Architecture For Dummies
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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 Architecture 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
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
Dome: a curved, semispherical roof structure that is
circular in plan.
Quoin: a large stone at the corner of an exterior
Entasis: a slight, outward curvature in a column that
corrects an optical illusion and gives the appearance of being
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
Gable: the triangular portion of a wall under the end of
a pitched roof.
Tracery: curvy ornament in the upper part of a Gothic
Hypar: short for hyperbolic paraboloid, a type of shell
structure with downward- and upward-curved surfaces.
Uplift: raising of a structure in response to structural
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
Ziggurat: a type of stepped pyramid used as a temple in
ancient Mesopotamia.
Lintel: a horizontal beam spanning the top of a door or

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
Louis Sullivan: A skyscraper pioneer, Chicago architect
Louis Sullivan decorated his modern structures in leafy
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 20th century rooted his organic architecture in the
Filippo Brunelleschi: One of the first architects of the
Italian Renaissance, Brunelleschi designed the dome of Florence
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 Architecture 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 Architecture Prize winners:

1979: Philip Johnson, United States 1990: Aldo Rossi, Italy 2001: Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Switzerland
1980: Luis Barragán, Mexico 1991: Robert Venturi, United States 2002: Glenn Murcutt, Australia
1981: James Stirling, Great Britain 1992: Álvaro Siza, Portugal 2003: Jørn 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: José Rafael Moneo, Spain 2007: Richard Rogers, United Kingdom
1986: Gottfried Böehm, Germany 1997: Sverre Fehn, Norway 2008: Jean Nouvel, France
1987: Kenzō Tange, Japan 1998: Renzo Piano, Italy 2009: Peter Zumthor, Switzerland
1988: Gordon Bunshaft, United States, and Oscar Niemeyer, 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 world’s greatest domes are listed below.

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.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Debra Dietch, (Washington DC) is currently an art and architecture critic for Sun-Sentinel, Tribune Co. She was a writer on architecture and design for major newspapers and periodicals such as Forbes, Florida Architecture, House Beautiful, Museum Magazine, Old House Journal, Sotheby's Domain, Washington Post, and more. She also held top editor positions at the two leading professional architecture magazines: Architectural Record and Architecture magazine.

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