How We Built Britain | Home

Glossary

 

 

Browse the glossary of terms used in the exhibition.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z list all
   
 

Arcade

A decorative feature, used in Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Arcades are made up of a series of columns and arches, creating rhythmic patterns. Layer upon layer of arcades often decorate towers and high walls, a good example being the west end of Ely Cathedral.

 

Arrow slits

Found in medieval buildings, these narrow openings are often in a cross shape, enabling archers to fire arrows in a number of directions whilst being protected. Often used decoratively in later medieval buildings, arrow slits do not mean that a building was defensive.

 

Art Deco

Fashionable in the 1920s and 1930s, this style delights in strong outline, geometry, bold colours, industrial materials and a liking for the exotic. Sources include ancient Egyptian and Aztec architecture.

 

Art Nouveau

 

Fashionable from the 1880s to early 1900s, Art Nouveau delights in movement with flowing organic forms and curves. Areas of rich ornament are often contrasted with plain, if not severe, forms. In Britain, the style was more widely adopted for interiors rather than exteriors.

 

Ashlar

Finely worked stone, with a smooth finish. Joints between the stone can barely be seen. Such skilled work is very expensive, and a sign of an ambitious patron and architect.

 

Top of page

 

B 

Bailey

An area enclosed by walls in a castle. Often, medieval castles had both an inner and outer bailey, to maximise defence. If these were overcome, then the last refuge was the keep.

 

Balustrade

Small columns joined together by a rail; these can be found on the top of buildings, used in balconies, or in staircases.

Baroque

A period of art essentially dating from around the seventeenth century, that played on effect from surprise, breaking classical rules, and delighting in movement and curves.

 

Boss

A projecting carved section in a vault or ceiling, found where two or more supports meet. In medieval churches these were often elaborately or grotesquely carved, and usually designed to be part of an iconographic scheme.

 

Brutalism

A term used to describe the later buildings of Le Corbiusier and his enthusiasts, like Denys Lasdun and Erno Goldfinger, which delighted in the effects of raw concrete, left unpolished, and showing the marks of the wooden moulds. Such effects were often employed in buildings of great scale, with areas unrelieved by detail, other than functional features.

 

Top of page

 

C

Capital

The carved part at the top of a column.
 

Chancel

Early and medieval churches were carefully made up of different sections. The holiest part of a church, where the altar was found, was the chancel or choir / quire. After the Reformation many medieval churches were redesigned, the chancel losing its special status. In the Victorian era, interest in medieval churches and worship revived. Most medieval churches were restored and the chancel returned to the focus of worship in old and new places of worship.

 

Classical

Classical architecture refers to the building styles of Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. These were rediscovered during the Renaissance, and made fashionable across Europe from the fifteenth century onwards. It is characterised by an attempt to provide a harmonious sense of proportion and balance by adherence to the Orders. Buildings are usually grandiose and built of stone, and generally feature pediments and columns. There have been several revivals of the style; see Neoclassical.

 

Cloister 

An enclosed walkway, usually forming four sides around a garden, which was the centre of medieval monastic life. From the cloister access could be gained to the most important rooms of the monastery.

 

Colonnade

A row of columns creating a sheltered area.

 

Composite

An order of Classical architecture comprising capitals with leaves and curly Ionic ornamentation.

 

Corbel

A supporting piece of stone or wood, projecting out from a wall. Vaults and arches spring out from corbels. Found a great deal in Romanesque and Gothic architecture, corbels are usually carved with a wonderful variety of forms. 

Corinthian

An order of Classical architecture featuring capitals surrounded by leaf shapes.

 

Cornice

The horizontal feature that runs across the top of Classical columns and the roof line.

 

Crenellations

Another term for battlements, but used to describe decorative battlements. Often these are made of ashlar or fine brick and include arrow slits. Many later medieval houses and churches were crenellated, like Oxbrugh Hall and Jesus College, Cambridge.

 

Crow-step gable 

A feature found much in Scottish architecture. Rather than a smooth triangular end to a roof gable, this creates a bold, stepped outline to the roof. Masonry or brick jumps up in a series of steps to the crow or top stone and then back down.

 

Cusp

A projecting point formed where two curves meet. Cusps are found a great deal in Gothic architecture, owing to the love of ornamentation. They add extra decoration to window tracery, furniture and sculptural carvings.

 

Top of page

 

D

Decorated Gothic

A style found in English medieval architecture, developed from the later thirteenth century to the mid fourteenth century. Decorated Gothic lives up to its name: it delights in geometric ornament and variety, possessing a certain restlessness. Decorated buildings tend to strive for the massive, but cover these with geometrical patterns and points of naturalistic carving. There was also much interest in spatial effects, with innovatively shaped plans in many churches, stonework intricately cut, and huge windows. Many Victorian architects like Pugin and Street thought this was the finest period of English medieval architecture, and re-employed this in their own buildings.

