Thursday, February 18, 2016

Architectural ABC's - Part Four of Four

Part Four:

Let's just say I didn't think this series out fully.  The final three letters were the most challenging, as any elementary school kid could have guessed.  These aren't quite as traditional as the previous terms, but they did teach me a lesson (literally and figuratively).

Although architects may know these terms and even use them often, the history and source of these terms in relation to their modern usage was in fact an interesting journey for me while researching them.  Aside from their alphabetical first letter, there was neither rhyme nor reason as to their selection, other than the etymological ancestry.  Here are X, Y and Z.

Xeriscaping - is a landscaping method that originated in Colorado.  The term derives from the Greek word 'xeros' which means dry.  The point of xeriscaping is to provide attractive landscaping that does not rely on irrigation.  I happened to have been introduced to that term years ago working on a project in Boulder, Colorado.  At first I thought I was hearing zero-scaping, but that was just a result of my own hearing loss - it does not mean plant less. It may have started in dry climates, but the concept is a valid part of best design practices for any climate.  Make use of rain runoff and use hearty plants that can use the runoff instead of piping in water.  Design credit: Martin/Martin Engineering in Colorado (

Vegetation is concentrated where the water will go.
Plants are hearty and drought resistant and provide visual interest even at dry times. 

Yoke  - is the top rail of a double hung window sash joining the two side rails or a pipe fitting that combines a drain pipe to a vent pipe.  The term is related to wooden beam used to pair two field animals to enable them to pull in unison.  A pair of oxen can be called a ‘yoke’ of oxen.  Many languages have words stemming from the animal related definition, including German, Latin and Greek.  A “yoke” that is an archaic unit of measurement is actually the amount of land that can be cultivated by a pair of oxen.  These units of measurements are also derivative in many languages.  They are notably described in the Great Survey of much of England in 1086, called the Domesday Book.

This member is more commonly referred to as a top rail.
The vent pictured is called a yoke vent.  Illustration Credit:  McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. 
Zamboni - okay, this is a stretch.  But my other options were ziggurat and zigzag; and for word origins Zamboni is way more interesting.  The word for that awesome between-the-periods entertainment at a hockey game comes from Frank Zamboni himself.  According to the company website ( Frank developed his namesake machines to resurface ice after working in both the auto repair and refrigeration business.  In the 1940's, ice skating was very popular and there was a real need to smooth out that ice after tons of teenagers scuffed it up.  The prototypes used tractors and Army surplus gear.  By the 1950's, he was on his way, selling to both the ice skating rinks and NHL for hockey, eh?

The first patent for an ice resurfacing machine.  Source:
So there you have it.  Architecture terms A-Z.  If you missed the previous editions of this series, just go to and keep scrolling backwards.  To learn more, use one of my sources:
Dictionary of Architecture and Construction

All photos and diagrams are either my own or, to the best of my knowledge, fair use under U.S. copyright laws.

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