What would one call the large horizontal structural fixture (on which the five faces are embedded)?

The image is from the Chicago Civic Opera Building, built in 1928.

This throne-shaped 49-story skyscraper is home to the internationally renowned Lyric Opera of Chicago. It features Art Deco and Art Nouveau styling and ornamentation, musical motifs and an impressive arcade that runs the length of the east facade

Source: Open House Chicago

detail showing the bas relief on the horizontal panel

Is there a precise, technical architectural term for such a substantial, protruding, horizontal structure below an external window?

Note that I am not asking about the decorations on the structure, the faces, but the structure itself, which would presumably have the same name even if it were plain (if that's not the case, please do mention that in your answer).

  • 2
    A molding? Maybe a corbel? Doesn't look like a frieze, I don't think? Interesting question. I'm gonna go google.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 6, 2016 at 14:26
  • 7
    You're not actually asking about the faces, though. It looks like you're asking about the balcony-like structure. It would help to know what it looks like from above, and what size it is -- perhaps it really is a balcony.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:01
  • 2
    Just ornaments, probably
    – NVZ
    Jun 6, 2016 at 15:22
  • 2
    @DanBron - if you want a proper answer I suggest you edit the question making it clear what OP is actually asking for. It looks like I was not the only user to misunderstand it. Having said that, the technical term you are after could be more properly suggested in a construction/ architectural site.
    – user66974
    Jun 11, 2016 at 5:42
  • 2
    @JoeBlow - why do you insist on asking this question on ELU???? This is not the place for it...ask on sites for architects or, better still, art historians.
    – user66974
    Jun 16, 2016 at 13:23

5 Answers 5


What would one call the large horizontal structural fixture [...] specifically the component between the two corbels?

The most appropriate term I found, and one which matches the description and the image posted by the OP is

balconet / balconette

Civic Opera House facade

If we look at the definition of corbel we find:     

     enter image description here

corbel: A masonry block projecting from a wall to support a superincumbent element.

Technically, the central structure featured in the OP's question, is a “superincumbent element”. It also resembles a balcony owing to the presence of the corbels; however, the central protruding section is extremely narrow and the wall particularly low, which suggest that it is only a decorative element of the façade with no practical function or use. The question arises whether it is actually deep enough for a person to stand. Moreover, the “adornment” does not appear to be an extension of the double-hung windows, which would rule out the answers; sill suggested by @Phil Sweet, and the stronger contender (in my opinion) apron (now deleted) given by @Joe Blow.

I propose the following: balconet or balconette

From Sturgis' Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture and Building (1901-02)


A railing or balustrade at the outer plane of a window reaching to the floor, and having, when the window is wide open, the appearance of a balcony.

From Volume III the following term, parapet, as defined below could also be taken into consideration.

enter image description here

of the first to be emphasized by panelling and tracery, often peierced with great richness and delicacy of detail ...

Because images speak louder than words.

Why that structure cannot be a sill nor an apron

... stone window sills are an excellent choice for supporting, decorating, and accenting window frames. […] Stone window sills are very strong, help support the entire window frame, and are long-lasting. […] Exterior window sills are exposed to rain and airborne contaminant particulates. They also are in direct contact with temperature and pressure fluctuations.

enter image description here

Source: Windowsills.com

For more diagrams and illustrations of window frames, sills etc. I found these two sites the most helpful

  1. https://ask-a-saint.silversaints.com/posts/830528-sash-cord-replacement
  2. https://bloomington.in.gov/media/media/image/jpeg/6995.jpg
  • 2
    I find it even more confusing. I was reprimanded for posting an answer that described the "ornaments" of the facade, now it appears it is just hat they are looking for. If the question is on the solid external decorated geometric part it still is " motif". It is typical of the deco period to provide walls with (solid) geometric figures. I agree it looks like a parapet, but it is not. – Josh61 1 hour ago
    – user66974
    Jun 12, 2016 at 15:40
  • 2
    @DanBron - no, it was not you. My point is that here"the solid geometric canvas" is part of the motif, the Art Deco style made extensive use of solid geometrical figures, it was one of its main decorative features.
    – user66974
    Jun 12, 2016 at 15:51
  • 1
    @Josh61 Hmm, if that's true (and I'm not sure it is, but you probably know better than I do), then I feel it is not specific enough to this particular type of structure (at least not for my purposes).
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 12, 2016 at 15:53
  • 1
    I didn't see, until I edited his post and actually brought in the "clear picture" he talked about but never included, that the blank spaces above the corbels is framed such that those "empty spaces" are actually intended to suggest columns. And the corbels are "holding them up". And the actual "entablature", the semicircular cap, along with the "negative space columns" and the plinth or pediment below them combine to create a single, imposing, "grand entryway". So whatever the word is for the horizontal, stone, foot at the bottom of a Greek entryway is, that's the word we need.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 15, 2016 at 16:40
  • 1
    Yeah, I just found stylobate too: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylobate . I think we have a winner. It's an ornamental stylobate supporting a modern interpretation of the classic colonnade using negative space (or something to that effect). Update your answer, credit to @ICy for figuring out that the whole thing was a colonnade (obvious when viewed from the front & further away), but suggest that a entablature goes at the top of a colonnade, whereas the plinths traditionally rest on the stylobate.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 15, 2016 at 16:55

