Language plays a key role in understanding different points of view. Different groups can use the same word to mean different concepts, or may be talking about the same thing but not realise this.

Government Architect NSW has created a glossary of key terms to allow for consistency of language in the communication of design across NSW. GANSW will continue to build upon this resource of terminology and definitions, creating a common language and shared terminology for design to help understand, review and provide advice in consistent terms.


A building, place, or space that is able to adjust to new conditions, or to be modified for a new purpose.
Changing a heritage place to facilitate contemporary use. This could involve alterations and additions to meet current expectations of comfort and function, or the upgrading of a building or site to respond to new processes and procedures associated with an existing function.
Adaptive re-use
Projects that give new life to a heritage place through sympathetic alterations and additions that enable the site to accommodate compatible new uses and functions, while maintaining the heritage significance, and communicating this to a new generation of users.
Adding value
Leveraging and building on the existing characteristics and qualities of a building, place, or space to increase social, economic, and environmental benefits to the community.
A building, place, or space that is aesthetically-pleasing, or appealing.
The ‘liveability’ of a place. A building’s amenity is affected by its design, access to sunlight and views, access to facilities and services, and design. Expectations of amenity and comfort change over time.


Brief (design brief)
A set of instructions, aspirations, and requirements that outline the specific task or job to be completed. The design brief outlines the ambitions, objectives, and needs of the project (without prescribing a solution or aesthetic). A good design brief is an evolving document becoming more complex and detailed as the project develops.
Better Methods
A set of mechanisms developed by GANSW to support the practical delivery of a better built environment. Better Methods has been developed in collaboration with NSW Government agencies, the private sector, and academia. It includes documents, such as design guidelines and advisory notes to support good practice; programs, such as the NSW State Design Review Panel pilot; schemes, such as the Government Architect’s Strategy and Design Excellence Prequalification Scheme; and examples, such as case studies that profile best practice, lift expectations, and inspire excellence.
Better Placed
Integrated design policy for the built environment of NSW, published by GANSW (2018) – refer to GANSW website.
Built environment
The constructed environment, understood as distinct from the natural environment. It includes all aspects of our surroundings made by people. The built environment includes cities and towns, neighbourhoods, parks, roads, buildings, infrastructure, and utilities like water and electricity.
Burra Charter
The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance, The Burra Charter (2013) guides all heritage work in Australia and is endorsed by Australian government heritage agencies and community organisations. The charter defines the basic principles and procedures to be followed in the conservation of heritage places, including interpretation and the retention of connections between people and places. These are relevant to all types of built heritage.


Case Study
a specific building, place or space that has been researched and analysed in order to demonstrate and evaluate its worthiness. A case study can assist in the design of new spaces by understanding best practice as well as lessons learned.
Case study
A specific building, place, or space that has been researched and analysed in order to demonstrate and evaluate its worthiness. A case study can inform the design of new spaces by highlighting best practice and lessons learnt.
The combination of the particular characteristics or qualities of a place.
Cities and towns
Large urban structures with complex and multiple considerations required for development including layout of streets, buildings, infrastructure, and open space.
Working together with multiple people, teams, groups, or disciplines to produce something.
A group of people living in the same area or place, or a group of people having certain characteristics, attitudes, and interests in common.
A building, place, or space that provides physical and emotional ease and wellbeing for its people.
Competitive design process
Involves multiple teams who offer ideas, solutions, or services in response to a brief, to encourage multiple innovative outcomes. A competitive design process may involve a design competition.
A building, place, or space that establishes links with its surrounds, allowing visitors and residents to move about freely and sustainably.
Creating an interconnected network of open space.
A meeting, or series of meetings, set up as part of the design process, to seek advice from stakeholders and the community and to discuss a project’s aims, objectives, challenges, and visions. Consultation usually involves people considering projected outcomes or visions.
A building, place, or space that responds to the context in which it is designed.
The physical, social, cultural, economic, environmental, and geographic circumstances that form the setting for a place or building.
Creating value
Conceiving and designing in new opportunities for a building, place or space for increased social, economic, and environmental benefits to the community.
Contributory item
Items – such as buildings, fences, trees, and gardens – identified in a local environmental plan as contributing to the overall heritage significance of a heritage conservation area, but not listed in their own right.
The processes of looking after a place to retain its cultural significance, including preservation, protection, maintenance, restoration, and adaptation.
Cultural significance
Defined by the Burra Charter as the aesthetic, historic, scientific, social, or spiritual value of a place for past, present, or future generations. Cultural significance is embodied in the place itself, its fabric, setting, use, associations, meanings, records, related places, and related objects.
The area of land surrounding an item, area, or place of heritage significance that is essential for retaining and interpreting its heritage significance. It is also the term used to describe an area listed on the State Heritage Register or in a local environmental plan.


