Architecture Glossary

Following is a list of all the glossary words for the "Exploring New England Architecture" Activity.

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The Adamesque Style is based on the work of the English architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) and his brothers. During the late 18th century they had the largest architectural firm in England. Their architectural designs used the language of classical Greece and Rome as interpreted by Palladio, but with a twist. While the outsides were symmetrical, the insides were not always so. The Adams looked at the recently unearthed homes in Pompeii and Herculanium and discovered delicate designs on the inside.

Asymmetry has to do with balance. Imagine folding a building's front in half, look to see whether one side matches the other in size, shape and number of windows, doors and decoration. If it does not, say if there are more windows on one side or the other, or one is further away than the other, the front would be unbalanced, or "asymmetrical." (see symmetrical).

Georgian buildings can be divided into bays, usually five, but sometimes seven. These are vertical sections, usually a window over a window, but sometimes, as in the central bay, a window over a door. Each bay is the same width and height as the next.

Benjamin, Asher
Asher Benjamin was born in Hartford, CT in 1773. Little is know about his upbringing or where and how he received his training in Architecture. What is known is that by 1795,having done a bit of architectural work in Connecticut, he moved north to Massachusetts, living first in Northampton and then in Greenfield. Asher was only 22. After designing several houses (including the Colleman-Hollister House in Greenfield) Benjamin wrote a builder's guide called The Country Builder's Assistant (1797). This is the first original American work on architecture. This book spread the Federal Style of architecture throughout New England.

Board and Batten Door
This type of very sturdy door is made with two layers of wood. First is a set of wooden boards lined up side by side horizontally. The next layer is the same type of set, but lined up vertically. This second layer covers up the exposed seams of the first.

Bulfinch, Charles
Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) came from a wealthy Boston family. Educated at Harvard, he traveled throughout Europe between 1785-1787, crossing paths with Thomas Jefferson. It was with Jefferson in Europe, that he began to learn about architecture. When he returned to the States, he decided to become a professional architect; he was involved in the planning of much of Boston. From 1817 to 1830 he was in charge of the design of the Capitol in Washington.

Casement Window
Windows hinged on one side, most often opening out, are called "casement."

Central Chimney
In the hall and parlor plan used in the northern colonies, the chimney was placed in the center of the building with fireplaces in each room. Why? Along with providing a place to cook, the chimney needed to heat the rooms during the long, cold Northern winters. The chimneys were built by local masons who used bricks hand-made from clay found locally. Each fireplace had it own flue. The flues met inside the chimney stack and sent the smoke out the top.

Central Hall Plan
Households changed in many ways after the 1760s. Rooms became more specialized, the ideas of public and private space (having some rooms that visitors could go into and others that they could not) became more accepted. House plans began to include a Central Hall, where good manners dictated that visitors wait while the host is notified (often by a servant) of their arrival. Central Hall plans had two rooms to the right and two to the left. Most often, the front two were public spaces and the rear, private.

These are long, thin boards (often pine) attached onto the framing of a house. Just like a bird's feathers they overlap, creating a barrier that protects the house from the elements like rain, snow, cold and wind.

Classical orders of ancient Greece and Rome
The mathematicians, philosophers, artists and architects of ancient Greece were preoccupied with geometric relationships. The architects of ancient Greece and Rome had a series of designs which they called "orders." Every building, home or temple, was designed according to a particular order. In ancient Greece the orders were Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Romans added two more, Tuscan and Composite.

Clerestory Windows
Small windows such as these were popular in the Gothic Cathedrals and Renaissance palaces of Europe. They are designed to let light into small spaces.

A column is a relatively long, slender, cylindrical structure, usually used to support something.

The cornice is the top set of moldings just below a roof.

The word "dentil" means "teeth." Dentils are rectangular pieces of closely spaced wood, used as decoration. They were featured in classical architecture.

