poche’ – architect’s glossary

Pronounced with an exaggerated accent on the final “e”, “poche'” is a French architectural term for the all the stuff that is inside the walls between spaces.  In architectural drawings, it is the stuff blackened in on the plans.

John Soane's House Museum in London

For typical construction where all the walls are about the same thickness and both sides run parallel to each other, poche’ isn’t really a design element.  However, back in the days of predominantly stone masonry buildings, the thickness of stone walls gave them a relative presence that allowed for their manipulation as architectural entities.

niche spaces in the poche'

The simplest treatment of poche’ and the base cause of the terms use is when architects describe carving into a wall to create a niche.  In those cases they may describe using the poche’ space of the building.  In a sense, it is carving into the “solid” mass of the wall space even though in modern construction this space of the wall is certainly not stone or solid mass.

Baroque plans are especially rich in their interesting manipulation of poche’ to create geometrically shaped rooms.  The resultant wall shapes between rooms, the poche’, takes on a presence that is as “shaped” as the rooms and certainly more interesting than simply the space between two wall surfaces.

aedicula – architect’s glossary

an “aedicula” is a term used to describe a small shrine within another building.  As in the photo above, it typically is a multi-columned structure, open on three or four sides and serves to focus attention and define a smaller space within a much larger one.

Over the years the religious dimension of an aedicula has diminished and it has become a term to define simply the formal structure of a columned little building within a larger space.  Because the aedicula focuses the space into a much smaller area of the room, it still in a sense, acts  like a shrine, differentiating the small space and ceremoniously highlighting the space within.

aedicula over bath in Charles Moore's Orinda house

Of course the aedicula serves most of all to create a smaller, more intimate space while still being a part of the larger room.  This type of construction has become more relevant in residential design as the desire for larger, more open living spaces has proliferated.  Creating an aedicula within the family’s living space can celebrate what small function the family most honors being it a small reading space and library, a huge home theatre or, in the example above, the bath as a retreat.

piano noble – architect's glossary

The “piano noble” is not a fancy musical instrument, rather it is the “noble floor”.  In a traditional Italian palace, the most important  floors were at least one story above the ground level which was often used for storage or, in Venice, as a rather damp entryway from the canals.

Venetian palazzo

This elevated level for the family’s most impressive public rooms – salons and receiving rooms – allowed for greater views and in urban palaces better access to sunlight amongst the narrow streets.

Villa Savoye by LeCorbusier

For more contemporary houses, not having store rooms and servant rooms to occupy the ground level, the piano noble design places the family’s private rooms on the lower level and grants the upper level to living room, dining room, kitchen etc.  This reverses the typical configuration of the usual house and paradoxically places the most private rooms on the ground floor in the least private location.  It does however, give to the main rooms what might be panoramic views that are available with the additional elevation.  This situation occurs often in Colorado where the mountain views may be blocked at the ground but open dramatically just 12 feet or so up.

The piano noble reverses the usual evening course of living in a multi-level house in that you do not go up to the stars and moon to go to sleep, but rather down to the earth.  For most people the loss of privacy on the lower level in especially urban areas as well as this odd phenomenological reversal of the place of sleep can not be overcome.  But, with good design and sensitivity to privacy issues, I think the piano noble can be very interesting and make for extraordinary houses.

stile and rail – architect’s glossary

“Stile and rail” is a type of wood construction for doors and other panel-like objects.  The horizontal piece is called the rail, the vertical piece is called the stile.

door parts, from McFarland Door

In ye olden days, before the advent of plywood and other engineered panel products, doors were made from solid planks of wood.  If you have a wood floor, you may know that gaps appear and disappear throughout the year depending on the season, humidity, species of wood, etc.  For a door or any large panel, this kind of expansion and contraction wreaks havoc on the fit of the door creating gaps and binding.  To overcome this problem, stile and rail construction became the preferred solution for quality carpentry.  The boards that make up the panel, the center part, are slotted into the surrounding stile and rail and can slightly move, expanding and contracting, within this frame without effecting the overall dimensions and stability of the frame. The familiar look of stile and rail, the surrounding “frame” and inset panel, was not simply an aesthetic choice, but the result of a technological solution.

For the last almost 100 years, typical doors and cabinets are made with a variety of materials, often composite wood products, that are dimensionally stable without the need of the use of stile and rail technology.  However, the familiar look of stile and rail has persisted, especially in door styles.

So, remember that “stile” is not “style”, but “stile and rail” has become a style.  Simple.

stile and rail – architect's glossary

“Stile and rail” is a type of wood construction for doors and other panel-like objects.  The horizontal piece is called the rail, the vertical piece is called the stile.

door parts, from McFarland Door

In ye olden days, before the advent of plywood and other engineered panel products, doors were made from solid planks of wood.  If you have a wood floor, you may know that gaps appear and disappear throughout the year depending on the season, humidity, species of wood, etc.  For a door or any large panel, this kind of expansion and contraction wreaks havoc on the fit of the door creating gaps and binding.  To overcome this problem, stile and rail construction became the preferred solution for quality carpentry.  The boards that make up the panel, the center part, are slotted into the surrounding stile and rail and can slightly move, expanding and contracting, within this frame without effecting the overall dimensions and stability of the frame. The familiar look of stile and rail, the surrounding “frame” and inset panel, was not simply an aesthetic choice, but the result of a technological solution.

For the last almost 100 years, typical doors and cabinets are made with a variety of materials, often composite wood products, that are dimensionally stable without the need of the use of stile and rail technology.  However, the familiar look of stile and rail has persisted, especially in door styles.

So, remember that “stile” is not “style”, but “stile and rail” has become a style.  Simple.

enfilade – architect's glossary

“Enfilade” is an architectural term used to define a long spatial axis usually made up of a series of openings between rooms that all align.

The term has its origins in military usage – an enfilade is a way of describing an enemies exposure to being fired upon.  Firing down along the length of a trench, as opposed to perpendicularly to its “front”, is the genesis of the term enfilade.

In architecture and enfilade is technically the spatial axis but in usage it is used to describe the arrangement of a suite of rooms along a line.  These arrangements were especially prominent in Baroque architecture as  mode of formal composition of rooms.  Obviously as buildings, and especially palaces, became larger, a more formal composition dominated their design as the utility of defense was diminished.

The image above is the UK’s National Gallery designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown.  They created an exaggerated enfilade by aligning a series of openings and slightly diminishing the width of each opening to create a manipulated perspective view and driving the space even more insistently down the axis of circulation.

enfilade – architect’s glossary

“Enfilade” is an architectural term used to define a long spatial axis usually made up of a series of openings between rooms that all align.

The term has its origins in military usage – an enfilade is a way of describing an enemies exposure to being fired upon.  Firing down along the length of a trench, as opposed to perpendicularly to its “front”, is the genesis of the term enfilade.

In architecture and enfilade is technically the spatial axis but in usage it is used to describe the arrangement of a suite of rooms along a line.  These arrangements were especially prominent in Baroque architecture as  mode of formal composition of rooms.  Obviously as buildings, and especially palaces, became larger, a more formal composition dominated their design as the utility of defense was diminished.

The image above is the UK’s National Gallery designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown.  They created an exaggerated enfilade by aligning a series of openings and slightly diminishing the width of each opening to create a manipulated perspective view and driving the space even more insistently down the axis of circulation.