The Construction Terms & Words Every Good Architect Should Know

...75 commonly used construction words, phrases, and acronyms!
construction terms

As you compete for jobs and undertake work on projects, you’ll be contacting general contractors, subcontractors, engineers and architects all merging to bring unique skill sets, perceptions and their own interconnected jargon.

Although this myriad of vocabulary can be extremely confusing at first, knowing common construction terms and definitions can benefit you greatly in understanding the industry better and enhancing your conversation. 

These construction terms are constantly evolving, and the best way to add them to your vocabulary is of course to begin applying them to your own conversations, but firstly you must understand what they are!

In this article, we have drawn together a comprehensive list of 75 commonly used construction words, phrases and acronyms, and arranged them in a list so you can easily search for and review their meanings.

Common construction terms and words

  1. All-In Rate

An all-in rate is the overall cost of an item comprising all direct and indirect costs. These would cover the cost of materials transported to site, conversion, waste, unloading, handling, storage and preparing for use. You can again locate this term often used in the financial sector.

  1. Architect of Record

The term represents the name of the architect, or the architectural firm whose name is registered on a building permit issued for a specific project on which they have performed services. While an ‘architect of record’ may not actually do the design for the construction project, they have contract authority for the project and are permitted by the state.

  1. Batter (Walls)

Battered wall is a wall that has been designed with an intentional slope. Some architects prefer this design to provide structural strength while others choose it for an aesthetic appeal.

  1. Bearing capacity

Whenever a load is placed on the ground, such as from a building foundation, a crane, or a retaining wall, the ground must have the capability to hold it without extra settlement or failure. Bearing capacity is the capacity of soil to support the loads that apply to the ground above. Deeper the depth of embedment of the load, stronger will be the bearing capacity.

  1. Best Value Method

It is a construction procurement process which allows clients to choose contractors for their projects based on performance criteria, such as quality, reliability and expertise, rather than just price to assess value. 

  1. Bid

A bid is an offer to undertake a construction project based on design specifications and documents at a specified price. Price proposal is often based on the design specification and documents.

  1. BIM

BIM is an acronym for Building Information Modeling. It is a 3D modeling process that integrates visual information with data about specifications, materials, functionality, and maintenance to provide all project participants a unified view of the project and all its components. It features details of the building, from its general structural layout to its minor detail measurements.

  1. Blue Prints

Blueprints are construction drawings that incorporate all the details that are expected in a project. It shows how a building is to be designed, what materials are to be employed, and placing doors and windows.

  1. BOQ (Bill of Quantities)

This document is issued to tenderers during the pricing phase and facilitates them in the calculation of construction costs for their project. It ensures that competing contractors price the items of work on the same basis and reduces the risk of uncertainty.

  1. CAD (computer-aided design)

Architectural software that digitally creates precise 2D drawings and 3D models. It is better, quicker, easier and less expensive than manual drafting options.

  1. Cantilever

A cantilever is a structural element that protrudes horizontally out of a wall, edge beam, or a column and is supported at only one end.

  1. Cast in place Concrete

Cast-in-place concrete is a construction technique where a temporary formwork is prepared to shape concrete slabs and foundations, as well as components such as beams, columns, walls, roofs, and so on, until it hardens. It is also known as ‘poured-in-place’ concrete.

  1. Catastrophic failure

The term catastrophic failure refers to an accident in the construction process that destroys a building or structure. It makes it unsafe for use unless the entire structure is rebuilt.

  1. Cavity Wall

Also known as hollow wall, cavity wall is constructed with two distinct walls separated by an air space. These two walls act like a single wall and are joined by metal ties. They offer good sound insulation property.

  1. Cladding

Cladding is any material fixed to outside of a structure to form non-structural external surfaces that cover its exterior. Just as your skin protects internal bones and organs, cladding protects against the elements and shields against environmental conditions or to make it look more attractive. 

  1. Concrete Cover

Concrete cover, in reinforced concrete, is the minimum thickness of concrete embedded over the reinforcement steel. It is measured from the exposed concrete surface to the closest reinforced steel surface. Concrete cover protects the steel from harmful influences such as aggressive solutions and fire. 

