Sunday, February 23, 2014

Architectural Word of the Day; 41 - 50


This term comes directly to us from French where the design has figured prominently in French architecture
Courtesy of Plâtres Vieujot
since the Renaissance. The term is derived from the Greek term for papyrus, ‘khartēs’ (χάρτης) from which we also receive the English word ‘chart’ with the original sense of a ‘map’.

A cartouche does in fact resemble a stretched, convex sheet of paper surrounded by scrolling ornamentation and is often prominently featured on historic architectural drawings, maps and globes.


The ‘spandrel’ is the triangular, curvilinear space formed between arches and the entablature above.

Spandrels are a natural focal point, an ideal surface to receive decorative treatment. They featured prominently in many of the designs of the Italian Renaissance and later Italianate revival.

Courtesy of Gary Callahan

‘Man is the measure of all things’ – Protagoras, 5th century BC.
Leonardo da Vinci’s famous work relied on Vitruvius’ study of human proportion to create a geometrical model of the elevation of the human form.

Both Leonardo and Vitruvius embraced a tradition architecture based on fundamental, universal principles that exist in all life, including the human form. The ‘Vitruvian Woman’ was recently illustrated at a Critical Mass.


These terms of varied origin have collectively come to describe types of interlaced moulding patterns so
Courtesy of Palladio Mouldings
associated with traditional English ceilings.

The description ‘strap’ came from its resemblance and inspiration from the leather tooling craft whereas ‘frete’ was a French word for the interlaced patterns engraved in or that otherwise adorned heraldry and shield decoration. ‘Tracery’, also of French origin, has strong associations with the Gothic, particularly the Rose window.


The general form of the baluster has always been used in architecture. We have many examples of ornate candelabras from Roman times exhibiting this form. However, the Romans typically used ‘transennae’ (which
Courtesy of Plâtres Vieujot
we’ll consider tomorrow) for parapets and banisters, the balustrade really an invention of the Renaissance.

The origin of the term goes first back to the Greek ‘balaustion’ (βαλαύστιον) then further back in antiquity of ancient Semitic origins and is a reference to the bulbous flower of the pomegranate flower.


Like our previous example of the Attic base, the ‘Attic’ description is a 17th century reference to Athens, specifically the ‘Attica’ style pilasters that were widely used at that time.

Practically, the Attic Storey consists of the rectangular closed space resting above the main entablature prominently featured in Roman triumphal arches and later incorporated into Renaissance façades.


The ‘lintel’ is the beam above the door, window or other opening that supports the wall above.

By contrast, the ‘sill’ is a beam placed at the bottom of the window whose principal purpose is to direct water away from the opening.

 Contributed by Patrick Webb  


  1. Nice collection! I especially like the association of cartouche with papyrus and the baluster with the pomegranate bud. I had never connected those dots before! Amazing how much influence the pomegranate has had as an ornamental motif. Long live 5!

  2. Wonderful to read these words of the day. Remember Sir Bannister Fletcher's History of Architecture? Reminds me of my studies abroad while earning my architectural degree.