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A Glossary of Architectural and Historic Preservation Terms

Like any specialty, architecture has its own vocabulary. Sometimes learning the words will help you see specific elements in a building that you may have overlooked before. Thanks to the Historic Architecture Sourcebook, edited by Cyril M. Harris, (McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1977) for help with these definitions.

Adamesque

borrowed from the 18th century architecture of the Scottish-English architect Robert Adam, and characterized by clarity of form, use of color and delicate classical motifs. Elliptical curves, swags and garlands, and applied relief decoration in cornices and entablatures, are all characteristic. It is more commonly associated with interior design than exterior.

Addition

the extension or increase in building size, floor area or height.

Administrative Officer

the Construction Official in charge of the granting of building permits in the Village.

Alteration

the change in the exterior architectural features of any improvementor addition.

Application

the request to the Commission made pursuant to this Ordinance for the purposes of obtaining a Certificate of Appropriateness or other action bythe Commission hereunder specified.

Architectural Survey

According to the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, an architectural survey is defined as the process of gathering information about historic architectural resources, including all visible aspects of the built environment that combine to form our historic fabric, including houses, churches, schools, municipal buildings, commercial structures, bridges, canals, farm structures, parks, gardens, street furniture, etc.

Arts and Crafts

the artistic/architectural movement of the late 19th and early 20th century that spurned historically derived styles and forms and sought a return to “natural” materials and simple lines. Also called “Craftsman” design and particularly associated in the US with New Jerseyan Gustav Stickley. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses are the most inventive expression of the Arts and Crafts philosophy.

Balustrade

the short, vertical members, usually circular in section, used to support a handrail. It is associated with classical architecture, although balustrades are found in Queen Anne style houses, too.

Barrel vault

a vault or arch of plain, semi-circular cross-section supported by parallel walls.

Bay

the space for a window or door; usually similar in spacing for all floors. A house is described as having a “five bay façade” or a “three bay façade” based on the number of openings across any one-floor level of the front elevation.

Blind windows

a common device in 18th and 19th century architecture for keeping the exterior rhythm of window openings or bays even where no window is required or possible due to the interior use. A window opening is outlined on the exterior and permanently covered with shutters that look closed.

Brackets

any overhanging member projecting from a wall to support a weight, such as a cornice, outside the wall. In American domestic architecture, they are usually applied as a detail along the roofline, and do not actually support extra weight. The mid-19th century was particularly fond of brackets; the Italianate style was also called “American bracketed” by contemporaries.

Casements

windows that are hinged on the side and open to swing out like doors.

Certificate of Appropriateness (or “C/A”)

that document issued by the Historic Preservation Commission required before work commences on any landmark or any building, structure, site, or object located within a landmark district.

Chamfered posts

usually found as support posts in American domestic architecture of the 1840s through 1870s. A square post has a beveled edge or corner, usually at a 45-degree angle, for most of the length of the post. The tops and bottoms of the post are square, usually with simple capitals and bases of applied molding.

Cheek wall

a rounded sidewall, usually shingled, which surrounds an inset window, used decoratively in the Shingle Style and Queen Anne styles.

Clipped gable

also called a Jerkinhead gable – the end of a gable roof which it is formed into a short triangle forming a shape halfway between a hip and a gable. Often found on early 20th century domestic architecture intended to evoke a “cottage” feeling, it is also associated with stable architecture.

Columns

the vertical members that carry structure in classical architecture. There are three basic types of orders, cased on the treatment of the top, or capital: Doric (plain); Ionic (with curled ‘ears’); and Corinthian (very ornate with foliate motifs).

Commission

the Historic Preservation Commission established pursuant to the provisions of a historic preservation element in a municipality’s Master Plan.

Contributing

any buildings, structures, sites, or objects that are integral components of the historic district either because they date from a time period for which the district is significant, or because they represent an architectural type, period, or method for which the defined historic district is significant. See also, Non-contributing.

Cross gable

A gable roof set perpendicular to the main roof ridge; often, in mid-19th century, centered over the façade.

Demolition

the partial or total razing, dismantling, or destruction, whether entirely or in significant part, of any building, structure, object, or site. Demolition includes the removal of a building, structure or object from its site or the removal or destruction of the façade or surface.

Designated Property or District

an individual building, structure, site, object, or district, which has been designated as having historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic, or other significance pursuant to the provisions of this Ordinance.

Development

the division of a parcel of land into two or more parcels, the construction, reconstruction, conversion, structural alterations, relocation or enlargement of any building or other structure, and any use or change in the use of any building or other structure, or land or extension of use of land, for which permission may be required pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law. [NJSA 40:55D-4.]

District (also often referred to as “Landmark District”)

a geographic area with distinctly definable boundaries composed of several buildings or sites which 1) has acquired a unity of character through the interrelationships of the component buildings and sites; and 2) has been designated as having historical, archeological, cultural, scenic, architectural, or other significance pursuant to the provisions of this Ordinance.

