wood or metal members, usually in a triangular pattern, with “pinned” connections at the top and bottom chords and which is used to support structural loads, like those on a floor, roof or bridge.

U

Undercroft

Traditionally, a cellar or storage room. In modern usage, a ground-level area that is relatively open to the sides, but covered by the building above.

Universal

A space that can be used for different purposes.

V

Vaulted ceiling

A vaulted ceiling has become increasingly popular in homes. It is a type of ceiling that is constructed with a self supporting arch with exposed beams found in many farmhouse, barn or coastal style homes.

Vernacular

Vernacular refers to a style of architecture that focuses on utilising local construction materials and elements based on the reliance of local needs and availability, and local traditions of a community. This is a style of architecture that has evolved over time to suit the surrounding environment 

Ventilation

Ventilation refers to the process by which clean outdoor air is intentionally filtered throughout a space in a controlled flow.

Vestibule

Similar to a foyer, a  vestibule refers to a small foyer at the entry of a home to reduce heat loss.

VR technology

VR tech refers to virtual reality technology or 3D design. 3D design allows you to experience your home design as it would appear in real life. Superdraft’s 3D world-class interactive 3D visualisation app allows you to immerse yourself in your own lifelike 3D model and make real-time selections for materials, finishes and fixtures.

W

Waterproofing

Waterproofing is the process of making a structure impervious to water. There are various types of waterproofing that can be done for walls and floors. All wet areas of the home must be waterproofed. 

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