Guide to Architecture Terms – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our comprehensive guide to architecture terms, where we delve into the essential elements that shape the design and construction of your dream home or commercial structure. Let’s explore the exciting world of architecture together and empower you with knowledge to make informed decisions throughout your project.

In our previous post, we provided a quick primer on common architectural terms. Now, we’re expanding the list to guide you through the decision-making process during the design, planning, and building stages of your new architecture project.

Site work

Prepare the canvas for your architectural masterpiece with careful site work considerations. This step ensures that your land is ready to be built upon, and all necessary utilities are installed, before construction begins. It includes tasks such as clearing and leveling the site, and installing utilities like water, gas, and electricity, as well as consideration of how you’ll access your site i.e. what the approach is like. If merited, the architect will additionally coordinate with a landscape architect. Every aspect of your property will be strategically planned to create a harmonious and functional environment.

  • Tree protection
  • Irrigation
  • Well location
  • Propane tanks or other fuel storage
  • Underground power feed
  • Solar installation and inverters
  • Fire protection tanks, stand-pipe and site locations
  • Septic fields and redundant field areas
  • Driveway layout and material
  • Terraces and decks
  • Landscape
  • Exterior lighting


Here, we lay the groundwork for a solid and stable home or commercial space. This is the base of your building that supports the weight of the structure. Our architects will guide you through the choices that determine the strength and durability of your foundation, ensuring a secure base for your architectural vision, and preventing problems later on like settling or cracking. We will make recommendations based on a geo-technical investigation of your precise location, followed by a structural engineering recommendation. Again, the architect acts as a master coordinator between all parties. 

  • Soil study
  • Drilled piers or spread footings
  • Slab
  • Raised floor over crawl space
  • Retaining walls


Design and construction of the frame of the house, including decisions about the type of materials used, such as FSC certified wood, engineered lumber, or all-steel. It’s important to coordinate this, because all of the other systems will fit into it. Your architect will ensure that there is ample room for these other systems, avoiding conflicts during construction.

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood
  • Engineered lumber, TJI, LVL, parallam
  • Hybrid: steel, with wood for large open expanses
  • All-steel


This is what keeps your house comfortable and reduces your energy bills. The most advanced example is called a “passive house” that retains heat from human activity and sunshine and employs virtually no mechanical space-conditioning systems.

  • Rock wool exterior
  • Fiberglass (incl. non-formaldehyde options)
  • Cotton batt
  • Cellulose
  • Spray foam (open and closed cell)

Siding and exterior surfaces 

Exterior finish determines not only the look of the house, but also the durability and maintenance requirements. Your architect can help guide the selection, including considerations such as code requirements for wildfire resistance.

  • Siding vs rainscreen
  • Natural wood, stain and maintenance considerations per Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)
  • Engineered siding and rainscreen (i.e. parklex resin and bamboo strand)
  • Fiber-reinforced concrete
  • Stucco and lime plaster

Electrical and smart home

An electrical plan in many ways determines how you’ll use your home. Oftentimes, we work in coordination with a lighting designer to develop a plan that will allow for different moods and uses, with simple & integrated control systems.

  • Shade pockets-recessed roller blinds
  • Lighting controls
  • Integrated AV systems
  • Security

Roofing material 

For houses with shaped roof, the roof is a major architectural feature and determines much of the visual style. Your architect will help guide you in the selection process for both aesthetic and functional reasons including long-term wear and code requirements.

  • Code requirements for fire rating
  • Asphalt shingle
  • Slate shingle
  • Tile (terracotta and glazed)
  • Steel (standing seam or horizontal lap patterns)


This is the single largest surface area in the home. In addition to being a large visual component, many times heating and other systems are integrated into the flooring. Your architect can help you determine which material is appropriate for each living space, and then make a selection within that range.

  • Full-dimension hardwood
  • Engineered hardwood
  • Tile (porcelain and ceramic options, large format)
  • Polished concrete, terrazzo
  • Natural stone
  • Cork and related (marmoleum)
  • Sound control, (underlayments, ceiling separations, double wall details)

Wall surfaces

Walls, textures, and ultimately colors help shape the experience of a space. Sense of space is more than just shape – it is defined by material. Materials can be used to highlight special architectural features, contribute to the ambiance of a room, and create continuity throughout the house.  This is an area where an architect helps you to create a personalized expression of your home.

  • Sheetrock (texture and level of finish 3-5 for smoothness)
  • Lime washes
  • Plaster
  • Stone/ brick veneer
  • Paneling (natural, book matched, painted, stained)


In addition to the functional components, cabinetry is an element where design & material expression can be introduced on a very refined level. This is where you will come into physical contact with your home, and you will appreciate the fine level of craftsmanship and detail that an architect can provide.

  • Wood or laminate
  • Drawer and box construction (dowel and peg, dovetail…) formed steel, wood, 
  • Manufactured or custom
  • Wood grain or paint/ 

Tile and stone

With a large array of natural and man-made materials, we guide our clients in selecting the best products for your lifestyle and the style of your home. Every selection has its own benefits, applications, and limitations. An experienced architect will help you choose not only based on appearance, but help you make selections that will have a long lifespan.

  • Ceramic vs, porcelain options appropriate locations, installation techniques)
  • Stone style and wear potential, porosity,patina, maintenance

Bath details

Bathrooms are becoming more and more spa-like. They are the places we go to relax and unwind. An architect will help you find the space and function for this most intimate portion of the home.

  • Number of fixtures (3-6)
  • Shower bath combo
  • Wet room
  • Free standing tub
  • Bidet/ bidet-wc combo
  • Number of vanities
  • Curbless shower, linear drain
  • Make up area(s)


Closets can run the gamut from simple storage to wardrobe display. Their appointments are another area where a custom home can be much more tailored than an ordinary house. 

  • Walk-in vs, in room (space and flow) 
  • Basic pole and shelf
  • Added fit out, drawers, wardrobes, specialty systems
  • Dressing area, mirror location


There is a lot of style embedded in the door selection, including the casings and surrounds. The front door, especially, is a signature piece in almost every home. There are also functional choices to be made; for example, door selection can create additional levels of privacy within the house. Your architect will guide you to define a door style that is both functional and complements the overall aesthetic of the home.

  • Style (flat panel vs. detailed, painted vs. wood grain)
  • Baseboard and casings
  • Hardware and fixtures, (stops)

If you’re ready to delve deeper into the world of architecture terms and gain access to the complete guide, we invite you to head over to this page to download the printable PDF. Additionally, if you’re embarking on a custom residential or commercial project, we’re here to support you every step of the way. Schedule your complimentary 20-minute consultation to have your questions answered, regardless of the phase your project is in.

Together, let’s create a beautiful, functional, and sustainable building that perfectly aligns with your unique vision and requirements.

About Levy Art + Architecture

Ross Levy, licensed architect and principal at Levy Art + Architecture, has been creating environmentally-conscious designs that support modern lifestyles for nearly 30 years. With his background as a building contractor, he brings a craftsman’s perspective and attention to detail to every unique project. Ross completed graduate work at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, is a founding member of The Viet Nam Green Building Council, and has served for many years on the AIA Public Policy committee.

Levy Art + Architecture’s work has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects and featured in publications such as Architectural Digest, SPACES, Dwell, Dezeen, and Fine Homebuilding.