25 for 25: Architectural Buzz Words You Should Know

As a final acknowledgement of our 25th Anniversary…we post this last “25 for 25” list to close out 2012. Every profession and trade has its own lexicon of special words that carry a meaning unique to its users; Architecture is no different. We invite you here to join the design cognoscenti by offering this list of “25 Architectural Buzz Words You Should Know.”

1. Charrette: a French word with a complicated connection to our profession…it generally refers to an intense brain-storming and drawing effort undertaken as a deadline approaches. Typically, it involves copius amounts of caffeinated beverages and piles of pens and sketch paper. Often a group undertaking.

Charrette. Not pictured, coffee.

Charrette. Not pictured, coffee.

2. Parti: not to be mistaken with “PARTY!”, this is a small thumbnail sketch that distills the essence of the design – It’s the big idea.

3. Napkin Sketch: Famous architects sell these as “art”. (see also Parti )

Napkin sketch by Antoine Predock

Napkin sketch by Antoine Predock

4. Axonometric:  A drawn view of an object or building that looks confusing to almost everyone except an architect. It shows two sides plus the top (bird’s-eye axonometric) or bottom (worm’s eye axonometric) of a building. These also show up as “exploded views” in various manuals and assembly instructions.

5. Notion: Architect’s frequently get these…and they sound more important and artistic than saying “My idea for the new sewage treatment plant was to make it small and unobtrusive…”. This sounds better as “My notion for the new sewage treatment plant involves fragmentation and rusticity.” Right?

6. Pied-a-Terre: more French…basically a very small apartment in or near the center of the City.  More recently these are being referred to as micro-flats (which could also mean low-heeled footwear for women with really small feet.)

7. Scheme: generally one of several variants on an idea (as in Schemes A, B, and C…). This tends to refer to a floor plan or site plan offered as alternatives for review and consideration. Not related to Amway or Bernie Madoff.

A schemer, not a scheme.

A schemer, not a scheme.

8. Bid alternate: This is a request to the General Contractor to provide stand-alone pricing on some ridiculously expensive item that the Architect is praying can make it into the final-built project.

9. Value Engineering: the process by which the Developer and the General Contractor take out all the “really good-stuff” in an effort to bring the overall construction cost down. Most architects wince at this phrase.

10. Poche: yet more French… not one of the Spice Girls (they’re British, and we’re clearly Francophiles), but rather refers to a thickened wall as it appears on a plan. This is really useful when creating niches…which are woefully out of fashion.



11. Urban fabric: No, not a new type of spandex…but rather the arrangement, scale and overall development density of an area of the city. (e.g. “We are struggling to get this new Wal-Mart to fit sensitively into the urban fabric…”)

Don this urban fabric on a city street and find yourself behind bars.

Don this urban fabric on a city street and find yourself behind bars.

12. Exurbia: high-end residential areas beyond the suburbs. Although most architects would like to design a house on a huge exurban property for an exurbanite client with a fat budget…few are willing to say so out loud.

13. Blob-itecture: biomorphic building designs that are the current trend, especially among design school students and the architectural press. Imagine living or working in a building inspired by your spleen. Nice?

Looks just like his old man...

Looks just like his old man…

14. Typological precedent: a historical example of built form that is used as a rule or model for subsequent efforts. Rejected by Modernists in pursuit of pure innovation, these were reevaluated and embraced by later generations of architects as a means of  better connecting with history and culture.

15. LEED: short for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, a rating system by which buildings are evaluated on their “green” friendliness.

16. Interstitial space: the places “in-between”…think porches, courtyards, balconies, pergolas, etc. We love these spaces and insist that our projects include some type of indoor/outdoor place.

17. High-performance: nothing to do with muscle cars… this refers to super energy efficient building design. (“the architect’s design for this high-performance school earned a LEED Platinum rating.”)

360 horsepower and 0-60 in 7 seconds flat... but 8 miles per gallon isn't going to earn you any green cred.

360 horsepower and 0-60 in 7 seconds flat… but 8 miles per gallon isn’t going to earn you any green cred.

18. Borrowed view: a “trick” to visually extend a small space.

19. Defensible space: an environment whose layout allows its inhabitants to provide their own surveillance over communal areas and thus reduce crime. Those who might do harm will take note of these “eyes on the street” and simply move on for fear of being caught. Paintball guns should not be required.

It's defensible, but not much of a home-sweet-home.

It’s defensible, but not much of a home-sweet-home.

20. Program: a client’s list of required spaces within a project.

21. Bubble Diagram: the spaces in the program expressed as amorphous “bubbles” and arranged in such a way to establish logical adjacencies within a building. If the desired end product is blob-itecture, you can basically stop here.

22. Fit: refers to the happy relationship between a building and its site… nothing to do with tantrums or physical conditioning.

23. Space: It is both inside and outside, around and between,  nothing and… everything.

24. Celebrate: architects love to use this expression (“We added pointy spiked purple towers near the front door to celebrate the entrance.”) There is often a lot of celebrating going on…frequently unwarranted.

This unwarranted celebration has been brought to you by the Smurfs.

This unwarranted celebration has been brought to you by the Smurfs… because we can.

25. Form: that thing that “follows function” – unless you are into Blob-itecture or feel an irresistible urge to celebrate

Happy New Year from all of us at Studio E Architects!


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