Book cover featured above.


An amusing, 40 pg., dictionary-like guide through architectural terminology featuring definitions and Instagram photos.
Individually hand-bound
5.5" x 5.5"
copyright 2012

(Limited copies available at Plug In ICA.)

BOOK EXCERPT -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Architecture school will teach you that when orienting an architectural plan, north is always up.

In anARCHI design’s ongoing effort to make the design discipline more easily accessible, North is Always Up: Architecture school in everyday life is an amusing commentary on the exclusive design vocabulary that is instilled in the architecture school environment. Often referred to as “archispeak”, this terminology is frequently used in architecture circles, but can be confusing and meaningless to those who are not familiar with it.

By taking advantage of the accessibility and outreach of Instagram, North is Always Up aims to define and relate 40 of these architectural terms to photographs that capture everyday sites and situations in an attempt to make sense of this exclusive language. It is essentially a translation of “archispeak” through interpretations of the everyday.

It is hoped that in sharing this playful account, it will inform and inspire a newfound understanding and appreciation for a now more approachable architecture world.


The following are the architectural terms featured in the book, along with the date on which they were posted on Instagram. Click on the INSTAGRAM PHOTOS tab above to view examples of some of the corresponding images.


Oct. 8 - #ACTIVATE
A popular term in architecture school meaning to make active or bring to life. Architecture and space need to be activated. Essentially, to “activate” something means to make it interesting. For example, your studio crit could tell you to activate the plan drawing of your design proposal. Or, you could tell your Legal Aspects professor to activate his class a bit more. But you should/would probably never do that.

You will experience a significant amount of these throughout your academic career. They are nights deprived of any sleep, fraught with countless cups of coffee, energy drinks, junk food and hardcore techno jams blasting from you headphones; often necessary and also expected of you in finishing work for a deadline or presentation. Having ten-minute naps atop your drafting board once or twice throughout the night is still considered pulling an all-nighter, but if your body ever transitions from an upright to a horizontal position in which sleeping for an extended period of time on the nearest couch, floor, furnace, or any flat surface is likely to ensue…you have failed to pull a true all-nighter. 

The search for authenticity or ‘trueness’ is a common theme and/or topic of study in many an architecture school project. It is such a persistent theme because the notion of authenticity is vague enough to be interpreted in your own way, yet has a powerful and rooted definition. It is exactly these kinds of open-ended but profoundly meaningful and philosophical terms that architecture school makes you question, study and rack your brain over time and time again.

Oct 14 - #AXIS
Course. Way. Direction. View. Center. Line. Path....To make people believe you are knowledgeable about design, simply replace any one of the previously stated words used in everyday conversation with “axis”. Or register for a first year architecture studio, where the term will be excessively used and jammed into your brain permanently.

Oct 16 - #CRAFT
The level of perfection for which you strive when making any architecture model. A model with good craft means it is pristine - crisp, clean with zero blemishes or mistakes. It’s an important skill to obtain, especially since the better looking your model, the more people will flock to your desk to check it out, and in turn, the more friends you will make in first year… OR, on the contrary, the more enemies, as people will become envious of your work. You must be strategically crafty with your craft I suppose.

Oct 18 - #CRIT
The individual you strive to impress everyday of your life. Meeting only a couple of times a week to advise and guide you through your project, you have to take full advantage of discussions with your crit. You definitely develop a love/hate relationship with any crit as they purposely lead you down meandering trains of thought, taking you on a roller coaster ride of clarification and confusion in attempt to get you to rigorously explore multiple design concepts and approaches. The way your legs feel after a 10k run is comparable to how your brain feels after talking with your crit. They’re called crits or critics for a reason.   

Oct 20 - #DÉRIVE
Experiencing a particular site by way of an unplanned journey or drift (the literal English translation) in order to engage it on a more free and subconscious level. As the “dérive” is essentially a spontaneous traverse of a space with no regulation or restriction, you can cunningly call many things a “dérive” to make it sound like a purposeful, investigational exercise. Like if you just didn’t have the time to do that site analysis study this weekend, you can call the groggy, 4am stumble from the computer lab to your car (which you think you parked in this lot but aren’t sure because your brain’s fried and not working from staring at a computer screen for the past 8 hours) a “dérive”, and at least have something to talk about with your crit tomorrow… I mean 4.5 hours from now.

Oct 22 - #DEVICE
An architecture school staple. A “device” is some kind of tool or object you construct for a particular purpose within your project. The possibilities are endless. It could be anything from some kind of fabricated instrument to help document the activity of a site, or a complex gadget that alters the process of drawing in some way. For whatever reason devices are crit catnip, and making one for your project will guarantee you an increase of at least one letter grade.  

Oct 24 - #DIALOGUE
This is a fancy word used to describe the various connections and relationships that exist between two things. A building can have a dialogue with the street on which it sits, as can a living room with a kitchen across the hall. I guess it’s just another way in which architects try to personify buildings and spaces…much like calling them “sexy” (definition #sexy still to come).

