Author: Connie Zeigler

Building Language: Glass Curtain Wall

Glass Curtain Wall.  Although Historic Indianapolis fans may think of historic architecture in 19th Century terms, the National Park Service (which maintains the National Register of Historic Places) and architectural historians know that buildings over 50 years of age (as recent as 1961) may now be eligible for the National Register.  That means many of the glass curtain-wall structures in downtown Indianapolis have risen, or soon will be rising into the consciousness of preservationists. The glass curtain walls in the photograph are on the building officially called “Market Square Center” by Indianapolis architects, Wright Porteous and Lowe, according to...

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Building Language: Oculus

Oculus. From the Latin for “eye,” oculus is the name for this round window and others of this shape. Alternate names for this feature are roundel (for its round shape) or bull’s eye (for obvious reasons). Oculi may be found in the sidewall of a building or at the top of a dome. The oculus in this photograph allows a look out of an early 20th Century double in the 1400 block of Park Avenue. Oculi have been used as architectural features since at least the Renaissance.  Put on your glasses and look for an oculi near you. Connie...

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Building Language: Jerkinhead

Jerkinhead. A jerkinhead is a truncated gable at the end of a roof. This house in the 1700 block of South Delaware has three jerkinheads. Although the origin of the word doesn’t seem to be known, a jerkin is a close-fitting jacket usually with cropped sleeves, which may have inspired the use of the term for this clipped-off gable. Jerkinheads are often seen on bungalows and, especially in densely packed early suburbs, they tend to make these houses less obtrusive on the landscape than they might appear with a full gable. In Indianapolis, jerkinheads are found on many 19th...

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Building Language: Balconet

Balconet.  Although the word “balconet” may not be in your vocabulary bailiwick, you could probably figure out its meaning even without seeing a photograph.  A balconet projects from the façade of a building just below or just above the window sill typically.  The balconet in the photograph, one of several on the building, rests on the terra cotta beltline and below a beautiful original window of the former Granada Theater, former G. C. Murphy, and current Murphy Art Center on Virginia Avenue in Fountain Square. The Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Architecture defines the word “balconet” as “a pseudo-balcony.”  Unlike...

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Building Language: Scupper

Scupper. A scupper is an opening in the wall of a building through which water drains.  Scuppers are most often found at the edge of the roof or within a parapet. The scupper in this photograph is in the side wall of the parapet of a house on Watson Road in the Watson Park/McCord neighborhood. The origin of the word “scupper” is attributed variously to the French word, “escopir,” which means to spit out, or the Middle English word “scope,” which means to scoop. Scuppers are also used on boats at deck level to allow water that splashes onto...

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Building Language: Spindlework

Spindlework. The frieze, which is the decorative trim beneath the cornice on this porch, the side brackets, which attach the frieze to the porch posts, and the pendants, the dropped pieces between frieze and side brackets, are all examples of spindlework. Like many 19th Century houses in Indianapolis, this Folk Victorian residence in the 700 block of Noble Street is dressed up with spindlework porch details. So-named because it resembled wooden thread spindles, today we sometimes mistakenly think that spindlework was handmade. In reality it was mass-produced. A carpenter/builder could even order his (or rarely, her) spindlework items from...

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Building Language: Stick Style

Stick Style. This Old Northside residence is a Stick Style building. Probably constructed in the last quarter of the 19th Century, it is a good example of the style, identified by its wooden exterior with trim, known as “stickwork,” which mimics the interior construction of the building. The cross-hatch pattern of the stickwork trim on this house is purely decorative. Other hallmarks of the style displayed by this house are its gabled roof, wooden clapboard siding and its one-story porch with curved braces. The Stick Style was popular in the United States in the years between 1860 and 1890...

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Building Language: Winged Gable

Winged Gable (or Prow). A winged gable, like the one on this house at 91st Street and Crestview Avenue, is an elongation of eave, which extends the roofline at the peak of the gable. This architectural feature, which is also sometimes called a “prow” because it resembles the prow of a ship, would have functioned to provide some additional shade or shelter from rain to windows or doors beneath the gable, but was just as much a stylistic choice as a functional one. Winged gables are usually found on Ranch style or other modern-design houses of the mid-20th Century....

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Building Language: Oriel Window

Oriel. An oriel is a bay window that is suspended from the upper story of a building, rather than rising from the foundation. The use of oriels in the United States was inspired by Medieval English architecture. Oriels are common on Queen Anne style buildings, adding interest to the asymmetry, which is a hallmark of this style. Oriels extend the interior space of the room to which they’re attached, often with a window seat placed against the interior walls of the window. The origin of the word “oriel” is not known, but, according to the Illustrated Dictionary of Historic...

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Building Language: Grotesque

Grotesque. A grotesque is a sculpted or molded ornament usually depicting a fanciful creature or distorted human. Grotesques are typically placed high on the exterior of buildings beneath the eave or at the top of columns, giving the impression that they are leering down at the humans below them. Not to be confused with gargoyles, which are part of the gutter system of a building and act as water spouts, grotesques are purely decorative. The grotesque in the photograph is one of several found on the interior of a residence in the 8000 block of Springmill Road. The house...

