Words that Architects use: Architect Bingo Card #1

Bob Borson —  November 8, 2010 — 76 Comments

If you want to be an architect, you have to speak in a certain way; if you don’t, no one will take you very seriously. Architects tend to be overly specific and use words rarely uttered by regular human beings during normal conversations. In fact, 62% of all the words that come out of an architects mouth could be replaced by a simpler and more widely known word.

Once you have decided that you do in fact wish to be an architect, you have to accept that there are words that you are simply going to have to learn. These words by design will obfuscate the listener (by the way, I could have said ‘confuse’ instead of ‘obfuscate’ but that is precisely the point here). Let’s get things start shall we?


I have come up with a list of designer-y words that you need to master. Once you have managed to work these words into your daily conversations without effort, you’ll be on your way to becoming a bonafide architect. At this point, you should expect your commissions to increase – or if you are still in architecture school that your grades will improve.  You will discover that people will stop listening to you and just accept that the words coming out of your mouth are awesome and righteous … the listener will not want to expose the fact that they don’t understand the word that you are using in such a common and cavalier manner. Once you have reached this point, the real secret is that you can start making  up your own words and people will be forced to believe you. This is a riff on the story ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes” and architects have been making use of this technique for decades.

Here is the first round of words for you to memorize:

juxtaposition: the state or position of being placed close together or side-by-side, so as to permit comparison or contrast

tartan grid: a design of straight lines of varying widths and distances, crossing at right angles

hierarchy: a system of elements ranked, classified and organized one above another, according to significance or importance.

homogeneous: uniform in structure throughout or composed of parts that are all of the same nature or kind

symmetry: balanced proportions; correspondence in size, shape, and relative position of parts on opposite sides of a dividing line or median plane or about a center or axis

curvilinear: consisting of or bounded by curved lines : represented by a curved line

biomimicry: is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems

texture: the characteristic structure given to a surface or substance by the size, shape, arrangement, and proportions of the parts

tectonics: the science or art of shaping, ornamenting, or assembling materials in construction

clarity: the state or quality of being clear

fenestration: the design, proportioning, and disposition (arrangement) of openings in a building

parti: the basic scheme or concept for an architectural design, represented by a diagram

articulation: a method or manner of jointing that makes the united parts clear, distinct, and precise in relation to each other

massing: a unified composition of two-dimensional  shapes or three-dimensional volumes, especially one that has weight, density, and bulk

diagram: a drawing, not necessarily representational, that outlines, explains, or clarifies the arrangement and relations of the parts of a whole

form: the shape and structure of something as distinguished from it’s substance or material

truncated: having the apex, vertex, or end cut off by a plane; or stopping short from a completed expression

procession: moving along in an orderly often ceremonial way

shell: the exterior framework of a mass or form

piloti: any of a series of  columns supporting a building above an open ground level

merge: to combine, blend, or unite gradually by stages so as to blur identity or distinctions

folly: a whimsical or extravagant structure built to serve as a conversation piece or to lend interest to a view

composition: the arranging of parts into proper proportion or relation so as to form a unified whole

uniformity:the state or quality of being identical, homogeneous, or regular

balance: the pleasing or harmonious arrangement or proportion of parts or elements in a design or composition


While you are learning and practising your new vocabulary words, take the form along with you next time you are sitting in a design presentation and mark off the words as you hear them.

Feel free to submit your own architectural vocabulary words for consideration in the comment section below. I’m pretty sure that we can come up with a full set of ‘Architect Bingo‘ playing cards so that you and all your friends can play along at the same time.


All the cards are finished – You can find them by following the links below

Card #2

Card #3

Card #4

Card #5


ps – on the advice of my crack legal team Architect Bingo©® (US Patent Pending)



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  • VanArcht

    Here’s one that may be local to Vancouver: there is a *very well-known* local architect who loves to use the word “liminal.” Accompanied by hands that pass back and forth by each other, as if she were dusting off her hands, but without touching.