 

Device

A pattern or symbol. The Elizabethans delighted in devices. In literature this was expressed in the word play of the sonnet. This continued into their architecture, employing geometric patterns, letters and symbols in their plans, decorative work and gardens. Thus their buildings and contents often have hidden meanings.

 

Diaper work

Decorative effect on walls achieved with diamond or square patterns. This is most easily achieved with brick, using different coloured bricks across walls. However diaper patterns can also be in stone, even tiles. Popular in medieval buildings, such as at Jesus College Cambridge.

 

Doric

An order of classical architecture - characterised by squat, flat, wedge-like capitals. 

 

Dormer window

Usually small, these windows are found in roofs lighting attic rooms. They emerge out of the sloping angles of the roof, and usually have their own small gable. Dormer windows are found extensively in medieval and Tudor architecture. In Georgian architecture they are often hidden behind a parapet. However, they became a much used feature in Picturesque and Victorian architecture.

 

Top of page

 

E

Eclecticism

When architecture derives from many sources, historical and geographical, it is called eclectic. Late Georgian architecture was often eclectic, with buildings in a variety of architectural styles, inspired by Indian, Islamic and medieval architecture. Late Victorian architecture was also said to be eclectic. In both eras, architects copied other styles, mixing them together, with sometimes peculiar, but often glorious results.

 

Elevation

A face, front or façade of a building. Often used in conjunction with drawings where a vertical feature is shown. Elevations can be internal or external.

 

English Renaissance

The progressive Renaissance architecture of Italy was out of bounds to most English artists and patrons. Elizabethan artists and designers therefore only borrowed details of Roman architecture. Only with Inigo Jones did British architecture mature, buildings becoming as sophisticated as those in Italy, and worthy of the description English Renaissance. 

 

Top of page

  

F

Fenestration

A word used to describe the window arrangement of a building. Thus a building’s fenestration can be elaborate, or a chief feature of a façade.

 

Fleur-de-lys

A stylised flower, usually based on the lily and with three petals. This is used a great deal in medieval and Tudor architecture as a decoration, owing to its connection to the Royal coat of arms and the Virgin Mary. 

 

 

Fresco

A painting on plaster, Frescoes once featured extensively in medieval churches and buildings. Frescoes survive with difficulty with the damp British climate. Added to this, the Reformation meant that many were whitewashed; precious few frescos remain.

 

Frieze

A feature of Classical architecture, principally found in between the cornice and the architrave. This can be plain, or elaborately decorated / carved, dependent on the type of column order that is used. Friezes can also be any section that is decorated in Classical architecture.

 

Top of page

 

G

 

Gable

The end of a wall that goes up into the roof, usually triangular shaped, but can be a variety of shapes.

 

Gargoyle

Like corbels and bosses, gargoyles are projecting features in Gothic architecture. They served a functional purpose, throwing out water from the walls of medieval buildings. However, they were also chosen as the ideal opportunity to add rich, imaginative carvings: devils, dragons and demons spurt water with glee from many a medieval church.

 

Gothic

A style of art and architecture, and also a period of culture, usually associated with the Middle Ages, from c. 1150-1500. Gothic was essentially a northern European style. Many people think of the pointed arch as the essential of Gothic style. Decoration is often based on nature - can be very realistic, or can be grotesque.

 

Gothick 

A term describing buildings and design from the earliest phase of the Gothic Revival, from the mid eighteenth century onwards. Gothick buildings borrow details from Gothic buildings but use them decoratively only. Design elements are superficial and limited to the skin of the building; Gothick buildings usually lack constructional logic, the best known example being the ill-fated Fonthill Abbey by Wyatt. 

 

Gothic Revival

An artistic movement dating from the eighteenth century onwards. There were many phases of the Gothic Revival, with different periods and sources of medieval architecture fashionable at various times. Early Gothic Revival buildings were imaginative interpretations of medieval art and architecture, used as a substitute to Classical architecture. From around 1840, the study of medieval buildings became more scholarly and the Gothic style dominated British architecture. Close copies of medieval churches and town halls were built; at the same time Gothic arches and carving were added randomly to shops, stations and terraced houses.Gothic finally fell out of fashion around 1900, but continued to dominate ecclesiastical architecture.   