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Ebenezer Wells (1691-1758)
Ebenezer Wells, a wealthy farmer, was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, September 13, 1691. In 1717, he bought a home lot, including a house and barn on the corner of Main and Memorial Streets, from his brother Thomas. At some point the original house, which had survived the 1704 attack, burned, and he rebuilt what is now the ell. In 1720, he married Abigail Barnard. The couple had no children. They owned two slaves, Lucy Terry and Cesar. Ebenezer had a license to keep a tavern in the house from 1747 to 1749. He owned other real estate which he left to relatives, and a "good silver tankard" to the Church of Christ in Deerfield. He may have built the front portion of the Wells-Thorn House, but it is possible that his nephew Ebenezer built that part.

An Ell (also spelled el) projects backward from the main block of a house and lies at a right angle to it. It is usually added at a later date, but not always.

English Cottage
During the late 1500's and early 1600's, cottages in England had both medieval and renaissance characteristics. The diamond paned glass, asymmetrical exterior and steeply pitched roof are part of the medieval style, while the symmetrical interior belong to the renaissance.

In ancient Greek buildings the entablature rests above the columns. It has three parts, architrave, frieze, and cornice, all of which can be decorated. Entablatures are also part of Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival styles in America.

Façade is a French word meaning the front or face of a building.

Fanlights were very popular in Federal and later styles. They are semicircular windows over the top of a door. They look like an open fan, with glass insets. Their biggest function was to let more light into the central hall.

Federal Style
Between 1780 and 1820 there was a style of American architecture that trumpeted the pride of the new country. The Federal Style, so called because it was developed during the Federal period of American history, spread like wildfire throughout the United States. Like the early Georgian Style, Federal Style buildings have classical ornament, but applied in a calmer, more restrained manner. An elliptical fanlight over the front door is one of the hallmarks of the style.

Like a pipe or tunnel, a flue carries smoke up to the top of the chimney so it can escape.

In the 1600s and 1700s houses were timber framed. The frame of a house is like a skeleton created of boards. The earliest frames were put together with wooden pegs. Later, as nails became less expensive, they were used to secure the wood.

Gambrel Roof
A side gabled roof where each face (front and back) has two slopes, the lower one steeper than the upper.

This is another word for attic, the uppermost floor of a house. It is usually unfinished and used for storage.

Georgian Style
The Georgian Style began in England during the early 18th century and quickly spread to America. It is named after Kings George I, George II, and George III who ruled England from 1714 to 1820. Influenced by the monumental architecture of ancient Greece (9th through 4th century B.C.E.) and Rome (1st century B.C.E. through 5th century C.E.), and the buildings from the Renaissance (early 15th century to early 17th century), and Baroque (17th century to mid-18th century) periods in Europe. Georgian buildings have strict symmetry and are decorated with elements derived from Classical Greece and Rome.

Georgia State Representatives
In 1797 the Georgia State representative reclaimed land that the previous state representatives had illegally sold to speculators or "settlers" such as William Coleman. These were called "bounty grants" and were originally intended to give land to displaced Revolutionary soldiers, British soldiers who defected and other deserving people.

During the early 1700s, most rooms were multi-purpose. The Hall served as kitchen, dining room, work room and, at times, bedroom.

Hall and Parlor Plan
This common floor plan, a traditional English folk form, is two rooms wide and one room deep. In the northern colonies the floor plan included a prominent center chimney; the southern colonies' often featured a side chimney.

Hipped Roof
A roof with the sides and the ends inclined.

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Ionic is one of the three styles of classical Greek architecture. Ionic capitals (the top of the column or pilaster) has a large volute (scroll).