    The word just really means the space in-between, and as far as I can see in practical sense she means a corridor-like space, which I don’t actually find very poetic.

  • archi zu

    great buddy

  • anna

    i am an architecture student and i find this is really useful and helpful , definitely what i am looking for. i have been looking for some sites like this and i’m glad that i drop by at your page. these vocabularies did help me with my critique sessions, consultation and presentations. i love this article. i love ur site. tq for sharing these keep sharing :) cheers!

  • sab

    hi.. I can’t click on the links for the other cards. Could someone please advise?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I just clicked on them with no issues – do you think your computer is blocking pop-up windows? These links are set up so the post opens in a new window.

      Check that out – maybe that will resolve your issue.

  • bbonthebrink

    You may all laugh but I think this could be a great tool for teaching Architects English! I’m an architect, living in Paris and teaching French interior architecture students ‘English for architecture’. I’ve been hunting around for ideas to make the lessons more fun and interactive and think ‘Architecture Bingo’ maybe the way to go. Bob, may I ‘borrow’ some of your bingo cards (I would probably adjust the words a little to suit the young Parisians) to use as a teaching aid? I take it your crack legal team ArchitectBingo©® hasn’t finalised the patent yet? :)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      uhm … as a professional courtesy, I will advise my crack legal team that you intend to use ‘Architecture Bingo’ as a teaching device and that you have my full support.

      Let me know how it goes, I would be interested to hear how your young impressionable designers take to the game.

      • bbonthebrink

        I shall keep you posted. It won’t be for a couple of weeks yet. I have to figure out a way of actually implementing it in the classroom context…juxtaposing the students to create clarity, balance, uniformity, and homogeneous symmetry while ensuring truncated articulation in a curvilinear tartan grid…oh.

      • Fernanda

        I am in the same place! but in Mexico, I always look for entertaining ways to get my students to participate more.. its a great game.. actually of thinking of sustainable terms as well since we are focused on sustainable architecture!! Thank you very much for the idea :)

  • John Prokop

    you left out my all-time favorite: Poche (I even had it as a vanity plate on my car)

  • http://www.noblepig.com/ Cathy Pollak ~ Noble Pig

    I love using big, confusing, technical words. In any industry it means you can charge more…LOL. Have a great weekend Bob!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      as a group, architects are spectacular at this yet somehow it hasn’t translated into charging more … maybe I should come to work for you

  • uvais

    It is a stunning words .I think it can increase my score ………….thak’s

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  • http://www.originalgreen.org stevemouzon

    Hilarious post, Bob… thanks! The one thing I’d ask for is a bit of discipline. It’s a more effective lampoon if the word is more complex than it needs to be. Every profession has its own special lexicon, and necessarily so, because otherwise we’d be using twenty words instead of one “special” word. So a comprehensive list of architectural jargon isn’t necessarily funny. “Poche” and “charrette”, for example, mentioned just below, have clear and specific meanings within the profession and do not have more plain-spoken alternatives. But “envisionate”? (further down) Now that’s funny!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      You aren’t incorrect but the point was really about how we use our industry jargon outside the industry – to our clients who might not have the familiarity with the word. Since the point is to effectively communicate, knowing the right word and using it aren’t necessarily the right thing to do. I could use poche but if the meaning is lost on the listener, what have I accomplished?

  • My VU

    thank you! 

  • A Cahill

    TRULY AWESOME. IT gives kids (and adults) a way to experience building and engineering and architecture if they want, and gives people a way to hve fun too. 

  • Emo

    Like building.

  • Joe Robertson

    And last but not least the best of them all “celebrate”

  • Simonmcnair+lifeofanarchitect

    vernacular and composition

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  • Gordon

    I’m thinking you just came up with a great game for the TSA Convention.

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  • Anonymous

    Bob, I love this idea! Since I’m a little late to the game here, I suspect many of the words that popped into my mind have already been suggested by other folks.

    If some of the following words are new suggestions, perhaps they can form the basis for volume ii:
    wayfinding, placemaking, clerestory, porte cochere, allee, vignette, aesthetic, Miesian, atelier, configuration, adjacencies, modular, entry sequence, progression, egress . . .