The building in question is the home of the Lyric Opera of Chicago built in 1929. The Art Institute of Chicago has the clearest photo I have seen of the west exposure, as built. 

West exposure Civic Opera Building

Identifying the architectural styles employed will allow us to focus the search for the name of the specific decoration. In pursuit of that, I turned to The History of the Civic Opera House, which has this to say:

The decorative character of the entire building is a hybrid of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles. Comedy-tragedy masks and cornucopia of instruments abound as playful ornaments around entrances, inspired by the Paris Opera House designed by Jean-Louis-Charles Garnier.

There is also full discussion of the building's history at The City of Chicago Landmark Designation Report, which contains description of the ornamental style employed by chief designer Alfred Shaw at page 12:

The designer, Alfred Shaw, "... had an appreciation for the classical, Shaw sought to bring a modern interpretation to its use in contemporary design"

And further examination of the Landmark document pages 6-7 and 11-14 seems to support the idea of a modern interpretation of a classical theme.

Given this, I believe the element is a modern interpretation or expression of the classic entablature. The masks in its face are frieze elements.

From the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ (2013, Columbia University Press), for example:


The entire unit of horizontal members above the columns or pilasters in classical architecture—Greek, Roman or Renaissance.

The height of the entablature in relation to the column supporting it varies with the three orders, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, but in Roman and Renaissance interpretations it is generally about one fourth the column height.

The entablature's component members are the architrave, which rests directly upon the abacus, or top member of the column cap; the frieze; and the cornice, or topmost member.

Essentially the entablature is a development from the primitive lintel, which spans two posts and supports the ends of the roof rafters. 

In Renaissance and modern designs the entablature is also used upon a wall as the crowning member or as a horizontal band, irrespective of columns.

But I think we can get even more specific than this. If one examines the photos at the Lyric Opera site as well as page 9 of the Landmark Designation report, there is a pediment that has been removed several storeys above what I have called the entablature.

This would make the structure in question a stylized plinth using the order¹ of an entablature. This is supported by scrolled corbels (as had been noted in an earlier answer) starting about six storeys above the river. The columns are more suggested by decoration than relief or structure.

Removal of the pediment strands the 'plinth' in many respects, which bears examination in its unified (and original) context which is the whole west wall, rather than singled out and stranded.

From p174 of Architecture for Community and Spectacle: The Roofed Arena in North America, 1853-1968:

...Wall expanses were treated as decorative fields, not embellished but set off as planar surfaces against zones of focused ornament, as was done, for example, on the river face of the Civic Opera Building in Chicago (Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, 1929).

¹ Order definition19. Architecture a. Any of several styles of classical architecture characterized by the type of column and entablature employed. Of the five generally accepted classical orders, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders are Greek and the Tuscan and Composite orders are Roman.

  • Yeah, I thought about this too, but even the modern definition has it as the crowning member, i.e. above something important. As the important part of a table (entablature) is its top surface. By contrast, that sill, or whatever, is below the window.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 11, 2016 at 17:50
  • I am probably depending (excessively?) on "...upon a wall [...] as a horizontal band..."
    – Icy
    Jun 11, 2016 at 18:20
  • 1
    "If one examines the photos at the Lyric Opera site as well as page 9 of the Landmark Designation report there is a pediment that has been removed several storeys above what I have called the entablature. This would make the structure in question a stylized* plinth using the order of an entablature." +1 for plinth, and finding that document, which I missed. The long shot of the original facade does suggest a complete portico, and hanging plinth is an accepted term.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 12, 2016 at 16:27
  • 1
    The first line of my answer I opine "a modern interpretation/extraction of an entablature" further supported by the highlighted text in the block quote. With my discovery of the Landmark document, linked above, I modified my answer to "a plinth using the order of an entablature" both terms defined. Further examination of the Landmark document pages 6-7 and 11-14 seems to support the idea of a modern interpretation of a classical theme. The designer, Alfred Shaw, "... had an appreciation for the classical, Shaw sought to bring a modern interpretation to its use in contemporary design." (p7)
    – Icy
    Jun 14, 2016 at 3:22
  • 1
    @JoeBlow No, as I said initially and still maintain, an entablature must be a crowning member. If there is one, it is up there with the semicircular pediment. I awarded the bounty to Icy because his research and scholarship were exemplary, and led me to see the horizontal structure in a larger context, and now it's clear to me the ornament is in question is intended to suggest the foot of a portico, surrounded by a colonnade. I hadn't seen that before Icy pointed it out. And that clue now opens fruitful new avenues: stylobate and such.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 16, 2016 at 13:46