Both a process and an outcome – a way of thinking and a result of making. For more information see Better Placed.
Design competition
A design competition is a competitive process in which an organisation or government body invites designers to submit a proposal for a precinct, site, or building. An independent panel of design professionals selects the winner based on agreed selection criteria.
Design excellence
Design excellence as a term usually describes a requirement or expectation that a project will achieve a level of design quality that is above and beyond the usual. It also can describe a specific competitive design process used in NSW and brought into effect by statutory planning regulations such as local environmental plans. It is also used as an umbrella term in planning legislation to describe good design.
Design guide
A set of standards outlining the application and implementation of given information in order to achieve best practice outcomes.
Design process
A series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. Design processes are not linear; they are iterative, collaborative, and circular, where feedback and ideas are intertwined and continual. Design processes help provide solutions to complex problems where many inputs and concerns are needing to be resolved.
Design review
A process that offers independent, impartial advice on the design of buildings, infrastructure, landscapes, and public spaces. It can be a formal or informal process. For large projects, it is best done by panels comprising leading, cross-disciplinary built environment experts providing independent early assessment of proposals. Design review for a smaller, simpler project might be internal consultation with colleagues. GANSW manages a formal design review process – for more information see NSW State Design Review Panel.
Design review panel
A panel comprising a diverse group of people with expertise in design and the built environment. The panel offers independent, impartial advice on the design to achieve the best built outcome for stakeholders.
Design thinking
Creative strategies designers use in the process of designing.
An initiating process. It implements methods and actions required in the improvement of cities, precincts, buildings, places, or spaces with a socio-economic impact.
A particular field of knowledge or speciality, such as design, development, and planning.
A building, place, or space that embraces a richness in use, character, and qualities.
A building, place, or space that is built to be able to withstand wear and pressure.


A building, place, or space that is constructed and functions with minimal wasted effort.
A building, place, or space that draws people in with features that arouse interest.
A consultation process, for example, community engagement whereby a particular group is engaged to gather their input in relation to a particular proposal, challenge, or outcome.
A built environment that is fair and accessible for all citizens.
A person who has particular skill or knowledge in a specialised area, such as architecture or planning.


The physical material of a place including elements, fixtures, contents, and objects.
Fit for purpose
A building, place. or space that works according to its intended use.
The overall shape and volume and the arrangement of the parts of a building.
A building, place, or space that is designed to be practical and purposeful.


Good design
A phrase that encapsulates the aspirations of Better Placed including its vision for NSW, definition of good process, and outline of objectives for the built environment. Good design creates useable, user-friendly, enjoyable, and attractive places and spaces, which continue to provide value and benefits to people, the place, and the natural environment over extended periods. Good design brings social, environmental, and economic benefits, and builds on these benefits over time – continually adding value. See Better Placed for more information.
The overarching model or framework of rules and practices that govern a particular project, company, or group of people who are working together.
The urban pattern resulting from the arrangement and size of the buildings on their lots and the subdivision pattern. Fine grain is the fine texture resulting from small and frequent subdivisions.
Greater Sydney Dashboard
An interactive digital tool that will provide access to key indicators that measure and monitor change across Greater Sydney. It will provide a dynamic view of the current state of play for Greater Sydney on key issues such as jobs and housing to help us understand how we are performing against the directions and strategies in the Greater Sydney Regional Plan and the priorities and actions in the District Plans.
Greater Sydney
The 33 local government areas of Bayside, Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Burwood, Camden, Campbelltown, Canada Bay, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Hawkesbury, Hornsby, Hunters Hill, Inner West, Ku-ring-gai, Lane Cove, Liverpool, Mosman, Northern Beaches, North Sydney, Parramatta, Penrith, Randwick, Ryde, Strathfield, Sutherland, The City of Sydney.
Green Grid
Strategic planning document for the greater Sydney region, and a precursor to the Greener Places policy comprising a cohesive map of green assets across metropolitan Sydney.
Green infrastructure
The network of green spaces and water systems that deliver multiple environmental, economic, and social values and benefits to urban communities.
This network includes parks and reserves, backyards and gardens, waterways and wetlands, streets and transport corridors, pathways and greenways, squares and plazas, roof gardens and living walls, sports fields and cemeteries. Green infrastructure is the web of interrelated natural systems that underpin and are integrated into our urban fabric.
Green space
An area of grass, trees, and other vegetation set apart for recreational or aesthetic purposes in an urban environment.
Greener Places
An urban green infrastructure policy for NSW, published by GANSW (2018) – refer to GANSW website.
Grey infrastructure
The human-engineered infrastructure for water resources such as water and wastewater treatment systems, piped drainage, and reservoirs.


