May 6, 2015

[Preservation Glossary] Today's Word: Facade

  • By: Jamesha Gibson

A side shot view of the Winkler Bakery in Old Salem that shows its facade and demonstrates key characteristics of Moravian architecture style.

Oh, if walls could talk. What would they tell us about the people who built historic buildings? What secrets would they reveal about the those who lived inside?

Believe it or not walls do, in fact, talk to us. We’ve just got to learn their language.

Historic edifices primarily speak to the eyes, communicating through sight. The most visible, and one of the most verbal, parts of their lexicon is the facade. A Preservation Handbook for Historic Residential Properties & Districts in Salt Lake City and An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape defines it as:

Facade (or Façade), noun

Any of the exterior faces of a building.

Facade refers to the principal face of the building and more generally can reference any side of the building facing a street, garden or public space.

The picture above shows the facade of the Winkler Bakery in Old Salem, Winston Salem, North Carolina.

Word in Use: “As background, the old opera house was slated for demolition by the Village of Stewardson -- who agreed to allow its Mesker Brothers galvanized iron facade to be salvaged for reuse on a fire-damaged main street building in neighboring Arcola, Illinois.” -- David Garber, "[VIDEO] De/Re-Constructing an Historic Metal Facade"

The facade of a building should not be confused with its elevation which is defined by An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture and Landscape as:

Elevation, noun

A geometrical drawing depicting the vertical plane of a building.

The big difference is one is the actual building and the other is a drawing, as shown in the example below.

An architect's rendering of the Amoureaux House in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

Once we master the facade’s language, we can learn more about the culture, time period, and geography of the people who erected them.

Have a favorite word to share, or one you've always been dying to define? Let us know in the comments, and we'll feature it in future posts. Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

Editor's note: The definitions and captions in this post have been updated to further clarify the definition of facade.

Jamesha Gibson is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. She is passionate about using historic preservation as an avenue for underrepresented communities to share their unique stories. Jamesha also enjoys learning about other cultures through reading, art, language, dancing, and especially cuisine.

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