  1. Concrete Slab

It is a common structural element that is used to create flat horizontal surfaces such as floors, roof decks, ceilings made of cast concrete. It is usually of constant thickness. 

  1. Construction Build-Out

Construction Build-Out is changing or modifying an existing commercial space to make it more functional for the tenant occupying the space.

  1. Construction Drawings

Construction drawings are the final pre-construction drawings of the entire building that are incorporated into tender documentation. These drawings guide the construction process by depicting a structure’s dimensions, installation materials and other factors. They are prepared by architects and engineers.

  1. Construction Estimate

Construction estimating is the assessing of all the costs of building a structure to determine the feasibility of the project. These costs include direct costs, indirect costs, overhead costs and a profit margin for the general contractor.

  1. Construction Management at Risk (CMAR)

It is an innovative approach to construction project delivery methods where the project owner hires a construction manager early in the process to serve as a representative and consultant during the project. The Construction Manager further manages the project throughout each phase, ensuring it stays on budget and on schedule.

  1. Cross Bracing

Cross bracing is a structural component comprising reinforcements crossed shaped in an X-shape used to improve the endurance of a structure. It limits the building’s lateral movement, thus increasing the building’s capability to withstand seismic activity. 

  1. Cut and Fill

Cutting and filling is the process of moving earth from one place to another to make the ground more level. A ‘cut’ is made when earth is cut from above the desired ground height and a ‘fill’ is when earth is used to fill a whole to desired ground level. It is regularly used in constructing a road, railway, building, or canal.

  1. Damp Proofing

Damp proofing is a coating applied to building walls and floors to restrict the movement of moisture through walls and floors. The barrier may be provided either horizontally or vertically in floors or walls, and may comprise flexible materials such as bitumen, mastic asphalt, bituminous felts, plastic or polythene sheets, metal sheets, cement concrete. 

  1. Dead Load

Dead load is the self-load of the structure because of its complete weight. They are the permanent loads which are constantly present. It includes the weight of the structure, cladding, fixed equipment, etc.

  1. Diagrid

Diagrid (diagonal + grid) is a structural reinforcement technique used to create triangular structures placed in diagonal grids. It requires less structural steel than a conventional steel frame.

  1. Elevation

A building elevation is an orthographic two dimensional projection of the exterior faces of a building. It refers to the ‘front’ of the building. Usually there are 4 main elevations: North, South, West, & East.

  1. Encasement

Encasement is the coating or covering of building components, interior and exterior to prevent future physical damage. 

  1. Falsework

It is a temporary structure used to provide temporary support to structures during construction until the structure can support itself. It is chiefly used for large arch structures and bridges.

  1. Field Measure

Field measure is a survey where measurements are taken of an existing structure to ensure that each component will fit as intended within the space. It improves the overall accuracy of the installation.

  1. Floor Plan

Floor plans are scale drawings that show the arrangements of room, spaces and physical features viewed from one level of a structure. They provide a way to visualize how people will move through space. 

  1. Footing

Footing is the lowest load-bearing portion of a building that transfers the load from the foundation to a larger soil area. It supports the foundation, prevents settling, and provides support for the structure.

  1. Formwork

Formwork is a type of temporary mold or open box into which fresh concrete is to cast the required shape of concrete. It cautiously supports the reinforced concrete until it has reached adequate strength.

  1. Girder

Girders are the main horizontal structural member with the capacity to support larger concentrated loads, such as columns or beams. It can be made from a variety of construction materials such as concrete, stainless steel, or a combination of both and may comprise a single piece or over one piece bound.

  1. HVAC

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It is a system designed to achieve the environmental requirements of the comfort of occupants and a process. It uses electricity and coolant liquid to reduce the temperature of the air, while sending hot air outside and cold air inside. They are more used in different buildings such as industrial, commercial, residential and institutional buildings.

  1. Joist

Joists are horizontal structural members that run across a building foundation, walls, and structural beams. It acts like the skeleton of a building. 

  1. Lean construction

It is a construction method conducted to manage and improve the construction process with minimum cost and maximum value by considering customer needs. Lean construction ensures that a project is instantly done, and lower costs are incurred during the building process.