 

Greek Revival

Italian Renaissance architects revived Roman architecture only. As Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Turks, it was not possible to study the ruins of Ancient Greek buildings. Only in the eighteenth century did architects and scholars manage to travel through Greece and beyond, and study the wealth of architecture of the early Classical world. Their discoveries published, the simple and pure architecture of Ancient Greece was revived, used by fashionable architects and patrons throughout Britain.

 

Gun-loops

Round holes pierced through the walls of castles and manor houses from the fifteenth century onwards. Gun loops could be used defensively. However, they could be just a decorative feature, showing the wealth of the inhabitants.

 

Top of page

 

H 

Hammer-beam roof

One of the wonders of English late medieval carpentry. Hammer-beam roofs are highly decorative, and can span great widths. They are called after the hammer-beam – a horizontal beam projecting out from the wall. These are supported by a curved piece of timber, arching out. These then support a vertical timber, a hammer-post and another arched timber. Using this system, a wide space can be roofed, and the ceiling becomes an open, dominant feature of a building. Usually found in church naves and great halls, some of the best examples are found in East Anglia, like Woolpit.

 

Top of page

 

I

Iconography

Conveying a message using religious symbols

 

Ionic

An order of architecture, often called the 'feminine' order. Capitals have curly spirals at the corners called volutes.

 

Top of page

 

J

Jetty

The overhanging or projecting part of a timber-framed building.

 

Top of page

 

K

Keep

The heart of medieval castles, keeps were the last refuge if the castle was being defended from attack. They were also the area accommodating the lord, his family and close supporters. Norman keeps were made of wood, and placed on the top of an earth mound. Soon they became tall, blunt buildings, constructed of stone, with closely guarded entrances; late medieval keeps became more extravagant buildings, as much centres of entertainment and status symbols as the chief tower of the castle.

 

Top of page

 

L

Lantern

Found on the top of buildings, lanterns are usually windowed, delicate structures designed to let light in to the roof and rooms below. They can be found on both Classical and Gothic buildings.

 

Top of page

 

M

Machicolations 

These openings project out from the tops of walls in medieval castles and manor houses, just below the battlements. They allow hot liquids and other unpleasant substances to be poured on those below. A defensive feature, they also were highly fashionable in late medieval and Tudor architecture, as they gave a dramatic profile to the tops of buildings. 

 

Mannerism

A movement in art, at the end or just after the Renaissance, where artists attempted to bring emotion and intensity to their work. To do this they broke the rules of Realism, carefully strived for in the Renaissance. In architecture this resulted in extraordinary buildings of a theatrical nature which broke the rules of classical architecture.  

 

Measured drawing

Unlike a sketch, a measured drawing is a closely observed drawing with a scale attempting to accurately represent the features of a building.

 

Modernism

A design style dating from the 1920s characterised by clean lines and a search for proportion in which form follows function; decoration is minimal. It originated in the Bauhaus School of Art in Germany; Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier were key figures in its development. British Modernism arrived with emigrés from Nazi Germany.

 

Mouldings

To introduce depth, shadow and a greater sense of line, materials like stone, brick and wood can be carved or manipulated. These adaptations are called mouldings, and can be found in Classical and Gothic architecture.  

 

Mullions 

A window feature, mullions are the thin stone supports found in medieval and Tudor buildings that divide up the glass panels and help support the structure above.

 

Top of page

 

N 

Nave

The largest part of most churches, primarily naves are used to accommodate the people or congregation in church services. In medieval times this was the part owned by the laity – the ordinary worshippers, and set apart from the chancel – the section owned by the clergy, and the holiest in the church. Naves are usually tall and open, with lower passages either side, called aisles. Often late medieval naves are higher and grander than chancels, showing the wealth of the people in the period, and the rivalry between the laity and the clergy, for example Wymondham, Norfolk.

 

Neoclassicism / Neoclassical

A movement in architecture that strove to rediscover ancient Classical architecture. Rather than relying on Renaissance architects, many eighteenth-century architects, artists and scholars visited Rome, Athens, Pompeii and other Classical sites, accurately observing and measuring the remains. On their return, they published their findings leading to a new understanding: Classical architecture was more varied, and less rule-centred. This they expressed in their buildings, whether the Greek Revival buildings of John Foulston at Devonport or the rich interiors of James Wyatt at Castle Coole.

 

Niche

A small opening or recess in a wall, usually built to accommodate a statue, but sometimes included just to add greater relief to a building, introducing shadow to a façade.

 

Top of page

 

O

Ogee arch

A principal feature of Decorated Gothic architecture, ogee arches are sinuous and curved, and look as if they are made up of two S-shaped sections joining together.

 

The Orders

The name for the five different types of architectural styles in Classical architecture. Each one has different proportions and different decorative parts - columns and capitals. All are based on temple architecture.