Entablature

in classical architecture, the horizontal member (beam) carried by the columns. The entablature is further divided into the architrave (bottom), frieze (middle), and cornice (top).

Fanlight

a semi-circular or semi-elliptical decorative transom placed over a door, giving light to the hall or entry. Commonly used in Neoclassical styles.

Flemish Bond

the most expensive and durable brick bond, created by laying bricks lengthwise and end-wise forming a characteristic “checkerboard” pattern.

French Doors

or Casement Doors – a door having a top rail, bottom rail, and stiles which has glass panes throughout or nearly throughout its entire length; often used in pairs. French doors are first used in American domestic architecture in the Italianate style of the mid-19th century.

Gable roof

the basic triangle-shaped roof common to much American architecture.

Gambrel roof

a roof with two pitches on each side. Commonly associated with barns, although first used ca. 1790-1830 for residences, and found in some Colonial Revival and especially Dutch Colonial houses of the early 20th century.

Half-timbering

developed in 16th century England, and characterized by exposed heavy timber framing and masonry infill between the wooden members. It is used decoratively, not structurally, in Tudor Revival style buildings of the early 20th century.

Historic

having historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic or other significance as defined by the provisions of this Ordinance.

Historic District

An Historic District is one or more historic sites and intervening or surrounding property significantly affecting or affected by the quality and character of the historic site or sites. This area shall have a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures and/or objects which, viewed collectively:

  • Represent a significant period(s) in the development of the town

  • Or have a distinctive character resulting from their architectural style.
  • Resources within an historic district shall be classified as key, contributing, or non-contributing. The legal definitions of these terms are provided in this glossary.

Historic Sites

the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, defines historic sites as: houses, structures or objects which possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, and association and which have been determined, pursuant to the terms of the ordinance to be any of the following:

  • Of particular historic significance to the Village of South Orange by reflecting or exemplifying the broad cultural, political, economic or social history of the nation, state or community;
  • Associated with the historic personages important in national, state or local history;
  • The site of an historic event which had a significant effect on the development of the nation, state or community;
  • An embodiment of the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of architecture or engineering;
  • Representative of the work or works of a locally, regionally or nationally important or recognized builder, designer, artist or architect;
  • Significant for containing elements of design, detail, materials or craftsmanship which represent a significant innovation;
  • Able or likely to yield information important in prehistory or history.

Impervious Surface Coverage

materials other than buildings that prevent the absorption of surface water into the ground (e.g. unroofed decks and patios, driveways, paving and swimming pools).

Improvement

a building or other structure or any work constituting a man-made alteration of, or addition to, any site.

Integrity

the authenticity of the historic identity of a building, structure, site, object, or district evidenced by the survival of the physical characteristics that existed during its historic or prehistoric period.

Intensive Level Survey

In depth documentation of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts already identified in a Reconnaissance or Windshield level survey.

Inventory

a list of historic properties determined to meet specified criteria of significance.

Jigsawn ornament

machine-made decorative wooden ornament, commonly applied to houses in the latter half of the 19th century, and sometimes known as “gingerbread”. It is typically flat in one dimension, with cut-out motifs created by a machine driven saw, the “jig-saw”. The ability to cut intricate patterns easily and quickly with this new tool of the 19th century also brought the introduction of picture puzzles with quirky, interlocking shapes.

Key

any buildings, structures, sites, or objects which, due to their significance, would individually qualify for landmark status.

Lancet window

a narrow window with a sharp, pointed arch typical of English Gothic architecture from the 12th and 13th centuries. Found in revival works of the 19th century.

Landmark

a building, structure, site, or object which has a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the township, state or nation, and which has been designated as a landmark pursuant to the provisions of this Ordinance.

Leaded glass

Common as a decorative treatment in buildings ca. 1890-1915, particularly for the windows set into doors, or around doors as sidelights and transoms. Clear glass is held in place by lead strips; because lead is far narrower and more pliable than wood frames for windows, the window can contain intricate and non-linear designs.

Master Plan

the Master Plan of the Village of South Orange, as amended from time to time, compiled pursuant to the Municipal Land Use Law.

Minor Application

the application for a Certificate of Appropriateness which does not involve demolition, relocation or removal of an historic site; does not involve an addition to a property in an historic district or new construction in an historic district; and is a request for approval of fences, lighting, doors, windows, roofs, paving, exterior sheathing or streetscape work which will not substantially affect the characteristics of the historic site or the historic district.

Mullion

the vertical members separating and supporting window glass, or doors or windows arranged in a series.

Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL)

the Municipal Land Use Law of the State of New Jersey , P.L. 1975, c.291 (NJSA 40:55D), as amended from time to time.

Muntin

the horizontal members separating and supporting window glass, or any secondary framing device in windows.

Non-Contributing

any building, structure, sites, or objects that are not integral components of a defined historic district because they neither date from a time period for which the district is significant nor represent an architectural type, period, or method of construction for which the district is significant.

