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With shields, we have sinister and dexter, meaning the bearer's left and right respectively.

With ships, we have port and starboard, which are the left and right sides as viewed from aboard facing the bow.

Are there similar terms for buildings, which similarly fix the point of view, either looking out of the front from inside, or looking at the front of the building from the street?

Failing that, what's the simplest way to refer to the left and right sides unambiguously?

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3 Answers 3

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The directions of the compass are commonly used to avoid ambiguity - North, South, East, and West, as in the well known TV show, "The West Wing", referring to a particular section of the White House in Washington DC. where official presidential business is usually conducted.

One often finds directional signs, maps and charts of public building and facilities using those terms. Note East Garden Room, West Wing Lobby. White House, Washington D.C

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Here are a few more examples of ordinary building charts, using points of the compass. A college facility, a high school and a church:

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There is no simple set of commonly used terms that unambiguously define the sides of a house or other building. For many suburban houses the front and back/rear are understood to be the sides facing respectively towards or away from the street. The left and right sides, as OP noted, depend on viewpoint. For most people the viewpoint is from the street, but larger buildings may front several streets. To remove ambiguity the viewpoint can be specified, as in the left side of the Victorian State Library, looking from Swanston St, or the right hand side of the house, as you face it from the street.

Many of the descriptions people use are locally based. The sides of my parents' block of land were identified by the names of the neighbours, and similar schemes are sometimes used for shops. The sides of my own house, which has an odd orientation on a "battle-axe" block, are identified as the front, back, street, and gully sides. Other terms such as uphill side, downhill side, driveway side depend on obvious features of the specific house or block. The sides of the State library mentioned above are usually described by the names of the streets that surround it.

If all else fails the compass points can be used. The West wing of the White House is well known, and church entrances are often identified by compass points.

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  • Good point about being named based on surrounding streets. This is often used for exits/entrances to large public buildings, railway stations, malls, etc, or anything built on a corner. Of course if it's too small to have streets on all sides, it's less suitable, but other features like street-facing side, park/gardens to the rear, or surrounding buildings can be used.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 15 at 11:51
  • I would add constructions like 'the left as you face the door (from the street)' which I think are reasonably common for buildings of any size, as long as the location makes that description helpful.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Apr 15 at 19:51
  • @dbmag9, Thanks. Done.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 16 at 1:25
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Starboard and portside are pretty much exclusive for nautical usage. On dry land, the left and right sides of a building are usually just that, left and right. However, those sides can always be called for the directions they face towards (like east and west sides for buildings whose front and rear facades face north and south), with the term "wing" being added in cases where sections of the structure branch out at these sides from the central block of the building.

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    What exactly does this add to what already appears in the other answers on this page and the question itself?
    – jsw29
    Commented Apr 16 at 18:15

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