Architectural Glossary

In Architecture on June 9, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Use this architectural glossary to contextualize many frequently used architectural terms.  Download a full color version complete with pictures illustrating the terms, or use the definitions below to enrich your study of architecture.

Arcade: A line of arches raised on columns. The arches that line the arcade in the Eldridge Street Synagogue are horseshoe arches.

Arch: An arch spans an opening and is usually rounded. There are many arches inside the main sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue, particularly lining the upstairs balcony.

Ark (Hebrew: aron): The cabinet where the Torah scrolls are housed. The ark in the Eldridge Street Synagogue is made of walnut wood. Its shape echoes the shape of the synagogue’s façade.

Base: The lower part of a column. The exterior columns at the Eldridge Street Synagogue are made of stone.

Bay: A regularly repeating division in the architecture of a building. The stained glass windows in the main sanctuary at the Eldridge Street Synagogue are arranged in bays.

Cantor’s Platform (Hebrew: amud): A special space where the cantor, who chants the prayers during a Jewish service, stands. The cantor’s platform in the main sanctuary is made of latticed wood. The music stand has a large star of David on it.

Capital: The top part of a column. The capitals on the exterior columns are highly decorated and elaborately carved.

Column: A column consists of three parts: the base, shaft and capital (bottom, middle, top) and often supports a roof or balcony. The Eldridge Street Synagogue has both exterior and interior columns.

Chandelier: An ornate lamp with multiple branches that hangs from the ceiling. The sanctuary’s Victorian chandelier is over 120 years old and was originally lit by gas. In 1907, the congregation switched to electricity and flipped the glass sconces upside down to accommodate light bulbs.

Clerestory: A series of windows placed high up on a wall. The clerestory in the Eldridge Street Synagogue has circular and keyhole windows. All of them are made of stained glass.

Cornice: Any horizontal section of decorative molding at the top of a building, arch or wall. A patterned band of horizontal molding, the cornice, adorns the topmost corner of the façade.

Dome: A curved roof structure with a circle-shaped base. The ceiling above the women’s gallery contains domes with blue and gold star murals painted on them.

Eternal light (Hebrew: ner tamid): A light that hangs in front of the ark in synagogues around the world. This light remains lit at all times, day or night. The eternal light at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is very ornamented, with a griffin head at the top and a crown motif surrounding the basket below.

Exterior: The outside of a building. Four wooden doors, five finials and one large rose window are some of the features visible on the synagogue’s exterior.

Façade: The front or “face” of a building. Much of the facade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue is decorated with terracotta ornamentation.

Faux: This means “false” and refers to when an artist makes one material look like something else. The columns and walls in the main sanctuary have a faux finish—they look like marble, but are really just painted to look that way.

Fenestration: The organization and design of windows in a building. The fenestration at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is arranged on two main levels.

Finial: A kind of decoration found at the top point of a building. The Eldridge Street Synagogue’s façade has five finials, which are echoed on the walnut ark inside the sanctuary. All the finial are topped with stars of David.

Frieze: An ornamented band that runs along the outside of a building or top of a wall. The exterior frieze at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is ornamented with terracotta shapes, stars and flowers.

Gallery: The gallery is an elevated seating area, which is also called a balcony. The gallery is where the women would sit during a prayer service at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Horseshoe Arch: An arch that curves in the same way that a horseshoe does. This type of arch is unique to Moorish architecture. There are many horseshoe arches lining the arcade inside the main sanctuary.

Interior: The inside of a building. There is a great deal of decoration, including faux finishes, murals, and a variety of windows, in the Eldridge Street Synagogue interior.

Keyhole window: A window that is circular at the top and rectangular at the bottom. The Eldridge Street Synagogue has stained glass keyhole windows visible both outside and inside the building.

Mosaic: A picture that is made up of small tiles or glass. The floors in the vestibule are an example of mosaic at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.

Molding: A strip of carved or curved wood used for decoration. The balcony railing offers one example of decorative molding inside the synagogue.

Mural: A painting made directly onto a wall. The blue domes with gold stars above the gallery are an example of interior mural in the main sanctuary.

Newel: Wooden posts at the top and/or bottom of a flight of stairs. The newels at the bottom of the stairs that lead to the main sanctuary have stars of David carved into their surfaces.

Oculus: A round window. There are many oculi (plural) visible inside the main sanctuary, particularly in the clerestory.

Ornament: A detail that is carved, painted or added to a building for decoration. The terra cotta stars of David on the synagogue’s façade are examples of exterior ornaments.

Plinth: The base of a column or door frame. The large piece of stone below the base of the column is the plinth. There are plinths located beneath the columns on the synagogue’s exterior.

Reader’s Platform (Hebrew, bimah): The raised platform from which the Torah scrolls are read during a Jewish prayer service. The reader’s platform at the Eldridge Street Synagogue is located in the center of the sanctuary and made of cherry wood.

Rose window: A large, circular stained glass window divided into segments by tracery.  Primarily found in buildings with Gothic architecture. The rose window at the Eldridge Street Synagogue has twelve large circles and twelve small circles with flower motifs.

Rosette: A rose-like motif often carved into stone or wood or cast as metal. The façade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue is ornamented with stone rosettes.

Shaft: The middle part of a column, between the base and the capital. The shaft of an exterior column at the Eldridge Street Synagogue has a textured pattern.

Skylight: A window that is set in the roof or ceiling so that light comes through. The exterior of the Eldridge Street Synagogue has a skylight on its roof.

Stained Glass: Small pieces of colored glass, arranged into an image or design, and held together by lead strips within a frame of tracery. The stained glass windows in the Eldridge Street Synagogue contain only geometric shapes and patterns, not figuration.

Torchere: A tall stand or fixture with lights on top. There are four torcheres surrounding the raised reader’s platform.

Tracery: Stonework elements that support glass in Gothic windows. Tracery in the rose window at the Eldridge Street Synagogue was particularly visible prior to the window’s restoration.

Trompe L’oeil: Literally, “to trick the eye.” A realistic painting that looks like something it is not. This is one type of faux finish. The windows on either side of the Ark are trompe l’oiel. They look like real windows, but are actually just paint.


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