A fundamental principal indicating that in any form of design composition, there should be a dominant (big), subdominant (medium) and subordinate (small) form. This ensures that the design has good balance, variance and point of focus. This is why a sofa/loveseat/armchair set looks so damn good in your living room. 

Oct 28 - #DYNAMIC
Another term that most likely bombarded your poor, innocent undergraduate brain. It is a characteristic that describes something active and powerful!...Like how you feel after all those caffeine pills 24 hours before that deadline and/or presentation.

Oct 30 - #ENGAGING
You always want your designs to be engaging. Because the number of things that a design can engage is countless, this term is used excessively in architecture circles. In terms of frequency uttered, I’d say “engaging” is to architects as “diagnosis” is to doctors.

An adjective that describes a drawing or model that is more subjective than objective in nature. “Experiential” means it relates to your personal experience. And because experience is different for everyone, you can call your drawing “experiential” and not be persecuted for however crappy said drawing may be.  
Nov 3 - #EXPLORE  
A verb to describe anything and everything you do, basically. If you’re not exploring one thing, you’re exploring another - an idea, a method of working, a drawing, a site…To “explore” in architecture school means to be doing anything from measuring the dimensions of a space to sitting for hours at your desk critically thinking about the most time, space and cost effective scale at which to build your model.

The way something is expressed or communicated. A building as well as a drawing could be “gestural” if they’re evocative and/or expressive. It is somewhat of a tricky term to explain, which is why you will rarely utter the word “gestural” in conversation without being gestural, aka accompanying it with some kind of suggestive hand motion. Try it. It’s hard. 

This is what you must convey in any and all of the drawings you produce in school. When drawing a space, you must render life into it in order for others to know the function of said space. This includes human figures to show scale and relevant human activity/interaction. To make a late 90s film reference, not communicating “inhabited space” in your drawings is like not wearing enough “pieces of flair”...Most people really aren’t going to notice, but you’re going to get in big trouble for it from your higher-ups.  
Describes the “in between” space. Interstitial space is often the byproduct of primary spaces, meaning it is everything that a primary space is not. I believe the term “interstitial” was created so that all space could be accounted for, in addition to having a fancy word to describe “the rest”.  

A reasoning behind anything that cannot be explained objectively. If you can’t think of a good enough reason to explain why you designed something a certain way, just say it was an intuitive design move. Not only will your professors lay off you immediately, they will probably applaud you for your instinctive, exploratory approach.

Much like the term “explore” (see #explore), everything you do in architecture school is an “investigation”. The term “investigation” can be used to make the simplest of tasks seem way more complex and important, and can also be used to justify unintentional doings. For example, if I accidentally spilled that 5th cup of coffee on my basswood model at 4 am before an 8 am presentation with clearly no time for remedy, I could say it was an “investigation” of how brown liquid transforms the materiality of basswood. A+!

Nov 15 - #ITERATION 
Repeating the process of modeling or drawing over and over and over. You can (and should) have several iterations of a design for one project to show a rigorous process of design development, analysis, re-thinking and re-execution. To get philosophical, life is lived in iteration – you attempt, acquire knowledge, and learn from your mistakes. Thank you.

Nov 17 - #LAYERS
Architecture school gold! If you have any form of “layers” in your project, you’re safe. Layers can be in the form of actual paper – several pieces laid over top one another to create a dense multi-surface drawing, or it could just be a way of describing a drawing or model with a lot of insight and depth. Who would have thought that good drawings and good personalities had something in common? 

A story that inspires, accompanies or results from a design proposal. Narratives are well-written anecdotes that provide settings, characters and situations to which a design proposal can respond. Composing narratives will guarantee you a spot in your crit’s good books because it shows him/her that you’re not just a creative person who can draw and make models, but also an intelligent individual who can articulate his or herself through well developed language arts skills. A good narrative can get you surprisingly far. 

A bit unclear, right?? No, it’s not some kind of space-time continuum warp...It’s the space that is not occupied by any solid form, but rather delineated by surrounding solid form. For instance, the cube of space within a hollow, 4-sided cube. So, essentially it just means “space”. Over-complicating words for no reason: typical designer talk.   

Nov 23 - #ORGANIC
When the design of a building is described as “organic”, it is most likely a fluid form devoid of pointy parts and/or sharp angles, has in some way or another something to do with nature, and whose materiality is perhaps raw or untreated...A hippie in building form.  

Nov 25 - #PLANAR
Something that is characterized by it’s flat, spanning surface. I wonder if this term originated here in the prairies…?

When designing a building or space, notions of private versus public must be considered. Being aware of the need for a balance between sufficient private, intimate spaces and public, open spaces is key in achieving a functional building design. Never spoken about separately, “private” and “public” go hand in hand, are always said one right after the other in conversation, and usually accompanied by the distinctive hand gesture that communicates “this-or-that” – like when you ask someone “coke or pepsi?”.

