As practicing architects we use a specific vocabulary that allows us to have pointed conversations with other in construction fields.  Without that, communication among professionals would be would be more cumbersome, time consuming, and less precise.  In fact, one major role of any professional education is to learn the vocabulary.  On the other hand, all professionals have an obligation, when addressing non-professionals, to limit the use of that vocabulary, or it becomes jargon.

We thought it would be fun to post a series of blogs that defines some of the terms you may have heard architects using.  Some of these are current terms that are used almost daily in the practice of architecture while others are more obscure or historical and are less frequently used in contemporary practice.  This begins a series of blogs that we are calling Architectural Vocabulary 101.  This is by no means intended to be a complete dictionary of architectural terms, but hopefully it is fun and we all learn something new.  Please enjoy.

Balusters: small closely spaced vertical posts.

  • Balusters are the vertical members used to fill the space below handrails. They are often referred to as Spindles.
  • Balusters add physical and visual support to your handrails and are often necessary for safety.

Balustrade: a railing with supporting balusters.

  • A balustrade is a row of repeating balusters – small posts that support the upper rail of a railing. Staircases and porches often have balustrades.
  • A decorative railing together with its supporting balusters, often used at the front of a parapet or gallery.

Parapet:  a parapet is a low stone or brick wall at the top of a building.  A crenellated parapet has rhythmic breaks in the wall to create a pattern of battlements.

  • In contemporary architecture a parapet is a low wall, that may be made of materials other than stone or brick, at the edges or in the field of a low sloping roof that terminates the roofing membrane.
  • A low protective wall built where there is a sudden dangerous drop, e.g. along the edge of a balcony, roof, or bridge. Some parapets are battlemented, especially on castles, and many are built as ornamental features.
  • A bank of soil, rubble, or sandbags piled up along the edge of a military trench for protection from enemy fire.

Crenelated:  Having battlements.

  • Indented; notched: a crenelated wall.
  • Probably from French créneler, to furnish with battlements, from Old French crenel, crenelation, diminutive of cren, notch; see cranny
  • Of a moulding, etc; having square indentations

Battlement:  Indentations on parapet

  • A series of indentations forming a defensive or decorative parapet
  • Often, battlements. a parapet or cresting, originally defensive but later usually decorative, consisting of a regular alternation of merlons and crenels; crenelation.
  • On a castle or fort, a battlement or crenellation is a parapet with open spaces for shooting.

Merlon: The raised portions of a battlement are called merlons, and the openings are called embrasures.

  • Masonry buildings in the Gothic Revival style may have architectural decoration which resembles battlements.
  • A merlon forms the vertical solid parts of a battlement or crenallated parapet — in Medieval architecture of fortifications for millennia.
  • Merlons are sometimes narrowly pierced by vertical embrasure ‘slits’ to view and fire through. When a wider space is between two merlons it is called a crenel, and a series of many merlon—crenels creates crenallation.  Crenels designed in later eras, for use by cannons, were called embrasures.
  • Not to be confused with Merlin, a wizard – or with Merlin, a falcon.
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