Words at Play

Keystone, Mansard, Balustrade & More

In the Details: Architecture Terms Worth Looking At


Definition:

a kind of low wall that is placed at the sides of staircases, bridges, etc., and that is made of a row of short posts topped by a long rail

About the Word:

Both balustrade and baluster (which refers to the one of the vertical supports of a balustrade) come from the Italian word for the flower of the wild pomegranate, whose vaselike shape perhaps resembles that of some balusters.

Definition:

the wedge-shaped stone at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place

About the Word:

Beyond physical construction, keystone has developed an extended sense naming something on which other things depend for support (as in "literacy is the keystone of a good education").

Definition:

a piece of wood or stone that lies across the top of a door or window and holds the weight of the structure above it

About the Word:

Lintel has the same Latin root as limit.

Found in most of our houses today, lintels (with the posts that hold them up) have pre-historic origins that can be seen in structures like Stonehenge.

Definition:

a roof having two slopes on all sides with the lower slope steeper than the upper one

About the Word:

The mansard roof gives extra space without requiring construction of an entire floor. The mansard was especially popular in Renaissance and Baroque France, but the term wasn't used in English until the 18th century; the word "mansard" honors the 17th century French architect François Mansart, who helped popularize (but did not create) the style.

("Mansard Roof" is also the first track on Vampire Weekend's 2008 debut album.)

Definition:

an architectural member that projects from within a wall and supports a weight; especially one that is stepped upward and outward from a vertical surface (such as the supports beneath the balcony shown here)

About the Word:

The beaklike shape of the corbel inspired an unknown, fanciful Frenchman to give that architectural feature a name that translated from Middle French means "little raven."

Definition:

an upright post about which the steps of a circular staircase wind; or a post at the foot of a straight stairway, or one at a landing

About the Word:

Is a newel post the heart of a staircase? If you look at the story behind that word, you might well think so. Newel comes from the Anglo-French word nuel or noel, meaning "stone of a fruit."

Definition:

a wall of earth or stone to protect soldiers; or a low wall or railing at the edge of a platform, roof, or bridge

About the Word:

Parapet has its source in two Italian words: parare, meaning "to shield," and petto, meaning "chest." In current informal British English, to stick (or raise) your head above the parapet is to do or say something you think is important even though your action may have bad results.

Definition:

one of the usually differentiated blocks or stones that form the solid exterior angle of a building; also the exterior angle itself

About the Word:

Quoin is an alteration of coin, a word whose Anglo-French ancestor meant "wedge" or "corner." Architecture is rich in styles of quoins, but most quoins are toothed and set in a regular pattern of alternating lengths. They're both decorative and structural, since they usually differ in jointing, color, texture, or size from the masonry of the adjoining walls.

Definition:

an ornament usually decorated with a leaf pattern that forms an upper extremity (as of a pinnacle or gable) especially in Gothic architecture

About the Word:

Finial developed as an alteration of the word final. Finials are not restricted to outdoors; the decorative knob atop a lampshade is also called a finial.

Pediment
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Definition:

a triangular area on the face of a building below the roof, above an entrance, etc.

About the Word:

There's no connection between the impediment that means "hindrance" and the pediment that is a feature of classic architecture. This pediment is believed to trace back to the word pyramid.

The pediment shown here appears on the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C.




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