Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Architectural Word of the Day; 31 - 40


The ‘impost’ is the point at which the vertical thrust of an arch or vault is ‘imposed’ (Latin, impositus) upon an architectural member.

In one of my favourite examples of so many architectural details, the Villa Madama, we see the capitals of the ‘piers’ receiving the thrust of the arches and the cornice of the entablature to the left serving as an extended impost for the barrel vault.


Possibly the most utilized base in Classical Architecture, the ‘Attic Base’ consist of two ‘Tori’ (semi circular profiles) separated by a ‘Scotia’ (concave profile) and fillets, usually resting atop a ‘plinth’.

‘Attic’ comes from the Greek ‘Attikos’ (Ἀττικός) literally meaning of Athens or Athenian, speaking to the supposed origin of this base design.


As you might gather from the name, ‘rustication’ is a way of treating stone to appear more rough or ‘rustic’. This roughly hewn stone give an impression of strength.

This is appropriately used in the pictured example of a US Post Office on the ground floor and rusticated quoins where stability would be expected.


From the Italian “piedistallo”, literally the ‘foot of the style or column', a pedestal is a base support for columns, pilasters, monuments and the like.

The order of the pedestal typically consists of a cornice, crowning a dado (often paneled body), supported by a base and plinth.


The Roman emperors initiated a tradition of erecting freestanding ‘triumphal’ arches to commemorate their military victories.

During the Renaissance the custom was revived. The architectural style also began to be incorporated into façades, the central arch emphasizing the main entry into or portal leading towards a building, a visual queue of its elevated status.

Image courtesy of Nathan Hunt


The term ‘escutcheon’ came into use as an English heraldry term from the Latin ‘scutum’ meaning ‘shield’. Often you will encounter a highly ornamented escutcheon resting above the entry of a family estate proudly displaying the family’s coat of arms.

A less glamorous use of the term is for the protective cover plate surrounding a door knob that has a shield-like appearance.

The ‘Doric’ order is the primary and oldest of the 3 principal orders of classical architecture. Its name derives from the Dorians (Δωριεῖς , Greek), northern invaders who occupied the Peloponnese peninsula.

It is characterized by its typically unornamented, geometric capital as well as its frieze with tryglyphs, metopes, guttae etc. that we will consider individually in upcoming posts.

Sketch in charcoal by Steve Shriver
design provided by Domiane Forte


‘Esquisse’ is the French term for ‘sketch’. The formal ‘esquisse’ was a skill honed to perfection by the French at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts during the 19th century.

Architects and artisans today can benefit themselves immensely by always having paper and a drawing medium on hand for observational field drawing, a quick shadow study or to flesh out a design idea. 

Triumphal Arch of Augustus Aosta
maquette from the historic plaster cast collection
Institute of Classical Architecture & Art


Taking the sketch or ‘esquisse’ concept a bit further is the ‘maquette’ or model. This was customarily taught at the École des Beaux-Arts as a method for architects and artisans to develop a design for presentation and work out design problems in advance.

Typically, plaster would be the medium for realizing a maquette. 


The intersection of two simple or ‘barrel’ vaults create arrises that indicate the lines of thrust are directed toward the terminating imposts. This allows the support to be concentrated on piers instead of along a supporting wall, an advantage utilized extensively in Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

Image courtesy of Plâtres Vieujot

Contributed by Patrick Webb  


  1. I like this feature of your blog. Unfortunately, you have misspelled escutcheon.