Breaking Down Architecture Jargon

If you have ever spoken to an architect or someone who works in the architecture, design and engineering industry, then you may have been exposed to the secret language that only they seem to understand. From phrases like “Building Information Modeling” to even more familiar words that have been given a new meaning, speaking with an architect or an architectural firm can sometimes feel overwhelming.

To help avoid head-scratching and confusion, we have compiled a list of five common terms every client should know. So, the next time an architect starts talking about the building envelope, you’ll know exactly how to respond.

1) Building Envelope

Actually, the term building envelope is a great place to start. And no, it is not an envelope deep enough to fit the Empire State Building. The building envelope is simply the separator between the inside of the building and the outside world. It includes elements like walls, floors, roofs and doors – in other words, everything that encases the building, much like an envelope encases a letter or those tax returns you mail every April.

2) Building Information Modeling

Building Information Modeling, otherwise known as BIM, is a process used by virtually every architect on the planet and, since its inception in the 1970s, has completely changed the way architects approach building design. Gone are the days of drafting a building blueprint on paper; using BIM, architects digitally create a 3D model to see what a project will look like and how clients can use it before ever hammering a nail. The information we gather and leverage through our BIM software allows our team to effectively plan, analyze, and detect and resolve any conflicts – for instance, when electrical, plumbing, IT, HVAC and structural components inadvertently overlap – in the spaces we design.

3) Revit

Revit, one of the most advanced BIM software tools on the market, is used by SHP for nearly every project. This program even allows us to track and plan the lifecycle of a building from conception to demolition. We’ve even gone so far as to layer in our own custom applications to simplify certain parts of the design process, like triple-checking that the number of doors and windows we’ve designed will meet building codes.

4) Built Environment

Built environment refers to the spatial and cultural atmosphere we, as humans, have created for ourselves. Put another way, it’s the houses, office buildings, sidewalks, roads and even open spaces we encounter in our daily lives. Like most of the jargon on this list, you will likely only hear this term uttered from an architect, designer, engineer or urban planner, but it is relevant to us all. Anthropologists (and our SHP team!) even argue that the built environment impacts our society tangibly, like how it physically moves and functions, and intangibly, like how it contributes to individuals’ socioeconomic status.

5) Program of Requirements

A Program of Requirements or POR is a detailed summary of the project. Whether it’s a renovation project or the design of a new facility from the ground up, the POR provides essential objectives and constraints the final project must meet, such as space requirements, material quality and desired components within the design. The POR is typically designated by the project owner, which is the individual or entity that initiates the project and usually assumes financial responsibility – aka, the person who signs on the dotted line.

While this is not an exhaustive list, the terms we have provided are a great start to understanding common industry phrases. However, if you are ever in a situation where you are confused by what an architect, engineer or designer has said, don’t be afraid to ask!