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Designwise Glossary

Updated: Mar 17

In architecture, construction, and real estate there are many specialized terms. I've compiled a list of some of these terms and their meanings using my own words. My wish is that this can be used as a reference guide for those with curious minds and as an entry point into the deep and complex world of architecture and design.

belvedere From "beautiful view" in Italian, a belvedere is a structure designed to give access to an amazing view. The structure itself can take many forms but I particularly love belvederes built as a room in the upper story of a house.

furred out In architecture and construction, furring is when you use framing and wallboard to apply a finish to another wall, usually a solid wall like masonry or concrete. The furring provides a space to run electrical, insulate, and provide a finish for the wall. Furring might also be used to align adjacent surfaces which is common in remodels. A wall is furred out if it has furring.

critical regionalism Critical regionalism is a movement in architecture that arose to help counteract the "placelessness" of modern architecture by encouraging architects to embrace local culture and traditions and create designs responsive to the specific location including climate and topography.

jewel box A jewel box in architecture is a small building designed with quality materials and enduring style choices. Jewel boxes are the antithesis of fast and cheap and oppose the trend of... following trends.

highest and best use In real estate, highest and best use refers to a calculation that helps determine the most profitable use of a building site. Note that the highest and best use analysis is based on legal and financial criteria only and does not account for any human or historical value or non-financial values like parks and open space.

punch list In construction, a punch list is a list of all the things that need to be completed or fixed. The punch list is an important part of close-out and may be the single most important part of a construction project from a building owner's perspective. The punch list can be prepared by either the architect or contractor. Punchlist items are completed in order for the retainage payments that were withheld during the project to be released to the contractor.

flow Flow refers to the effortlessness of a space, where users are free from friction and obstruction. Flow gives users a sense of motion while occupying a static space such as a room or a plaza.

interstitial The word interstitial means the space in between. In architecture, interstitial is often used to describe the space between the ceiling and the floor above, especially in commercial buildings where complex systems of lighting, wiring, ductwork, sprinklers, and beams occupy the space and are all coordinated by the architect and the respective engineers.

figure-ground Also known as positive and negative space, figure-ground relationships are those between objects and space. Figure-ground diagrams are useful in urban planning where buildings (figures) are shown as dark blocks and the spaces between as white (ground). These diagrams show the relationship between built and unbuilt space.

standard of care Standard of care is the level of legal competence to which a professional such as an architect must perform their services. Professionals are not expected to be perfect or flawless in providing their services but they must act with reasonable judgment and skill.

deconstructivism Deconstructivism is a postmodern movement in architecture first popularized in the 1980's, specifically 1982 but you'll have to take me to lunch to hear all of that story. While it was never enormously popular, I include deconstructivism in this list because of the lingering effect it still has today. As suggested in the name, deconstructivism is the breaking down of something into its parts and challenging each component. Deconstructivism gave architects freedom of expression and challenged us to question established norms.

bricolage Something assembled or constructed from what is at hand or nearby. Kinda like what I make for dinner every night.

forum The forum was a public gathering place that played a part in daily life in ancient cities. Forums served as marketplaces and as the setting for social gatherings or political discussions. The forum was where civic life, commerce, and culture converged. The closest non-digital relatives to ancient forums in modern cities are plazas and malls.

pro forma In real estate development, a pro forma is a critical financial worksheet that projects the cash flow and return on investment for a proposed project. Investors analyze the pro forma to see if the project makes sense financially and architects design the building to "meet" the pro format.

slump In concrete construction, slump is the amount that fresh concrete mix settles or sinks when removed from an inverted 12-inch tall cone. This test is performed on the job site to ensure quality standards are met.

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