  1. Lease-leaseback

It is a project delivery method under which a company sells the asset it owns to a lease-leaseback entity and the lease-leaseback entity causes the construction of the facility on said property and subleases the facility back to the company. This sale and leaseback transaction is done on mutual understanding of both parties, and all the terms and conditions are predefined in an agreement.

  1. Lien

A construction is a type of security interest in which contractors, subcontractors or any person who supplied services to a construction project may secure payment if payment is not forthcoming via the construction pyramid. It protects professionals from the risk of not being paid for services rendered.

  1. Lintel and Sill

A lintel level is a level at which the top of a door or window is finished, while sill is the level between a building’s window base and floor level. 

  1. Live Load

Live load is the load to which a structure is subjected besides its own weight, such as people, the action of wind on an elevation, furniture, vehicles, and so on.

  1. Load-bearing wall

Load-bearing walls are walls that are constructed to support the weight of a floor or roof structure. These walls are constructed using concrete, blockwork and/or brick and transfers load from other parts of the structure to the foundations.

  1. Lookout (architecture)

Lookouts are wooden joists or rafters on the ridge of a roof that extends beyond an end wall of a building in a cantilever-like manner.  

  1. MEP engineer

The acronym MEP stands for “mechanical, electrical and plumbing.” So an MEP engineer is an engineer who has a written agreement to offer mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering services to the said firm. 

  1. Moling

Moling is a trenchless method that is used to install underground pipes, cables, and ducts. It avoids the need to dig a trench.

  1. Monocrete Construction

Monocrete is a building construction method that uses modular bolt-together pre-cast concrete wall panels.

  1. Mortar

Mortar is a homogenous mixture of cement, sand and water that provides joints to build brick or block walls. It is applied as a paste which then sets hard. Mortar is a homogenous mixture of cement, sand and water. Different mortars are used in masonry construction based on their applications, binding materials, strength, bulk density and their purposes.

  1. Negotiated Procurement

It is a method of procurement where the government directly negotiates a contract with a legal supplier without formal price competition or formal advertising. It is allowed in cases of two failed biddings, emergency cases, small value procurement, lease of venue for official use, and so on.

  1. Pay Applications

In construction, the term pay application refers to a group of supporting documents exchanged between contractors and subcontractors during payment and is governed by a constructed contract. The contract varies per project and should provide detail on the form to use, documents to include, and application timing and deadlines.

  1. Performance Gap

A performance gap is an instance where the expected work progress does not match to the results on site. This could be because of environmental, workmanship, or occupant reasons.

  1. Pilotis

Pilotis were the greatest of Le Corbusier’s architectural inventions. They are supports such as columns, pillars, or stilts that lift a building above ground or water. They help lift a building above the ground or a body of water.

  1. Precast Concrete

Precast concrete is a type of concrete that is prepared, cast and cured off-site. It is prepared by casting concrete in a recyclable cavity then it is next mended in a contained environment, transported to the construction site and maneuvered into place. It is mostly used for structural components such as wall panels, beams, columns, floors, staircases, pipes, tunnels, and so on.

  1. Project Manager

The project manager is an experienced construction professional who handles the entire management of the construction project. They inspect all prospects of the building process, particularly project deliverables, schedules, and accounts.

  1. Purlin

Purlins are the principal components of roof structures. They are horizontal beams employed for immediate structural protection in buildings.

  1. PVC

PVC, which stands for Polyvinyl Chloride, is a rigid solid sheet that’s resistant to weathering, chemicals and corrosive environments. PVC sheets are very easy to fabricate and you can also install it with conventional tools.

  1. Quantity Take-off

Quantity take-offs are a detailed measurement of materials and labors held by estimators during the pre-construction phase. It helps the project developers have full knowledge of what to expect during the construction phase.

  1. Rafter

Rafters are a series of sloped structural components of a roof construction that extends from the ridge or hip of the roof designed to support the roof desks, roof coverings, and its associated loads. 

  1. Reflected ceiling plan (RCP)

Reflected ceiling plan (RCP) is an architectural drawing where the plan of a ceiling is projected on a flat plane showing the placement of various objects like sprinklers, smoke detectors, and any other mechanical or electrical objects on the ceiling using symbols.