Jefferson, Thomas
Thomas Jefferson (1743 -1846) was elected the third President of the United States and served from 1801 to 1809. He was also passionate about architecture. During the late 1700s he saw little in American architecture that he liked; "Buildings are often erected, by individuals, for considerable expense. To give these symmetry and taste would not increase their cost. It would only change the arrangement of the materials, the form and combination of the members. This would often cost less than the burthen of barbarous ornaments with which these buildings are sometimes charged. But the first principles of the art are unknown, and there exists scarcely a model among us sufficiently chaste to give an idea of them" Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia [1781, 1787], 152-153. He then began to design his own home in a new style, later to be named Federal. Monticello, his home for many years, was constructed and then remodeled according to plans he drew, as was the University of Virginia.

Jones, Inigo
Inigo Jones was the son of a clothmaker and one of England's first great architects. He lived from 1573 to1652. He traveled to Italy to study first hand the buildings of Palladio and to compare Palladio's texts with the architecture of ancient Roman. His unique style blended classical elements into the design of a building. In fact, he is credited for bringing classicism to England.

Skilled craftsmen such as carpenters, blacksmiths and architects went through an apprenticeship period working for people already in the trade. A journeyman is someone who has gone through this early training but is not yet ready go out on his own.

Also called bas-relief, this form of carving creates an image which projects only slightly from the background.

Lucy Terry Prince
Lucy Terry Prince (1725-1821) was a black slave owned by Ebenezer and Abigail (Barnard) Wells of Deerfield. Lucy was brought to Deerfield by Mr. Wells when she was five years old. She was known for her storytelling abilities. She is credited with being the author of a poem "The Bars Fight," describing the last Indian attack on residents of Deerfield on August 25, 1746. In 1756 she married a free man of African heritage, Abijah Prince, and they lived in a house built on land at the eastern end of the Wells' homelot.

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McIntire, Samuel
Samuel McIntire (1757-1811) was born in Salem, Massachusetts. His father was a carpenter and housewright (house builder) and he and his brothers learned the trade. Samuel took his skills and added to them what he could learn in books. By the time he married at age 21, he was already remodeling and building houses. He was also an extremely talented woodcarver. After 1793 he worked exclusively in the Adamesque style of Charles Bulfinch. Carved swags, rosettes, garlands, and his signature sheaves of wheat dominate wood surfaces in McIntire homes built between 1793 and his death in 1811.

Modillions are brackets, often decorative, which are placed just under the roof line.

Often placed around windows and doors and under roofs, molding are pieces of wood added to create decoration. Using wood planes, carpenters take flat pieces of wood and make them curved.

On some Post Medieval English homes the second floor is larger than the first. It literally extends out front by as much as a foot or two. This was very popular in English cities where homes were crowded together and streets were narrow. The overhang created a bit more living space above street level.

Palladian Window
Named after Andrea Palladio (see below) who made them popular in the 16th century, these windows are very common in the Federal Style. They are large windows, divided into three parts by pilasters or columns. The center section is usually wider than the others and is often arched.

Palladio, Andrea
Palladio was an Italian architect who lived from 1508 to 1580. The son of a miller, trained as a sculpture, Palladio began working as an architect in 1550. By training with an accomplished architect, reading De Architectura (On Architecture) by the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (1st century B.C.) and studying ancient Greek and Roman ruins, he brought new architectural ideas into Renaissance culture. He also wrote a treatise on architecture, calling it "The Four Books of Architecture"

A panel is a distinct, usually rectangular section of a surface. 18th century doors were often paneled.

During the early 1700s, most rooms served several functions. The parlor usually served as the "master" or best bedroom as well as an area to meet with visitors.

A pilaster is a shallow pier or rectangular column, flattened and attached to a wall. Pilasters tend to follow the classical orders of Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan and Composite.

Pitched Roof
Imagine that a roof is a large triangle with at least two sides of the same length. If you make the top point lower, the roof has a low pitch. If the top point is higher then the pitch is steeper.

In homes with Hall and Parlor plans the front door opens into a very small space called a porch. There is no real room for people to sit and wait. Those entering the house were immediately faced with three choices; go up the stairs, into the parlor on the right, or to the hall on the left. Their choice depended on their status and relationship to the family.

