Updated: Jun 23
Architecture is a language on its own. As ESL learners, you might still be learning the nuances of the English language and architectural terminology can be intimidating. From construction sites to office studios, to software, to conferences - you might hear a new set of foreign lingo such as “context” or “program,” or "fenestration" and wonder what on earth they are talking about.
What is Jargon?
Jargon is the special words or phrases that are characteristic of a specific profession or field. However, when used incorrectly, it can be unnecessary and meaningless. However, talking to clients and to fellow architects can be a completely different scenario. Jargon might be okay when communicating with colleagues, but can be irrelevant or even confusing for clients. So not only do you have to understand what the technical terms are but you have to also learn when it's appropriate to use them. In my opinion, there are a few words that could be used in any context and your meaning doesn't change or make you sound less intelligent. It only seeks to make your language more inclusive for more people.
People who are afraid, or unable - to make their writing simple, call it dumbing down. But if you think hard and speak it plain -it's smartening up.
Definition: Adjective. To identify patterns in the use of space
Example: Levy Park is a highly "programmed" 5.9-acre urban park located in the Upper Kirby District of Houston.
Verdict: In this sentence, “programmed” is used as an adjective but does not increase our understanding of what the space is used for so I think it’s best to describe with more context.
Instead: Program (noun) can be used to suggest the park has a lot of different functions but you can also elaborate on these terms for example: "Levy Park includes a number of different spaces with different uses and facilities: cafe, outdoor learning spaces, play spaces and open grassy areas.
Definition: Noun. A feature or facility of a building or place; resources, such as community centres, intended for public use
Example: The renovation has transformed an underutilized space into a world-class public "amenity."
Verdict: Amenity can be a useful term when talking to architects, landscape architects and clients. In particular, developers preoccupy themselves with amenities as it impacts their gross leasable areas and marketing strategies.
Instead: For the general public or even sometimes clients, it is more appropriate to use the term “facility”. It’s important to think about the audience and ask yourself, will the audience understand what I mean?
Definition: To find a way through; in architecture, it means to balance
Example: The design negotiates the need for privacy and natural sunlight through clerestory windows.
Verdict: When used appropriately, the verb can be useful in expressing a design action especially when talking to other designers. However, when talking to clients use alternatives.
Instead: Alternative words you can use: include, balance and work out
Definition: A concept to express the use and application of various materials
Example: Materiality informs the way in which people experience space.
Verdict: The term is often used in architectural circles, but can confuse the general public. Choose your audience wisely.
Instead: For the general public, you can change the term by saying “the materials used”.
Definition: Noun. The degree to which the built environment is pedestrian-friendly.
Example: Designing a healthy community entails that architects must consider “walkability”.
Verdict: The term is an integral concept of urban design and master planning projects and is more or less understood in plain English.
Definition. Adjective. A continuous rising and falling of a shape, like sea waves.
Example: The “undulating” brick facade of the building imitates the dynamic movement of the adjacent sea.
Verdict: Depends. The adjective can be a specific and sophisticated way to express a building’s form, particularly facades. However, non-architects might be unfamiliar with the word.
Instead: For the general public, it might be more easily understood to use the adjective “wavy”.
Definition. Noun. Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future. The ability to limit the negative impact on the environment. In architecture, it refers to a holistic approach to eco-friendly modern-day building.
Example: “Sustainable” design strategies can include stormwater management and native landscaping.
Verdict: Essential. While it is important for any architect and landscape architect to know the term sustainable, few actually know what the word entails.
Instead: Research on sustainability features that can elevate your project. Don’t just throw the word as an empty concept - integrate design techniques that minimize environmental degradation.
While this is by no means a comprehensive list, it will help you get started with building on your architectural vocabulary.
What are some examples of architectural jargon you’re confused about?
Learn new vocab with the words of the day:
Nuance: Noun. A subtle difference in meaning or expression.
Superfluous: Adjective. Unnecessary or redundant.
Fenestration: the arrangement of windows and openings in a building.
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