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How do you talk to an architect?

So you’ve decided to hire an architect.

Maybe this is your first time meeting an architect, or makes you have a passion for architecture and design. You might recognize the works of Frank Lloyd Wright or love Renzo Piano. No matter what your experience or knowledge of the industry is, sometimes the thought of discussing your project with an architect can be daunting.

We’re here to tell you – don’t be intimidated.

Every architect has experienced this – there are words in the field of architecture and construction that people either mispronounce, don’t understand, or simply do not know what they mean.

You have your highbrow words, like juxtaposition, and you compositional and design words like figure-ground. And then there are construction words like column or post – is there a difference? WHAT is the difference?

Then there are words that you have grown up with, depending on where you lived. Is it a may-son-ree veneer or may-son-ary veneer?

If an architect were to get hung up on words like that they’d kill a conversation. But if you let it go, understand what they are trying to say, and don’t try to correct them every time something is said, things can get done.

Let’s take the word porte-cochere. Do you know what that is? Simply put, it’s that overhang at the Baptist church where you drop grandma off and help her get into the building. Deacons might recognize the word and those that know of them or know it has a funky name call them that. Do we expect you to call it that? Absolutely not.

Let’s look at a few more:

Symmetry. Symmetry (the use of mirror images and repetition) is a word that is often mistakenly used when someone is actually talking about balance (a visual effect that make designs look equally weighted).

Elevation. Do you mean the grade elevation? The act of raising something? Or the side of the structure on an exterior wall? All three of those are correct – it’s just a matter of the context.

I like the word raze. Now, you are reading this, so you probably know that I mean demolish. But in a spoken conversation about razing/raising a barn…that could mean two different things with two very different outcomes.

Storyboard/Story pole. If you are in the movie business, it’s a sequence of drawings that tell the story. If you are a mason, it’s the vertical scale you clamp to bricks that tells them where the line should be all the way down a facade (now, do you say fah-sahd or fah-cayde?). It’s the story of the masonry up a vertical wall.

HGTV, for better or worse, has empowered people with a new vocabulary (shiplap, anyone?).

All throughout history, architecture has reflected the technology of the time. Until now. Shiplap: this material was used because they could get wood of a certain size and configuration to lay it up so that it was water and weather resistant (I enjoyed this post by the Craftsman Blog entitled, “No Joanna, That’s Not Shiplap”).

The meaning of a lot of things we are doing in homes now is totally lost – it’s purely aesthetic. Shiplap is not used for the technological advances it was once known and originally used for, but rather as a design element.

The terminology we use in architecture affects even us architects in the studio. SpellCheck insists we aren’t spelling certain words correctly. Lite and light – a pane of glass or a part of a window – are both correct and can be used interchangeably in drawings.

And while we’re on the subject of windows, what is a sash?

You might remember the line in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas when the narrator “throws open the sash.” Did you think of a long, velvety curtain like our Marketing Manager Megan (she insists this was, in part, due to the imagery associated with the poem)? A sash is the moveable panel in a window.

So whether you speak the language or not, don’t let the big words intimidate you. Just like doctors enjoy spouting all of the Latin terms and never-ending descriptions of diseases and symptoms (a coronary-pulmonary-fistula-what?), you want your hired professional to speak in simple terms. A conversation is not valid unless both parties know what the other is talking about. Sometimes it requires clarification, and that’s the importance of having a conversation in the first place.

Speak from your heart. Ask questions. And if an architect insists on talking above all of that in a way that you don’t understand, you’re using the wrong architect.

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