    (Now I feel like I just drafted portions of project description text for a qualifications package!)

    If I think of other words, I’ll add them later.

    –Molly (@mollyblock)

    P.S. When I was in architecture school (1980s), parti was an oft-used word. :)

    • Anonymous

      Look for the other 3 cards in the story – all will be posted on my site before the end of this week (Dec 3rd, 2010)

      • Earl Rose

        Earl Rose

        Am currently a male (student), in addition am thinking about what career I think best for my future and to enhance furthermore biblical principles.

        Hence, however am likely know by most individuals an religious person, am obvious in anything or any institution (God) have in store and looking toward meeting a vast number of Architects.

        My question? do you think about a Christian thinking about that career of choice.
        Am gratitude toward you commenting back however I will insert my email address;earlrose2011@hotmail.com

  • Mike

    Lest we forget Typology! Couldn’t sit through a day of studio without hearing this word thrown around.

  • Elizabeth


    Biophilic, Perception, Transitory, Polemic, Innovative, Iconic, Integrated, Conceptualise.

  • Craig from NYC

    Don’t forget “space”….as in double-height, sky-lit, light-filled, etc etc. A good architect never says “room”. Also “volume” and “proportion”…but on second thought maybe these are not multi-syllabic enough.

    Note to earlier poster…”parti” is an old Boze Arts thing 😉

  • Sarah Harper

    ooh, more:

    new urbanism
    orient (my personal pet peeve – people saying “orientate” instead of “orient”)

    • Sarah Harper


  • Jdal

    As an Architect I endeavor to eschew obfuscation circumventing the perception of elitism.

  • Former-Group-EE

    I had a boss who would use “Envisionate”. His version of ‘Envision’ and who knows what. He was very famous for his use of “and everything else” as his version of the atypical “ah” or “uh” as a pause in a statement. We considered making it into a drinking game, but since he somehow would use it 3 times in one sentence, that would have made for too many drunks too quickly.

  • Sarah Harper

    a co-worked of mine is always referring to elements (there’s one, btw) as being “defined by” something. so there you go: element, defined by.

    another co-worker likes to use the word “moment” to describe a designed area. a project can have multiple “moments” and they do not all need to relate. yikes – “relate” – there’s another!

    portal, framed, minimal, clean, Modern……

    i’m going to quit writing now.

    • Anonymous

      Gee Sarah – the words seem to come so easily for your “co-workers” … it’s almost as if you used these words yourself? (only from time to time of course)

      • Sarah Harper

        yeah, it was getting a little ridiculous the more i typed. i just had to stop.

        i’m totally down for the bingo game, though. symmetrically arranged areas holding visual cues that create a balanced composition upon which one may reactionarily [sic] place elements in order to successfully resolve an opportunity. what’s not to like?

  • Dan

    Never play “Scrabble” with an Architect. You will be at a distinct disadvantage. The only saving grace is that many have difficulties spelling their jargon.

    • Anonymous

      Now that’s funny –

      Thanks Dan

    • Cnielsen56

      Scrabble was INVENTED by an architect….

  • ARHco


    • Anonymous

      on the list – coming out later this week probably. Cards 2,3 and 4 – that way a group of people can all join in the mocking of their co-workers

  • Michmurp

    how about all the autocad words…fillet, xref, layer, chamfer…yadayadayada

    • Anonymous

      I am steering clear of AutoCAD words, you’ll also be saddened to learn that yadayadayada didn’t (but almost) make the list. It was eliminated in the same round as higgledypiggledy.

      Tragic really

      • a_student

        higgledypiggledy: i think you mean pastiche 😉

  • Guest

    Having built a custom modern home and gone through the process of selecting an architect, the one word I remember hearing multiple times from various architects: “gesture”.

  • mbt


  • more.add

    Carbon footprint?

  • Ebogan63

    Bob, how about transistion, i.e. transitioning from indoor to outdoor?

