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Design Speak lets you in on a some industry lingo so that you will sound oh-so-smart. From abbreviations to acronyms to phrases to trendy words, we’ll do our best to cover it, and we’ll do it in language you’ll understand.

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Term Definition

(pronounced like the initials: ay & dee)

Stands for “Architecture & Design”. You’ll see this term a lot on business cards because someone will be the A&D Manager for a manufacturer or he / she will be a representative to the A&D community. (Bonus info: This means that these people call on / deal exclusively with architects and designers as opposed to calling on end-users or facility managers.)


(pronounced like the initials: ay-eff-eff)

These three letters represent a four-word phrase: above the finished floor. This acronym is used in keynotes and within construction drawings to let contractors and tradesmen know how high something should be placed above the floor once any material(s) has been added. In other words, this distance should not be from the bare concrete or sub-floor, but from the top of the parquet, terrazzo, or porcelain tile. Somewhere on a general note within the drawing package the interior design must noted if the distance given is to the center, the top or the bottom of the item being placed. For example, a designer might note that top of a bank transaction counter on the designated accessible route is 36” A.F.F. or that center of all electrical outlets should be at minimum 15” A.F.F.


(pronounced A-buh-kuss)

Though this Greek-sounding word describes one of those ancient “calculators” made of beads and rods, it also has a definition related to architecture: the uppermost flat slab on the top of a pilaster or capital of a classical column. If a Corinthian order, the abacus has concave sides with the corners cut off. If of the Greek Doric order, then it’s a thick, square slab. In other orders such as Tuscan, Roman Doric, and Greek and Roman Ionic, it’s square with a molded lower edge. More than you ever wanted to know, but now you’ll be able to answer that question on Jeopardy!


(pronounced eh-KAN-thehs)

It seems a little odd that a Mediterranean plant would show up in this glossary, but this flora, which sports plump, scalloped leaves, plays a high-profile role in classic architecture. Carved representations of acanthus leaves are common to decorative elements, particularly within the Corinthian order. However, hundreds of years after the Greeks and Romans exerted their influence, William Morris utilized acanthus leaves in the designs of his exquisite wallpaper patterns during the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century.


accessory apartment

(pronounced ek-SEH-seh-ree eh-PART-mehnt)

Apparently this term has been around for a while, but we only just became aware of it recently, so we thought that we would share it with you. You may have heard the terms "in-law apartment," “guest apartment,” or "granny flat.” Well, accessory apartment is a synonym for those. It’s an additional (a.k.a. accessory) residential unit that may be 1) within the interior of an existing single-family home, 2) on top of an attached or detached garage / structure, or 3) be it’s own separate entity, (like a carriage house), but on the same property. These units are commonly required to be independently functional – i.e., separate access, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Many municipalities have very strict rules regulating where accessory apartments are permitted, how they are to be situated, and how large they can be. Sometimes cities do not allow them for fear of overcrowding and a drop in property value. This type of supplementary housing can provide an agreeable alternative to larger complexes because the units are usually smaller and lower priced than full-size rentals.

See also: ADU


(pronounced A-seh-tate)

You very well might hear this word used to describe a transparent or translucent plastic sheet material, either tinted with color or simply colorless. A variety of industries use these sheets either as an overlay – say, for making notations without harming the material underneath – or as the basis of artwork itself. However, when you hear the word acetate in the fashion design and interior design worlds, most likely the one uttering it is referring to a type of fabric or thread. Acetate is the generic name for a cellulose acetate fiber. Textile fibers, yarns, threads, and fabrics made from these fibers are called acetate. It is thin and lightweight and used in everything from coat linings to draperies, either by itself or in a blend. Acetate is usually crisp or soft (depending on end use), wrinkle- and shrinkage-resistant, fast-drying, silky and luxurious in appearance, and relatively inexpensive. The fabric drapes well and dyes well, but it has limitations with regard to abrasion resistance and strength of fiber. As typical with most materials, you can’t have everything!

acoustical wallcovering

(pronounced eh-KOOS-tih-kuhl WAHL-kuh-veh-ring)

Also referred to as “acoustical wall fabric,” this soft, pliable, sound-absorbing material for vertical surfaces is used to help control sound in interior spaces where speech intelligibility and sound clarity is essential – e.g., movie theaters, sound studios, classrooms, conference rooms, and video conference rooms. Many companies manufacture fire-rated, heavy duty, stain-resistant versions in a wide array of colors.


