150 Weird Words That Only Architects Use

For most students of architecture, the first few years of learning involve a demanding crash course in architectural jargon. From learning terms as obscure as "gestalt" to redefining your understanding of ideas as simple as "space," learning the architectural lexicon is one of the most mind-bending processes involved in becoming a designer.

This challenge is clearly a universal experience as well: when we asked our readers last month to suggest their picks for the "weirdest words that only architects use," we were inundated with suggestions - including 100 comments on the post itself and over 400 comments on our first Facebook post. Perhaps even more striking, though, was the fact that in all of these comments, there was remarkably little overlap in the words and phrases people were suggesting. The huge variety allowed us to select a list of 150 words - just a fraction of the total suggested.

Why Do Architects Use Such Strange Language?

First up, to give our list some context we'll be discussing our readers' comments about the issues surrounding architectural language - those who are here for the list alone, feel free to scroll down!

Architectural language can, of course, be used for good reason. Sometimes, concepts are too complex to express in everyday language, and some words refer to obscure architectural ideas that the general public would likely not have previous knowledge of. This was pointed out by jsarhitekt:

“Why limit, criticize or mute expression? Architecture has its own language, not unlike other professions, pursuits, and genres. Does everything have to be diminished and diluted to lowest common denominator?” - jsarhitekt

But as noted in Dougilis' response to jsarhitekt, there's a difference between talking to other architects and talking to people outside the profession:

“I don't think we are contributing to public discourse by using a language that is incomprehensible to a layman. When I talk to a physicist, I expect him to be able to translate his work into terms that I can understand, and all trades and professions should be held to the same standard. If you cannot explain your work simply, you don't fully understand your work.” - Dougilis

As Lee Calisti points out, the important distinction to make is about intent:

“Perhaps it's the wrong question to ask. Motivation is more important. Is one trying to be a better storyteller with their words or simply being pretentious?” - Lee Calisti, AIA

Margit Rudy points out how our use of language therefore impacts the way others think about architects:

“If those of us calling ourselves 'architects' want our hard-earned skill sets taken seriously in the larger context that we actually view to be our field of relevance, then it's high time we meet that broader field at least half way in terms/terminology that we all understand.” - Margit Rudy

And finally, perhaps the best argument for simple language was made by Greg Hudspeth, a builder who clearly isn't impressed by architects' intellectual posturing:

“As a builder who has been in the industry for over 20 years, I understand what I'm doing and consider myself intelligent enough to grasp relatively complex concepts in construction. However, I have a running list of the ridiculous words and phrases that the architects we work with are using. I spend a portion of each day stripping away the fluff and overly complicated explanations and descriptions for simple ideas. It is the biggest waste of time and ego. Sell that stuff to the client but give me the design and plans in the most direct and correct manner. I can work faster and make fewer changes.” - Greg Hudspeth via Facebook

150 Weird Words That Only Architects Use

Bearing in mind the above comments, it's important to remember that this isn't a list of words you should immediately stop using; simply be aware of who you're talking to, and be sure that if you do use any of these words they are necessary and appropriate in the context you use them.

This list is by no means exhaustive; with over 750 comments across our original article and three Facebook posts, we had to cap it somewhere! Included here are the words that were mentioned most often and which we had encountered ourselves. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here is our readers' list of 150 weird words that only architects use:

Architecture-specific jargon:

  • Pastiche
  • Sustainability
  • Ergonomy
  • Genius loci
  • Facade
  • Charette
  • Regionalism
  • Threshold
  • Massing
  • Enfilade
  • Materiality
  • Poché
  • Post-industrial
  • Diagrammatic
  • Vernacular
  • Modular
  • Deconstruction
  • Typology
  • Parametric
  • Program
  • Skin
  • Building envelope
  • Vault
  • Arcade
  • Fenestration
  • Truncated
  • Parti
  • Flâneur
  • Phenomenology
  • Brutalism
  • Cantilever
  • Curvilinear
  • Rectilinear
  • Miesian
  • Corbusian
  • Permaculture
  • Blobitecture
  • Exurbia
  • Walkability
  • Pilotis
  • Verticality
  • Rebate
  • Mullion
  • Muntin
  • Gentrification
  • Stylobate

Simple words given new meaning by architects:

  • Concept
  • Space
  • Fabric (urban or building)
  • Metaphor
  • Legibility (of something other than writing)
  • Dimension (meaning a characteristic of something)
  • Moment
  • Celebrate
  • Negotiate
  • Dynamic
  • Language
  • Context
  • Gesture
  • Proud (“the countertop is proud of the cabinet”)
  • Taxonomy
  • Hierarchy
  • Scale
  • Section
  • Formal
  • Nodes
  • Pods
  • Grain
  • Extrapolate
  • Device
  • Elevation

Obscure words that architects overuse (or misuse):

  • Iconic
  • Organic
  • Dichotomy
  • Eclectic
  • Kitsch
  • Sequence
  • Stasis
  • Interstitial / Interstice
  • Iteration
  • Juxtapose/Juxtaposition
  • Stereotomic
  • Tectonics (and architectonics)
  • Liminal
  • Articulate
  • Ephemeral
  • Domesticity
  • Anthropogenic
  • Regenerate
  • Hybrid
  • Generative
  • Ambiguity
  • Catalyst
  • Penetrate
  • Appropriate
  • Inspiration
  • Contemporary
  • Amalgamation
  • Performative
  • Hegemony
  • Curate
  • Bifurcate
  • Superimpose
  • Confluences
  • Gestalt
  • Zeitgeist
  • Banal
  • Blasé
  • Motifs
  • Procession
  • Homogenous
  • Palimpsest
  • Paradigm
  • Dissonance
  • Adjacencies
  • Parallax
  • Assemblage
  • Aesthetic
  • Monolithic
  • Uniformity
  • Morphology
  • Duality
  • Nuance
  • Transient
  • Redundancy
  • Robust
  • Bespoke
  • Holistic (sometimes even wholistic)
  • Simultaneity
  • Esoteric
  • Concretization
  • Schism

Unusual terms or phrases that architects love:

  • Play with (light, space, materials)
  • Human scale
  • Create/provide a gesture
  • How the ____ is received by the ____
  • Spatial composition
  • Map out
  • Explores the notion
  • Programmatic adjacencies
  • Activate the space
  • Public Realm
  • Outdoor room

Strange concepts within architecture:

  • Solid/Void
  • Interiority/Exteriority
  • Push/Pull
  • Bottom up/Top down
  • Transparency/Opacity
  • Served and Service
  • Negative/Positive space

150 Weird Words Defined: Your Guide to the Language of Architecture

Main image via Shutterstock.com

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "150 Weird Words That Only Architects Use" 19 Oct 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/775615/150-weird-words-that-only-architects-use> ISSN 0719-8884

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