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Building Language: Shotgun

Shotgun. Most people know the term “shotgun” as it applies to a house. The old saw about the origin of the name is that you could stand in the front door and fire a shotgun straight through the house to the back door. A “shotgun” is not a style of house, but rather a plan that is typically one-story, rectilinear, with a gable-front roof and a hall that extends from front to back with rooms to one side of the hall. Shotgun houses have been built in the United States since about the 1880s, according to the Field Guide...

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Building Language: Insulbrick

Insulbrick. Insulbrick or Inselbrick (the product tradename) is an exterior siding product that mimics brick. The owners of the church building in this picture, located in the 900 block of Shelby Street, probably applied their insulbrick siding in the 1930s or 1940s, not long after the asphalt and fiber siding came on the market. Mass produced and inexpensive, insulbrick came in a variety of brick-like colors and was touted as an insulating material—the product name was a no-brainer. Advertisements for Inselbrick appeared regularly in Indianapolis newspapers in the 1940s, proclaiming the new look, end to house painting, and draft...

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Building Language: Pleated Roof

Pleated Roof.  The pleated roof on this building in the 1800 block of English Avenue is distinctive, especially on a street otherwise populated with late 19th and early 20thCentury homes and commercial buildings. Pleated roofs look like they’ve been folded to created peaks and valleys. Like pleated skirts, pleated roofs come in and go out of fashion. Roofs like this were popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This building makes good use of other trendy materials and elements of design that mark it as a mid-century building. Those include concrete posts, the metal grille on the second...

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Building Language: Fenestration

Fenestration. From the Latin word “fenestra,” which means window, fenestration is used to describe the arrangement and type of windows is a building. The fenestration of The Gramse apartment building at 22ndand Broadway is varied, including casement, double-hung sash, and fixed sash (in the basement and dormers) windows. There are even some arched openings with windows configured to fit perfectly into the arches. In 13th Century Prague an angry mob threw a judge and 13 members of the town council out the windows of the town hall. That window-related event is called the Defenestration of Prague. (There was also...

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Building Language: Windows

Windows. You don’t have to be an architectural historian to know the term “windows.” But unless you make your living describing historic buildings you may not have considered all the many types of windows there are or how they help establish the style of a building. There are two window types on this Dutch Colonial style house in the 5000 block of New Jersey Street in Indianapolis. On the left is a pair of double-hung sash windows. Double-hung sash windows have two sashes that slide up and down independently of each other. The top sash in each of these...

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Building Language: Clerestory

Clerestory.  A clerestory (pronounced and sometimes spelled “clearstory”) window is placed in the upper part of a house wall to allow light into the center of a high-ceilinged room.  Clerestory windows limit views into the house from the exterior, providing privacy, while still admitting daylight. Although clerestory windows have been used since ancient times, they became popular again in the mid-20th century. Sometimes, as in this house in the 6000 block of Crow’s Nest Lane, they are rectangular, but clerestory windows found in old churches might be arched, or those found in other mid-century homes might be angled to...

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Building Language: International Style

International Style. The unadorned walls, casement windows that are flush with the exterior and wrapped around one corner, flat roof and asymmetry of this small house in the 5500 block of North Illinois Street peg it as a rare-to-Indianapolis International Style residence. Mies van der Rohe, who directed the famous Bauhaus design school in Germany in the 1930s, made this style famous. His less-is-more philosophy is beautifully expressed in this simply elegant house probably architect-designed and built before 1940. International Style made its way to downtown Indianapolis in the much larger-scale City-County Building in 1962....

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Building Language: Beltline

Beltline or Stringcourse A beltline, also called a beltcourse or stringcourse, is a horizontal element that spans (or belts) the full width of a building’s façade. Often the beltline extends around the entire building and may define either where a new story begins or where a change occurs in the wall cladding, as in this case where the wide horizontal limestone courses change to a random ashlar pattern above the beltline. Beltlines can be brick or wooden or, as on this house in the 1900 block of Delaware Street, stone. On this house the beltline also forms the windows...

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Building Language: Dentils

Dentils From the Latin word “dens,” meaning tooth, dentils are small blocks, usually wooden, placed in a horizontal row, often below the cornice or the eave. Because dentils were common in Greek and Roman architecture, in Indianapolis they are found on architectural styles that are or have some elements of Classical revivalism. These often include Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical style buildings. The dentil molding in this photograph is on a Free Classic style house in the 1300 block of Park Avenue....

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Building Language: Terra Cotta

Terra Cotta The terra cotta detail on the former State Bank building on Virginia Avenue in Fletcher Place is glazed in a Wedgwood blue color, mimicking the fine pottery produced at England’s famous Josiah Wedgwood Company. The walls of this building are also clad in terra cotta tile.  The building was constructed around 1928, just prior to the stock market crash that threw the nation into the Great Depression. Terra cotta was used on several commercial buildings in Indianapolis in these years. The Union Station train shed is another example. The terra cotta on the Virginia Avenue bank building...

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