acrylic resin

(pronounced eh-KRIH-lihk REH-zihn)

Though it’s likely you’ve worked with acrylic paints in art class, chances are slim that you’ve melted down this raw thermoplastic material – consisting of methacrylic acid or polymerizing acrylic acid or an offshoot of either – and cast or molded your own glitzy, futuristic, glass-like pieces. While it first emerged in the mid-1930s, relatively recent technologies have added some versatility to designing with acrylic resin – i.e., the ability to utilize vibrant colors, as well as the ability to print sharp images onto acrylic that will maintain over time. Also referred to as Lucite (DuPont’s trade name for an acrylic plastic), this material is not only suitable for furniture, but also for shelves, frames, drapery hardware, lamp bases, art, and other accessories.


adaptive reuse

(pronounced eh-DAP-tihv REE-yoos)

This term is essentially a more descriptive form of the word “remodeling.” It describes the rehabilitation of an existing building – often a rundown one that had once been used for commercial, industrial or civic use - to serve a completely new purpose, such as an office, retail establishment, hotel, or even a residence. Many times the property has some sort of historic value that either must be or is desirable to be preserved. As you might have guessed, adaptive reuse is similar to historic preservation, but without as much of the research and regulation. If you think about it, adaptive reuse is the ultimate in recycling.


(pronounced uh-DEN-dum)

Don’t feel “dum” if you don’t know this word. (That’s what we’re here for.) In the A&D world, an addendum is a change (or many changes that occur all at the same time) to a set of construction documents (drawings plus specifications) after they are already issued for bidding. Why would you ever need an addendum? Numerous reasons: 1) If a mistake(s) was made in the set of documents. 2) If the client changes the parameters of the project at the last minute. 3) If a code official makes a last minute ruling on a code compliance issue. 4) If the bidding contractors find significant gaps in / problems with / questions of the documents that need to be fixed / amended / tweaked. After the addendum – or addenda, if there end up being more than one – is issued, then contractors can complete the bidding process, and the bid can be rewarded. All of the changes then become part of the completed drawing package that is used for construction.

adobe banco

(pronounced eh-DOH-bee BAHN-koh)

Adobe is an ageless building material comprised of clay, sand, water and straw, all of which are mixed together and allowed to dry in the sun to form bricks. Modern processes and materials have strengthened it and improved its durability, but the original concept is the same. An adobe banco is a bench or seating surface constructed of that material, regularly built as an extension of a wall. Bancos are often constructed around fireplaces – i.e., where people will gather.



(pronounced like the initials: ay-dee-yoo)

As more Baby Boomers want to age in place, delaying or avoiding moving into assisted living communities and nursing homes altogether, the idea of the accessory apartment has grown, establishing itself in the building industry as an “accessory dwelling unit” or ADU. Still the concept of a smaller home placed on the property of a larger one, ADUs allow one to transition into one’s older years in closer proximity to family while still preserving some independence. As the market has grown, so has the sophistication of ADUs in the pre-fab unit market. Many are now constructed with energy-saving, sustainable features, as well as with materials and options to keep the residents safe, such as soft-fall flooring, monitoring equipment, grab bars and other balance aids.

See also: accessory apartment


(pronounced like the initials: ay-ee-see)

Although these initials also stand for the Atomic Energy Commission, the Association of Education Committees, and the African Economic Community, in our biz they mean “Architecture, Engineering & Construction”. You will see AEC used in regards to the design, planning, construction and operation of buildings.


(pronounced A-grih-geht)

This versatile word has many meanings as a verb, adjective and noun, but for our purposes we’re focusing on a single definition – that of the materials added to plaster for the purpose of making it stronger and/or lighter. Examples: volcanic ash, sand and vermiculite. By making efficient use of binder materials, aggregates help to prevent material shrinkage.


(pronounced A-grih-bur-bee-uh)

A combination of the word “agriculture” with “urban” or “suburban,” this hybrid term describes the practice / movement of integrating food production with the planning of the built environment. Moving beyond a few tomato or rosemary plants, the idea is to use alternative energy and natural storm water management to grow substantial amounts a food in and around developments such as mutli-unit housing projects, office parks, pedestrian walkways, etc.

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