  1. Reinforced concrete

Reinforced concrete is a composite material in which concrete is embedded with reinforcement to compensate for the concrete’s relatively low tensile strength and ductility. This combination is made to use the compressive strength of concrete and tensile strength of steel, hence, work together to resist many types of loading.

The term reinforced is used because the steel reinforces the concrete and makes it an even stronger construction material.

  1. Request for Information (R.F.I.)

An R.F.I. (request for information) is a formal process for gathering information about products, services, or suppliers during the construction process to clarify the details of a project.

  1. Request for Proposal (R.F.P.)

A request for proposal (R.F.P.) is a business document that announces a project, describes it, and solicits bids from qualified contractors to complete it. These requests are typically sent out by either the owner or general contractor.

  1. Rim Joist

A rim joist is a board that runs perpendicular to the floor joists and end joists, supports the weight of the walls and provides lateral support for the joists. They are the final joists that end the series of framing joists and disperse the weight of the building across the entire expansion.

  1. Rubblization

Rubblization is a unique means of construction technique that is used to repair the damaged concrete pavement. It employs a machinery that will break apart the concrete into rubbles and leave it in its place to become base layer for new surfaces. It saves time and transportation costs.

  1. Section Drawing

Section drawing shows a view of a structure as though it had been cut vertically along another imaginary plane. It reveals the interior profile, materials used, walls, and so forth, providing a view of the structure that is not usually seen.

  1. Skirting

Skirting is a strip that covers the lowest part of an interior wall covering the joint between the wall surface and the floor. Skirting also protects the wall from kicks, abrasion and furniture; and can serve as a decorative moulding.

  1. Specifications

Specifications are a part of the construction contract that describes the products, materials, and work required by a construction contract. They detail the work, materials, and installation required to complete a project. These specifications are used as a reference to ensure the correct fulfillment of each project requirement.

  1. Studs

Stud is a vertical repetitive framing member that forms part of a wall and offers support. 

They are a fundamental component of frame construction and are usually made of timber. 

  1. Subcontract

A subcontract is a secondary contract between a party employed to do a specific part of a job and a third party which agrees to do that part of that job. Construction companies often subcontract for the electrical work, plumbing, along with others.

  1. Substructure

It is an underlying structure of the building that is constructed below the ground level. It transfers loads received from superstructure to support soil and safeguard the building against the forces of wind, uplift, soil pressure and others. Elements of substructure include foundation and basement retaining walls.

  1. Superstructure

Superstructure is the portion of a building that is constructed above ground level. It bears different loads operating on the structure. It includes columns, beams, door and window schedules, flooring, roofing, and so forth. 

  1. Tender

Tender is a submission made by a contractor in response to an offer or invitation to bid for a project within a finite deadline. It makes an offer for the supply of goods or services.

  1. Trombe Wall

A Trombe wall is a wall with high thermal mass that incorporates the concept of indirect-gain to achieve energy efficient design. It is painted in dark color and provides heat by absorbing thermal energy from incident sunlight and storing it.

  1. Trusses

A truss is a structure framework fabricated from straight pieces of metal or timber connected at pin joints or nodes to form a series of triangles lying in a single plane. By connecting a series of trusses together, an enormous amount of weight can be safely transferred to load-bearing beams, walls, or to the ground directly.

  1. Underpinning

Underpinning is repairing, strengthening, or increasing the depth of a foundation of an existing building or other structure by lowering the footing to allow it to rest on more supportive soil. It is required when the original foundation is no longer strong enough to support the house.

  1. Zoning

Zoning relates to government regulations that guide what can and cannot be built on any property. It controls how the land can be developed and what purposes the zoned land can serve.

Do we need these construction terms?

Understanding these construction terms and acronyms can be challenging, but knowing there specific definitions and acronyms, enables you to interpret the meaning of specific techniques, projects, and contracts.

Staying on top of trends in project management, engineering, and construction technology can stimulate your own development as a young designer and dodge those uncomfortable head-nodding occasions when you have no idea what the person talking to you is on about.

We’ve all been there!

We hope this glossary of construction terminologies helps you communicate more effectively both inside and outside of the studio. …and for further research and understanding is a UK based site (constructions version of Wikipedia) where just about anything construction related is explained in great detail.


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