 

Oriel

A projecting window supported on a bracket or corbel. Oriels push out from a wall, and are usually glazed on three sides. Popular in medieval and Tudor architecture, they became fashionable again in the Victorian period.

 

Top of page

 

P

 

Palladianism

The Venetian architect Andrea Palladio was regarded by many early eighteenth-century architects and patrons as the authority in architecture. Its chief proponent was Lord Burlington, whose Chiswick House copied Palladio’s mid sixteenth-century Villa Rotonda. Palladian architecture rejected the imaginative heights of the Baroque: architecture was centred on proportion, rules and simplicity. Flat, strong horizontal lines dominated. 

 

Pediment

The triangular shape that usually sits on the top of columns on a temple or building’s front. Often filled with sculpture.

 

Perpendicular

An English Gothic architectural style, dating from c. 1335 to c.1530. Chiefly applied to churches and characterised by fine window tracery, flattened arches and sweeping verticals that lead the eye upwards.

 

Pilaster

A rectangular column that projects only slightly from a wall.

 

Top of page

  

Q

Quatrefoil

A pattern used in masonry and wood, similar to the shape of a four-leafed clover, comprising of four curves joined together. Often featured as part of window tracery.

 

Quire

Early and medieval churches were designed functionally, and were carefully made up of different sections. The holiest part of a church, where the altar was found, was the quire or choir / chancel. After the Reformation many medieval churches were redesigned, the quire losing its special status. In the Victorian era, interest in medieval churches and worship revived. Most medieval churches were restored, the quire returned to the focus of worship in old and new places of worship.

 

Top of page

 

R

Raggle

The remaining marks in a wall where a roof one was. Two sides of a triangle, these reveal roof lines have changed over time.

 

Reformation

The religious movement that attempted to reform the Catholic Church in the mid-sixteenth century.

 

Renaissance

An historical period relating to the arts which had its origin in fifteenth-century Italy, and is generally considered to have lasted until the mid-sixteenth century. Literally means “re-birth”.

 

Rococo

An artistic and architectural style typified by light and highly elaborate detail; a light, frothy flourish towards the end of the Baroque period.

 

Rood screen

A divider, generally made of carved wood or stone, that separates the chancel of a church or cathedral from the rest of the nave.

 

Romanesque

Literally ‘Roman-like’. A style of art and architecture, and a period of culture, from around 800AD to c.1200, that looked to Roman art and architecture, attempted to copy it, but created its own rich forms instead. It is usually associated with the rounded arch and many columns in buildings. Geometrical patterns were used a great deal in art and architecture, along with exaggerated natural forms. Norman architecture was Romanesque in style.

 

Rustication

Masonry prepared in such a way that it gives a rough and rugged surface, cut in large blocks; often used at the base of a wall.

 

Top of page

 

S

Sash window

Glass is set in two wood, metal or plastic frames to form a sash window, one or both of which can be moved up and down with the aid of pulleys so that the windows can be opened.

 

Scotch baronial

A style of architecture deployed in Scotland in the nineteenth century that mimics the grandeur of early French baronial castles, with turrets, gun loops and massive walls. It also draws on Scottish architecture of the 16th and early 17th century.

 

Section drawing

An architectural drawing showing its structure as if cut through vertically.

 

Spandrel

The area of wood or stone that lies above an arch or a vault.

 

Top of page 

 

T

Tenement

A block of dwellings usually built to provide high density housing at low cost; generally refers to buildings of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

 

Topographical drawing

A drawing which shows the topography of a place, i.e. its landscape and buildings.

 

Tracery

Fine decorative carving in either wood or stone found in the design of windows, vaults, screens and panels.

 

Transept

The areas of a church that extend out from its centre to form a cross-shape ground plan.

 

Trompe L’oeil 

Literally means to ‘deceive the eye’ - the technique by which painters can include details/arrangements that make you think that a feature is real in a painting or fresco.  

 

Top of page

 

U

 

Top of page

 

V

Vault

A ceiling or roof formed by one or more arches, usually made out of wood or stone.

 

Vellum

Very thin calf skin used as a writing material, as a cover for precious books or to face surfaces within buildings.

 

Vernacular

Vernacular architecture is the term used to indicate that the architecture is local to the region in which it is found and generated by the people of that region. The design is often produced by the work of craftsmen and builders rather than architects, and buildings are made of locally produced materials usually using traditional building methods.

 

Top of page

 

W

 

Top of page

 

X

 

Top of page

 

Y

 

Top of page

 

Z

Ziggurat

A rectangular stepped tower using pyramid forms to attain height.

 

Top of page

 

About the online exhibition


'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC

 

Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

Top of page