Sill should do, unless there is something specific to opera houses.

  • A shelf or slab of stone, wood, or metal at the foot of a window or doorway. A strong horizontal member at the base of any structure, e.g., in the frame of a motor or rail vehicle.


  • Nice. Glad you included that definition, because now I know sills can refer to more than just the unimpressive little surfaces cats sit on.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 6, 2016 at 16:37
  • 1
    In a sense it is a sill, but it's entirely possible that any - uh - neoclassical architecture philologists reading, would laugh at us, and assert that (for example) "a giant decorative sill-like structure below an arcade of windows is of course known as a blah-blah"
    – Fattie
    Jun 6, 2016 at 20:22
  • Similarly, if I'm not mistaken they are a kind of bossage, you could say.
    – Fattie
    Jun 6, 2016 at 20:24
  • @JoeBlow yes, I half expected that to happen. I originally expressed some doubt about the answer, but edited it when it held up for an hour.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 6, 2016 at 20:50
  • 2
    I am positive that the term sill is incorrect, I checked many sources, and references before looking elsewhere, and balconet comes close. The aforementioned structure protrudes externally, it is not internal, and there are no moldings. See the following: diagram thumbsnap.com/s/oFXz2lpt.jpg
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 12, 2016 at 16:34

Previous suggestions have been good. I would add (back) apron: "a raised section of ornamental stonework below a window ledge, stone tablet, or monument."

"Cornice," "lintel," and "pop-out" are also worth considering. Also, in French, it would be called a "tablette d'appui."


The horizontal decorated structure you see on the facade is an architectonic motif. In this specific case it is one of the Art Deco architectonic motifs which are often characterized by emphasised geometric forms as suggested in the following extract:

  • Deco emphasizes geometric forms: spheres, polygons, rectangles, trapezoids, zigzags, chevrons, and sunburst motifs. Elements are often arranged in symmetrical patterns.

  • By the 1930s the style had become much more flamboyant, and added much more decoration on the facade. It was particularly popular for movie theaters, such as the Grand Rex in Paris (1932), and Radio City Music Hall in New York City; and in the decoration of skyscrapers. (wikipedia)

The fact that they look like a sill, a balconette or a parapet for instance, is part of a geometrical optical effects typical of Art Deco.

Architectonic motif:

  • A repeated figure or design in architecture or decoration. (M-W)

Frieze is another term:

  • any decorative band on an outside wall, broader than a stringcourse and bearing lettering, sculpture, etc.

Here are other examples: enter image description here

enter image description here

P.S. I don't know if there is a technical term for these "motifs", but they are generally referred to also as elements or figures.

  • 2
    Say Josh I think the OP is asking about the "large thing" which the motifs are ON. (boss, balcony, slab of granite, whatever the heck it's called!)
    – Fattie
    Jun 10, 2016 at 22:55
  • @JoeBlow -in this case this is "unclear what you are asking" at best.
    – user66974
    Jun 11, 2016 at 5:25
  • @Mari-LouA - What I mean is that Art Deco made extensive use of these geometric optical effects imitating what at first sight appeared as a balconette, parapet etc. but the intent was exclusively decorative, with no real function.
    – user66974
    Jun 13, 2016 at 7:48
  • 1
    Yes, I understood that. The entire structural piece is, according to you, a motif because it is merely ornamental. It's one way of interpreting the solid three dimensional element. But I disagree with your analysis; motifs, are used to beautify elements that would otherwise be plain. If the horizontal protruding structure on the Opera Civic Building had been totally plain, would you still call that a motif? Art Deco motif describes the style and era / period. Like impressionism, cubism, or futurism.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 13, 2016 at 7:57
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA - according to the Art Deco aesthetic e three dimensional geometric figure is a "motif".
    – user66974
    Jun 13, 2016 at 8:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.