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Construction Vocabulary: Language of Architecture in Plain English

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Construction VocabularyConstruction vocabulary is often convoluted and difficult to understand, and here we try to express the language of architecture in plain English. A term such as ‘residential architectural structure’ can be expressed simply as ‘house,’ and that is a very simple example.

However, our purpose here is not to seek out verbose examples of simple terms, but to enable you to more easily understand the language that is used to describe the structural components of your home.  Why is this necessary? Simply because many people become confused between a gable and an eave, let alone between a ridge, rake and hip!

It helps to understand the terms used in describing a dwelling, and it also helps a builder or designer if you can refer to a specific component using the correct construction vocabulary. It is useful to understand the language of architecture when communicating with those that use it regularly.

Here are some terms used in relation to different types of roof and windows, and also the parts of a standard door.

Construction Vocabulary: Components of a Roof

A roof can be flat or pitched, and there are many types of pitched roof. It can be a gable roof, which has at least one against an end wall in a triangular shape, or a hipped roof that has no gable, but rises in a rectangular pyramid shape. It is much easier to display these various terms in diagrammatic form.

This explains the various parts of a roof using construction vocabulary.  Valleys are often lead-lined, particularly in older buildings.  Dormer windows can be of any shape, and are popular in homes that have lofts converted as living space or as a bedroom.

Gables are the end walls of a building, and in the diagram above the roof portion of the gabled wall is delineated using ‘rakes.’  In the hipped portion of the roof there is no roof gable, the edges of the pyramid being referred to as ‘hips.’ So now when you read the description of a home for sale as having gabled or hipped roofs, you will know what the terms are referring to. You will also know that ‘dormer windows’ are windows projecting from the roof.

Language of Architecture: Components of a Window

There are many different types of window available, the most common being a double sash window and a casement window. The diagrams below explain the construction vocabulary used.
When two window units are joined side by side, the vertical joining frame is known as a mullion, and if horizontally, the horizontal separator is known as a transom.

Terminology of Doors

Doors also have their own vocabulary.  The diagram here shows a standard panel door with glazed lights (or lites) above.

If you can show your knowledge of the language of architecture to your architect or builder, then it is more likely for them to be more cooperative in discussing design details with you- whether you are having a new home built or are extending or renovating an existing property.

It is always useful to understand construction vocabulary when buying a house. You may not need the knowledge all the time, but it is there if required.  It can be useful to understand the difference between eaves, rakes and a soffit, and between a double-hung sash and casement window

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