Cheat Sheet

Architecture For Dummies

From Architecture For Dummies by Deborah K. Dietsch, Robert A. M. Stern (Foreword by)

To hone your basic knowledge of architecture, get to know the terms used to describe various features, the features that make for good architecture, and some of the great architectural domes around the planet. You can draw inspiration from notable architects and from Pritzker Prize winners.

How to Judge Good Architecture

How can you tell if a work of architecture is any good? It’s simple. You know a work of architecture is good if you can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  • Does it express its function in a visually intriguing way?

  • Does it complement or contrast with its surroundings?

  • Is it well built?

  • Does it continue to age well?

  • Does it have the ability to surprise, inspire, delight, or disturb you?

  • Is it simply unforgettable?

Architecture Terms

You’re standing in front of the Parthenon or some other great work of architecture. The tour guide next to you starts talking about “orders.” You’re ready to put in your lunch request until you realize that she’s referring to the architecture. The terms in the following list can help you understand architectural lingo — and even speak it if you’re so inclined.

arch: a structure spanning an opening that is supported from the sides. minaret: a slim tower that is part of a mosque and is used to call the faithful to prayers.
buttress: a support on the outside of a wall that helps to stabilize a vault or roof. orders: styles of classical architecture developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans; they include the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
column: a vertical post divided into a base, a shaft, and a capital at the top. portico: a porch with a roof supported by a row of columns.
dome: a curved, semispherical roof structure that is circular in plan. quoin: a large stone at the corner of an exterior wall.
entasis: a slight, outward curvature in a column that corrects an optical illusion and gives the appearance of being straight. rustication: roughly surfaced stonework on exterior walls; popular during the Renaissance.
façade: the face or exterior architectural treatment of a building. shaft: the section of a column between the base and the capital.
gable: the triangular portion of a wall under the end of a pitched roof. tracery: curvy ornament in the upper part of a Gothic window.
hypar: short for hyperbolic paraboloid, a type of shell structure with downwardly and upwardly curved surfaces. uplift: raising of a structure in response to structural forces.
Ionic: a type of classical architecture with scroll-like decorations, called volutes, on the column capital. vault: an arched ceiling or roof.
jamb: the vertical side of a doorway or window. wythe: a continuous band of brick or stone that is one unit in thickness.
keystone: a wedge-shaped unit at the top of an arch. ziggurat: a type of stepped pyramid used as a temple in ancient Mesopotamia.
lintel: a horizontal beam spanning the top of a door or window.

Notable Architects through History

To understand architecture’s evolution, it’s important to become acquainted with some of the stars who pushed design in new directions. The men in the following list definitely left a mark, and many of their marks are still standing today!

Imhotep: The first architect known by name, this ancient Egyptian created the world’s first stone monument, a tomb for King Zoser. Christopher Wren: This English classical architect is more famous for rebuilding St. Paul’s Cathedral than for the 51 new churches he designed in London.
Ictinus and Callicrates: This team of Greek architects spent more than a decade perfecting the Parthenon, the most influential building of all time. Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Versatile in classical and Romantic styles, this German master designed one of the world’s first museums.
Hadrian: A Roman emperor and architecture buff, Hadrian propelled design and engineering to new heights with the Pantheon. Louis Sullivan: A skyscraper pioneer, Chicago architect Louis Sullivan decorated his modern structures in leafy ornament.
Abbot Suger: This French monk was influential in developing the soaring architecture of Gothic cathedrals. Frank Lloyd Wright: The most famous American architect of the twentieth century rooted his organic architecture in the land.
Filippo Brunelleschi: One of the first architects of the Italian Renaissance, Brunelleschi designed the dome of Florence Cathedral. Le Corbusier: Born Charles Edouard Jeanneret, this Swiss-French genius used glass, steel, and concrete to invent a modern language for buildings and cities.

Pritzker Prize-winning Architects

Of all the awards related to architecture, the most prestigious is the Pritzker Prize. Established in 1979 by Jay and Cindy Pritzker, the cash ($100,000) prize is funded by the Pritzkers’ Hyatt Hotel Foundation and given annually to honor a body of work by a living architect. Candidates are selected through a process modeled after the Nobel Prize, with secret voting by an international panel of judges. The awards ceremony is held at architecturally significant sites around the world. Following is the list of the Pritzker Prize winners:

1979: Philip Johnson, United States 1990: Aldo Rossi, Italy 2001: Jacques Herzog and Pierre De Meuron, Switzerland
1980: Luis Barragan, Mexico 1991: Robert Venturi, United States 2002: Glenn Murcutt, Australia
1981: James Stirling, Great Britain 1992: Alvaro Siza, Portugal 2003: Jern Utzon, Denmark
1982: Kevin Roche, United States 1993: Fumihiko Maki, Japan 2004: Zaha Hadid, Iraq / Great Britain
1983: I.M. Pei, United States 1994: Christian de Portzamparc, France 2005: Thom Mayne, United States
1984: Richard Meier, United States 1995: Tadao Ando, Japan 2006: Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Brazil
1985: Hans Hollein, Austria 1996: Rafael Moneo, Spain 2007: Richard Rogers, United Kingdom
1986: Gottfried Boehm, Germany 1997: Sverre Fehn, Norway 2008: Jean Nouvel, France
1987: Kenzo Tange, Japan 1998: Renzo Piano, Italy 2009: Peter Zumthor, Switzerland
1988: Gordon Bunshaft, United States, and Oscar Neimeyer, Brazil 1999: Norman Foster, Great Britain 2010: Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, Japan
1989: Frank Gehry, United States 2000: Rem Koolhaas, Netherlands

Great Architectural Domes

Architecture often goes for the dramatic and a dome is often the most notable architectural feature of a building — or the shape of the building itself. Some of the great domes around the world are shown in the following list:

The Pantheon: Rome, Italy St. Peter’s Basilica: Rome, Italy
Hagia Sophia: Istanbul, Turkey St. Paul’s Cathedral: London, England
Dome of the Rock: Jerusalem, Israel Taj Mahal: Agra, India
Florence Cathedral: Florence, Italy U.S. Capitol: Washington, D.C.
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