Quick Guide: Elements of Architecture

Take note of these architectural elements and see the amazing detail that goes into every building...and find out how you can incorporate them into your residential space.

Updated on October 02, 2018 14:10 pm

Camille Besinga

Arches and Arcades

An arch is a construction that spans an opening, and is usually curved, though there exist some horizontal arches. Some are semi-circular or semi-elliptical, while some are pointed.

A cloister with English Gothic arches

Arches in the exterior of the Raffles Hotel on Bras Basah

Ornate arches in Moorish architecture

An arcade is a series of arches and are usually supported by columns or piers. These can be found on entrances, covered walkways, or even on the façade of a building or structure, known architecturally as a “blind arcade.”

An arcade

Arcades at the Singapore Art Museum

Arch and Arcades in your home:

The arch is an architectural detail that would look great in homes that open out to a wide yard—an archway adds a dramatic effect when moving from indoors to outdoors.

An arcade, on the other hand, may be used along a walkway—perhaps from the entry gate of a complex of townhouses or condominium buildings, going to the front lobby of the building itself. If you have a spacious home, you may also consider an arcade to bridge the common areas to the more private spaces, like bedrooms or sitting rooms.


Columns are vertical structures that hold up a roof, arches, or vaults. It is made up of a base, the shaft, and capital.

Columns Jefferson Memorial, Source

A house with columns

A front porch roof supported by columns

Columns in the living room

Columns in your home:

Columns at home help cover up irregularly placed foundation posts (particularly in older structures). When renovating, some homeowners find that they cannot tear down one of these foundational posts without the risk of the entire structure falling down. A decorative column fulfills the function of keeping the post without it looking too odd. Old Greek or Roman styles should be used in interiors that make use of the neoclassical or neo baroque looks. Some homes look to American Cottage, Art Deco, or Art Nouveau to dress up interior columns.


A dome basically falls under a vault, but is normally constructed on a circular, polygonal, or elliptical plan.

Dome of St Peters Basilica

The domed roof of the National Museum of Singapore

Steve Areen’s dome house in Thailand

Domes in your home:

The photo above is of a house in Thailand that is made up of different dome-shaped wings. Another famous dome-shaped house in literature and film is that of the hobbit house in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Want to create a dome-shaped ceiling in your home? Check with your contractor about this possibility. This is perfect for landed homes with plenty of vertical space.


A doorway makes up the architectural focus of a structure’s exterior. It also serves as the decorative element in an entryway, whether into a structure, or into a room.

One of the many doorways in Beijing’s Forbidden City

An ancient doorway

A colourful doorway in one of Singapore’s many shophouses

Doorway to a hidden bookshelf

Doorways in your home:

To add visual interest to your home's exterior, or even indoors, paint your doorway a bright colour. Check this story on the painted front door for lots of great ideas to cop.

Pediments and Gables

A pediment usually consists of a gable (which is often triangular), placed above an entablature, or the horizontal structure above a series of columns. In modern architecture, pediments are also used as architectural motifs above windows and door framings.

Semi-circular pediments above the door of the Armenian Church on Hill Street

A broken pediment above a blue door with pilasters

Gables are often the triangular upper part of a wall at the end of a pitched roof. They may also be curved, bell-shaped, or stepped.

Gabled roofs at the Green Gables Guest House in Ontario, Canada

Ornate gables at a Northern Thai Temple

Pediments and gables in your home:

Pediments and gables are another way to add interesting architectural detail on your doorways or windows at home.


A tower is often signified by its height more than its width. It was used in ancient times as a means of defense, or as a marker of a sacred site.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

An old water tower in London is converted into a contemporary home. Source: 1st Option

Inside the London water tower home. Source: 1st Option

Is it possible to live in a tower, like the fabled characters of fairy tales? Yes, of course! The tower pictured above is actually an old water tower in London that was converted into a livable space. The exteriors were retained, but the interiors, fixtures, plumbing, and electricals are all completely new, thanks to ingenious planning and designs by the architects.


A vault is a continuous arch or series of arches that forms a roof.

A pendant vault in Sainte-Madeleine Church in Troyes, France

Vaults made of Guastavino tiles at the City Hall Subway Station in New York City

An attic with gothic-style vaults

Vaults in your home:

The attic is oftentimes merely used as extra storage space, but if you want it to add a little more aesthetic value to it, add some architectural interest via a vaulted treatment.


Windows were originally meant to let light in and ventilate the interiors of a structure, but with the development of many architectural and interior design elements, it has become a highly decorative element that added to the aesthetic value of a structure.

Windows outside shophouses in Little India

Shuttered windows along Amoy Street

Windows in your home:

Many old homes and shophouses in Singapore feature shutters and boldly painted windows. If you can't change the exterior of your window (perhaps you live in a condo or HDB unit), make your windows more architecturally interesting from the interior side. Add mouldings or trim, or use window treatments that are more attractive than ordinary-looking blinds or shades.


A stairway forms the access from a lower floor to a higher floor.



Stairways in your home:

Check out more super stylish staircases here.

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Cover photo courtesy of Pixshark


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