Thursday, July 10, 2014

Architectural Word of the Day; 91 - 100


Placed at the western end of the basilica, the ‘narthex’ is a vestibule screened or walled off from the nave. A covered exterior portico might be considered an exonarthex. Historically, in church architecture the narthex was considered a public receiving area whilst the nave was reserved for baptized members of the congregation.


The stylized forms of the pinecone or pineapple oft serve as decorative finials adorning gate-piers and are a symbol of hospitality. This lichen covered one looks ripe enough to eat!


The use of a semicircular arch flanked by two narrower and lower rectangular openings was revived in practice by Renaissance architects Bramante and Rafael from ancient examples dating to the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian.

However, this motif would gain wide acceptance due to the treatises of Serlio and Palladio, featuring prominently in the later Georgian and Colonial architecture of Great Britain and subsequent Federal architecture of the United States.

Image courtesy of Domiane Forte

The Latin term we use today really derives from the Greek karukeion (καρύκειον), meaning ‘herald’s staff’. You may recall it being held by the winged foot Hermes, Greek messenger of the gods. In the Olympic games the eternal flame is kept alive by the herald running with the caduceus, less the serpents and wings.

Of course the caduceus is also a symbol of medicine which may seem strange to us today. However, the association comes from ancient Egypt where before the general domestication of house cats, non-venomous snakes were maintained indoors to keep the rodent population in check and reduce pestilence.


From the Italian ‘soffitto’ meaning something ‘affixed under’, soffits can refer to the underside of a variety of projecting or transversing features from arches to balconies.

The underneath of projecting cornices are ideal places to enrich mouldings as exemplified by this exterior soffit at the Breakers, Newport RI.


Derived from the ancient Greek ‘summetria’ (συμμετρία), meaning ‘of like measure’.

I think bilateral, axial symmetry is easy for us to identify, such as the symmetry we see everyday looking at our own face in the mirror (most of us anyway!) The Breakers in Newport displays this obvious symmetry as well. However, looking more carefully we can find many other subtle examples of symmetry manifest in the proportions of the façade, wing elevations, windows all the way down to the ornamentation.

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