Post Medieval English
In the 17th century, immigrants to the North American Colonies brought with them a sense of what their homes should look like. These regional Early Colonial styles included Dutch, French, and Spanish as well as Post Medieval English, a style that flourished in the Northern Colonies such as Massachusetts Bay. This last style was carried to the New World by Puritan settlers and was popular from approximately 1600 to 1740 or so. Its overall design is derived from modest English homes. Typically, a Post Medieval English style home had the following characteristics:
1. Hall & Parlor Plan, one room deep
2. Steeply pitched roof
3. Boxy, asymmetrical exterior
4. Prominent center chimney
5. Unpainted clapboard or weatherboard covering the exterior walls
6. One and one-half stories high
7. Diamond-paned casement windows, few in number
8. Split-shingled roofing (replacing the thatch used in England)
9. Timber framing
10. Board and batten door placed on the long side of the house
11. Minimal decoration on the outside.

The artists and architects of ancient Greece and Rome sought an ideal system of proportions which would create beauty. Vitruvius (1st century B.C.E.) said that "Beauty arises in the proportion of the parts, such as that of finger to finger, and all the forearm to the upper-arm and...of everything to everything else." He believed that this system, which ruled the human figure in art, must also be applied to architecture. Proportion, according to him, was "a correspondence among the measure of an entire work, and of the whole to the certain part selected as a standard."

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Ridge Pole
A ridge pole is used to stabilize a roof frame. It is a long beam at the top of the roof that runs along the entire length. It works to distribute the weight and make the roof stronger

A rosette is a round pattern with a carved or painted stylized flower.

Georgian and Federal windows are in two parts, top and bottom, called sashes. The top sash does not move, but the bottom one can and is held open with metal pins. Later styles such as Greek Revival also contain sash windows.

The gable of a house is where a pitched roof makes a triangle. A side gabled house is one where the front door is on the flat side.

Steeply Pitched
Imagine that the roof is an isosceles triangle. Now, raise the top point of the triangle without changing the length of the bottom line. The higher that top point gets, the more steeply pitched the triangle is. The same is true for a roof.

Step-back Chimney
During the 1600's and 1700's chimneys were made very big and bulky. To reduce that heavy look, masons sometimes made the part of the chimney that came out on top of the roof more decorative. A step-back chimney is not square or rectangular, but has sections that jut out at regular intervals.

A swag is a length of fabric or a rope of flowers taken up at both ends to form an upward arch. Federal architecture often includes carved swags.

Symmetry is created when an item (a house, a sculpture, a bowl) can be divided into parts that are equal in shape and size. Symmetry is the opposite of asymmetry. With symmetry each side of a building is equal and balanced. Looking at the floor plan, one can see that the hall and parlor are of equal size with the chimney occupying the exact center.

Between 1744 and 1749 Ebenezer Wells had a license or privilege to run a tavern in his house, now the Southern Ell of the Wells-Thorn House. In the early 1700s taverns were often sections of the family home, set aside for people to get food and drink and rest. In this case the tavern may have been in the Wells' hall, where warmth could be had and food and drink could easily be served. Overall, taverns were centers of social life with very strict rules concerning behavior.

Thatched Roof
Straw or rushes can be lashed into bundles which are then used as roofing. This creates a solid roof that repels water.

A transom is a horizontal bar of wood that runs along the top of the door. A "light" is a pane of glass used to make up a window. The transom light is a window placed above the door.

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Window Caps
These are decorative wooden moldings placed just above the window frame. Often they mimic the decoration found under the cornice or over the door.

Wren, Christopher
Sir Christopher Wren was an English architect who lived from 1632 to 1723. In college he studied Astronomy, eventually becoming Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University. He plunged into architecture in 1663, at the request of an uncle. After the Great London Fire of 1666 (which destroyed 89 churches and 13,200 houses) he was appointed the Commissioner for Rebuilding the City of London. His style combines classical and baroque styles. His biggest innovation was the small detached home.

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