Object

a material thing of functional, aesthetic, cultural, historic, scenic, or scientific value that may be, by nature or design, movable yet related to a specific setting or environment.

Ordinance

a legislative act of the governing body of a municipality adopted in accordance with statutory requirements as to notice, publicity, and public hearing as required by law.

Ordinary Maintenance and Repair

the repair of any deterioration, wear or damage to a structure or any part thereof in order to return the same as nearly as practicable to its condition prior to the occurrence of such deterioration, wear, or damage with in-kind material and quality workmanship. Ordinary maintenance shall further include in-kind replacement of exterior elements or accessory hardware including signs, using the same materials and workmanship and having the same appearance.

Palladian window

also known as a Venetian Window – a large window used in neoclassical styles, divided by columns or piers resembling pilasters, into three portions, the middle one of which is usually wider than the other and arched.

Parapet

a low guarding wall at any point of sudden drop, such as the edge of a terrace, roof, balcony, etc. On a wall, it is the part which extends above the roof; it may be finished with a cornice.

Pediment

in classical architecture, the triangular gable end of the roof above the horizontal cornice. The bottom piece of the triangle is completed with molding; the upper members may be incomplete for a Broken Pediment; or curved for a Scroll Pediment. Both of these forms are common on Colonial Revival door surrounds.

Permit

Permit approval for exterior work to be performed on any landmark, or on any building, structure, object, or site located within a landmark district. Said permit shall include, but not be limited to, a building permit, a demolition permit, a permit to move, convert, relocate, or remodel, or to change the use of occupancy of any landmark or any building, structure, object, or site located within a landmark district. “Permit” shall also include all exterior work to be performed on fences, signs, porches, railings, steps, lighting, sidewalks, and any other work, which would alter the exterior appearance of landmarks or properties located within a landmark district or their sites.

Porte Cochere

the drive-through extension of a porch which allows visitors arriving by vehicle to disembark under cover of a roof and proceed to the porch and into the house without relinquishing cover. The vehicle can drive through the porte-cochere and is directed to stables (garages) at the rear of the property. It is not a prototype for the car port.

Preservation

the act or process of applying measures to sustain the existing form, integrity and material of a building or structure, and the existing form and vegetative cover of a site. It may include initial stabilization work, where necessary, as well as ongoing maintenance of the historic building materials.

Quoins

in masonry, a hard stone or brick used to reinforce an external corner or edge; often used decoratively to distinguish corners from adjacent masonry. Quoins are generally block-like. Wooden classically-inspired buildings may use decorative “quoins”.

Reconnaissance Level Survey

synonymous with Windshield Level Survey. See Windshield Level Survey Definition.

Reconstruction

the act or process of reproducing by new construction the exact form and detail of vanished or non-surviving building, structure object, or any part thereof, as it appeared at a specific period of time when documentary and physical evidence is available to permit accurate reconstruction.

Rehabilitation

repair or alteration that preserves significant historical or architectural features.

Restoration

the historically accurate repair or replacement of architectural features.

Sash

windows that open and close by raising and lowering within the plane of the wall. Most historic American domestic buildings used sash windows; they are commonly referred to by the number of panes of glass in the top sash and bottom sash, such as two-over-two or six-over one.

Site

real property, whether public or private, with or without improvements, which is the location of a significant event or series of events, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building, structure, or object, or any configuration, portion, or group of the foregoing which has been designated by the Commission as having historical, archeological, cultural, scenic, or architectural significance pursuant to the provisions of this Ordinance.

Survey

the survey of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts located within the Village of South Orange which is conducted by the Commission for the ascertainment of their historical, architectural, aesthetic, cultural, or other significance pursuant to the provisions of this Ordinance. There are various types of surveys including ‘Windshield Level’, ‘Reconnaissance Level’, and ‘Intensive Level’.

Sleeping porch

at the turn of the 20th century, sleeping in the night air was thought to be therapeutic. In pre-air-conditioner summers, it was often a necessity. Houses from ca. 1890 to 1930 may have had a “sleeping porch”, a screened porch accessed only from the second floor bedrooms of a house, and intended for summer use, or year-round use by “health nuts”.

Terra cotta

hard, unglazed fired clay used for ornamental work and roof and floor tile. New Jersey’s “clay belt” around Perth Amboy was a center of terra-cotta production in the late19th and early 20th centuries. It is often found in Queen Anne style houses as decorative ornament in brick chimneys.

Transom

the glass “window” above a door, often rectangular. Arched transoms are called fanlights. Windows may have a transom above, providing additional light to the interior, but not part of the operating part of the window beneath.

Tudor arch

a four-centered pointed arch, common in the architecture of the Tudor period in England, and used in Eclectic Revival houses of the early 20th century to create a Tudor or “Olde English” effect.

Windshield Level Survey

also known as a Reconnaissance Level Survey, includes initial information on local properties including buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts, etc., as well as a preliminary report containing an historic overview of the survey area, survey methodology, and recommendations for further research.

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