    Great post as usual. Gonna bring this along to an architect’s lecture soon…

  • Esser Tm

    I’m not an architect but being an architects daughter have spent alot of time around architects and designers…my favorite obscure architect-y word: contextual.

    • Anonymous

      Very good – a keeper

  • Joy Morgan Newberry

    I’m taking this to my studio review on Friday!!

  • mgerwing

    how about “plasticity”, truly a word only an architect could love.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget to call everything a detail. You could tell who was an architect at the AIA Tour of Homes because everything was a detail – lighting detail, retaining wall detail, etc… the whole damned house was a detail. What a great detail!

    • Anonymous

      That’s funny – I noticed the same thing … coming out of my mouth!! I was walking my Dad around and explaining what every thing was and it’s purpose. I am glad to say that afterwards he told me that the experience of looking at those projects was substantially more interesting and rewarding with me telling him the reasons why this, that or the other were done.

    • Alleen Art

      How about “poorly detailed”!

  • http://twitter.com/chirn9980 Christian McLean

    A lot of people I went to university with could have used this in their critiques, not only to make them sound smarter than they were but to make critiques bearable by playing bingo.

  • http://funandfit.org AlexandraFunFit

    Well, I don’t know how to talk like an architect, but I’d be happy to talk like a pirate. Can I make up my own definitions of architect-speak, just to amuse myself?
    Biomimicry – What the monkeys said when your mom had you! OOh, snap!
    Folly – What it is to mock Bob.
    Tartan grid – That lovely skirt you have hanging in your closet that you only wear on Haggis Day.
    Truncated – This comment, which has been brought to you by…

    • Anonymous

      Snap is right – what is wrong with you? Did you know that a tartan grid is a plaid already or did you look it up?

      Your definition for ‘truncated’ is pretty funny. I almost wrote the exact sa….

  • Matt Nolette

    I can’t help myself… though I guess it’s to your point.

    That’s not the correct use of obfuscate. You obfuscate the words not the listener.

    • Anonymous

      Am I missing something?According to Merriam-Webster: Obfuscate – transitive verb: confuse – as in obfuscate the readerOf course (as you pointed out) even if I did use the word wrong, that would just support the point.

    • Anonymous

      Am I missing something?According to Merriam-Webster: Obfuscate – transitive verb: confuse – as in obfuscate the readerOf course (as you pointed out) even if I did use the word wrong, that would just support the point.

      • Matt Nolette

        Nope. You’re not missing anything at all. That’d be me. My understanding of ‘obfuscate’ was that it had a more narrow meaning than it actually does.

  • k thomas

    i heard quite a few people muttering about the meaning of “riparian” on the aia home tour this weekend. it should definitely be included in the set.

    • Anonymous

      ah yes – good one

      riparian: the area of interface between land and a river or stream

  • Erica Dugdale

    If you had these all planned out in time, this could very well be the next big hipster Christmas gift!

    • Anonymous

      Yes – quite a lovely gift at that! Just in time for the holidays…

  • Greg Tankersley

    How could you forget poche’ and charette?

    • Anonymous


      Who said I forgot them? (I did)

      There will be more words coming along – eventually I will get up to 100 so there will be four bingo cards and you can bet poche and charette will be included.

      Thanks for the submission –

    • Anonymous

      Those are excellent words – will definitely be on one of the new cards I am making.

  • http://urbanverse.posterous.com cindy frewen wuellner

    Good post, Bob, very clever. I wonder who started using “parti”? it was not part of 1970s architecture school, seemed to emerge around late 1980s or 1990. OTOH we knew par-tay… it was the 70s after all… 😉 cindy @urbanverse

    • Anonymous

      ba dum dumm!

      Very nice –

      • Mr. Architect Person

        We had Parti from day one of arch school in 1981, and it seemed to have been there a while. I notice the absence of “enfilade” (which might actually be 2 words), a particular fave of mine in the 80s. And how about Piano Nobile? I get big laughs every time i squeeze it into polite conversation.