Arizona Architects Share: Architecture Terms (Part 1)

When it comes to designing a home, we know that we use some “weird” lingo from time to time. It can be confusing to try and decipher some things that are common for us, but not to homeowners. We do our best to make sure you understand everything, but sometimes we slip in a few architecture terms that just don’t make much sense. 

That’s why our next installment of Arizona Architect’s Share is focused on architecture terms! We’ll explain the difference between a blueprint, floor plan, and site plan, and much more. 

Defining Similar Architecture Terms

When it comes to architecture, there are a lot of plans. Here’s how to make sense of what all of them are. 


A blueprint is the construction plan that contains all of the details a contractor needs to build your home or remodel. They’re 2-dimensional drawings. In the past, they were done on blue paper, which gave them their name. 

A complete set of blueprints will include a floor plan, elevation drawings, basement or foundation plan, including footings and bearing walls, a complete electrical layout, a framing plan, drawings of all plumbing and mechanical systems, cross-section drawings of structural elements, a roof plan, and a plot plan. In short: everything. 

Floor Plan

A floor plan or house plan is a simple two-dimensional line drawing. It’s a lot like a blueprint, but it typically only shows the plan of the floor — meaning it’s a top-down view of what the room should look like, without a ton of details put into it. 

You’ll often see floorplans if you’re looking to rent an apartment! They typically include the walls, maybe some dimensions, and the layout of each room. 

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An example of a floor plan by UDA

Site Plan

A site plan, also known as a plot plan, is like a readable map of the property. It’s basically an exterior floor plan for your home, meaning it maps out the landscape around your home. It includes things like property lines, landscape features, structural elements, setbacks, driveways, utility poles, and power lines, fencing, and on-site structures. 

This is all done as part of our Feasibility Studies. 

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An example of a site plan by UDA

Reflected Ceiling Plan

This architecture term is a little confusing compared to the others. A reflected ceiling plan is a plan of the ceiling, but it’s reflected onto the floor below. Keep in mind that this is a 2-dimensional drawing, so it’s impossible to show both the floor and the ceiling at the same time. This is why this plan can be a little confusing. 

What it shows is of utmost importance, though. It displays the orientation of various electrical or mechanical objects within the ceiling, such as lights, fans, and wires. This way, electricians aren’t “left in the dark” without a plan. 

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An example of a reflected ceiling plan by UDA

Architectural Set Of Plans

An architectural set of plans are also known as a house set of plans. They’re contract-related documents that include the final building contract, detailed specification sheets, and working drawings for the project. They’re basically everything, including all the legal stuff. 

They’re commonly referred to as working drawings and blueprints as well. Confusing, right? 

What’s an Architectural Program?

An architectural program is just a fancy way of asking “what is your wish list” and “how will this building be used.” 

Basically, we use the term “programming” to describe how we’ll work with you (the client) to help you refine your wants and needs. We’re not reprogramming the way you think or how your dream home should look, we’re simply defining the program of the construction or remodel process. Every home requires a different program. 

Most architects first study the program, layout the spaces, and figure out how the building functions.  Once it looks like the function is working out, the design part comes in.

Lastly, What’s Scale? 

In architecture terms, scale isn’t used to weigh something. It’s used to take something that’s really big and make it really small, but still accurate in its size. In other words, it’s when we take a 10×10 room and scale it down to make it a few inches big on a piece of paper. 

For example, if the scale is drawn in 1/4 inch scale, this means that for every 1/4 inch on the paper, one foot of the actual construction product, component, or building is drawn. 

Basically, scale means that you can include everything in the plan as accurately as possible, without making it life-sized. It saves time (and paper) without hurting the accuracy of the design. 

We have more for you, but we’re breaking this up into two parts. This blog was all about the planning phase, so next time, we’ll tackle the design and building terms that may confuse some people. See you next time!