Nov 29 - #PROCESS
Process, process, process! You can’t have a successful architecture school project without communicating your process - as in the way you work, the different design approaches, and the steps you took in order to get to your final project proposal. This includes, but is definitely not limited to (and if it were, you’d fail), sketch models (see #sketchmodel).

Often associated with a negative connotation, when a drawing or model is too “representational” it is no more than a replica or duplicate that lacks originality, character and/or emotive qualities. Unless you want to get a C+ (at best), have a nap-inducing portfolio, and get a job as a CAD monkey after you graduate, your work better be more than just “representational”.

Dec 3 - #SCALE
You must always convey scale in anything and everything you do in design. Showing scale allows you to relate the size of your body to any space, building, model, or object that you are experiencing. Without scale, you have no reference point, no bodily connection, and no passing grade.

An initial phase in the design process where ideas are hashed out on a more symbolic and diagrammatic level, later to be developed with more consideration, precision and detail. If you really want to upset an architecture student, tell them their final model looks “schematic”. 

Dec 7 - #SECTION
A “section” of a space, building or object means you imagine it cut down the middle to reveal what’s inside. It’s like removing the front wall or façade from a building to see the spaces behind it. A section is a very telling drawing in architecture (with highly-emphasized importance) because it uncovers the various spatial relationships and intricacies between the levels of a building. When in doubt, draw a section.
Dec 9 - #SEXY
I don’t think there’s a single architect in this world (other than myself) who thinks using “sexy” to describe a building is strange or unfitting...Not only is it widely accepted, but also considered the highest form of praise. Using “sexy” as an adjective to describe architecture is still unusual to me, perhaps because I feel I am in no position to do so... I’ve decided it is something into which one must have to grow, as one makes headway in the architecture profession and becomes established and comfortable with his/her career (and sexuality...?) Is it coincidental that the majority of architects who use the word “sexy” are gray-haired men over the age of 50??

When a design is unique to its location and/or environment, engaging in some way with its surroundings it is said to be “site specific”. These kinds of designs are truly one-of-a-kind because they directly correspond to a particular site. A challenging thing to do, much like saying it five times fast.  

In architecture school, you make models. 97% of which are sketch models. Produced by the hundreds (and usually very quickly as a way to get an idea out, see it three dimensionally, stare at it forever, only to repeat the process 400 times) these are the ‘rough-draft’ models that are… made, tweaked, thrown away, burned, cursed at, and disassembled in order to re-use its materials to save 50 bucks and have enough money for food that week… before constructing your magnum opus that is your final model (the cost of which that 50 bucks, that you clearly can’t spend on food, will contribute about 25%).

Dec 15 - #STATIC
The complete opposite of “dynamic” (see #DYNAMIC). Unchanging and lifeless…Like how you feel immediately after that deadline and/or presentation.

Dec 17 - #TENSIONS
A strong connection of some kind that exists between two things. This could describe the relationship between two adjacent building facades and how they correspond with one another, or the relationship between you and your crit after he/she has told you that the model which you spent the past 36 consecutive hours constructing is too schematic (see #SCHEMATIC). Oh, and also that it turns out final presentations will be on Wednesday instead of Friday this week.    

Means the same thing in design-talk as it does in English: A point of entry or imaginary barrier that demarcates two separate spatial conditions. You can imagine how often this term is used, repeated and burned into your brain, as spatial conditions are essentially the medium with which architects work. To architecture students, it’s one of those words that you mumble in your sleep as you toss and turn during a horrifying nightmare, then subsequently blurt out as you suddenly wake up, sweaty and bounding to an upright position.

No, it’s not the newest line of trendy skater-wear...It’s a term that refers to qualities of the environment (both physical and cultural) at a city or community scale. It can be used to describe anything from the overall topography of a city to its overall demographic. So, essentially it’s contents or make-up. Just say “the urban fabric of...” before any comment about any geographic piece of land, and you’ll be hobnobbing with the black-turtleneck-thick-rimmed-glasses crew in no time.

Not a racist term, but rather the blank-page-area of a graphic layout, free of image and/or text. It is important for not only layouts, but also any visual and/or special composition to have sufficient white space for ease of reading/absorbing information and to prevent over-crowdedness. 

Dec 25 - #1:1
Pronounced “one to one”, this is the scale of reality. When drawing or building models, we use scales such as 1:50 (1 cm equals 50 cm) or 1:1/4 (1 foot equals ¼ inch) to scale down something in order to effectively represent it. “1:1” means something is its actual size, or ‘life-size’, not scaled down. So that old Starbucks coffee cup that you used to represent a cylindrical building in your 1:100 model of an Asian city center may be an accurate representation, but it’s still a 1:1 styrofoam cup.