A building, place, or space that promotes positive social, emotional, mental and physical health for its people.
Heritage conservation area or heritage precinct
Areas listed on the NSW State Heritage Register or in a local environmental plan for their heritage significance. They may also contain individually listed heritage items.
Heritage-led regeneration
The social and economic improvement of places for people through the delivery of a heritage-focused project. This falls into three categories – area-based regeneration (for instance physical regeneration of a town centre, conservation area, or historic landscape), single building regeneration and heritage project regeneration (a socially beneficial project not involving physical regeneration, but based around a historic building).
Heritage item
A place, building, work, archaeological site or relic, garden or landscape, movable object or place of Aboriginal heritage significance, listed on the State Heritage Register or in a local environmental plan.
High-performing green space / high-quality green space
Multifunctional spaces designed to produce concurrent ecological, social, environmental, and economic benefits.


Long-term effects of change experienced by individuals and communities. Social, environmental, and economic impact is often referred to as the triple bottom line.
A building, place, or space that embraces the community and individuals who use it.
Infill development
A new building in an established historic context. It may be adjacent to a heritage building, within a conservation area, or in a heritage site or precinct. Good infill projects are sympathetic to the surrounding buildings and historic context, and enhance and complement the existing urban, suburban, or rural character.
A built environment that links communities and functions and activities within a cohesive place.
Integrated design approach
A new way of working that helps bring together disciplines, scales, times, and places into a more effective spatial practice. It requires strong leadership and governance, shared responsibility, and an understanding of the role and value of design across the life cycle of a project.
Combining green space with urban development and grey infrastructure.
The coming together and combining of more than one branch of knowledge in order to create a shared understanding.
The ways of presenting the cultural significance of a place to the users and the community. The need to interpret heritage significance may drive the design of new elements and the layout or planning of the place.
Individual components, elements, and characteristics that can relate and connect to one another.
A building, place, or space that is welcoming to visitors, community, and individuals.


The action of leading a group of people or multiple stakeholders.
A built environment which supports and responds to people’s patterns of living, and is suitable and appropriate for habitation, promoting enjoyment, wellbeing, safety, and prosperity.
A building, place, or space that relates to an area or neighbourhood.


An instructive document to direct how an action is best performed
The overall form of a building including its overall height and bulk.
Master plan
A framework document showing how development will occur in a given place and including building parameters like height, density, shadowing, and environmental concerns. It is a visual document that details a clear strategy or plan for the physical transformation of a place, supported by financial, economic, and social policy documents which outline delivery mechanisms and implementation strategies.
The processes and procedures behind accomplishing something. See GANSW Better Methods for more information.
Mitigating flooding
The planning, management, and control of floodwater movement by redirecting flood run-off, that can include physical structures as well as using natural assets for landscape retention and catchment management.
The ability of green infrastructure to deliver multiple ecosystem services simultaneously, providing added value and improved health and wellbeing.




Of its place
A building, place, or space that relates to its surrounds.
Open space
Land that has no buildings or other built structures, which is accessible to the public, including green space.
Something that you can choose in a particular situation.
The result of a process, generally having a final product.


The involvement of stakeholders in the development and implementation of neighbourhood, local, district, and regional green infrastructure policies and actions.
A social and a physical concept – a physical setting, point, or area in space conceived and designated by people and communities. In this sense, place can describe different scales of the built environment – for example, a town is a place and a building can be a place.
A strategic, technical, and political process. It outlines potential physical, social, and strategic solutions related to land use, the built or natural environment, and public welfare. (See also Strategic Planning.)
A designated area within real or perceived boundaries of a specific building or place. A precinct can be of different scales and usually relates to a study area of a particular place.
Priority Growth Areas of Greater Sydney
Identified by the NSW Government as major greenfield development areas. Information about Priority Growth Areas is available at the NSW Department of Planning and Environment website.
Priority precincts
Areas that have a wider social, economic, or environmental significance for the community or have redevelopment potential on a scale that is important in implementing the State’s planning objectives. Priority Precincts are envisaged as larger areas, usually made up of multiple land holdings, capable of delivering significant additional growth, and requiring coordination from State and local governments to realise their potential.
Public domain
The public domain is the collective, communal part of cities and towns, with shared access for all. It is the space of movement, recreation, gathering, events, contemplation, and relaxation. The public domain includes streets, pathways, rights of way, parks, accessible open spaces, plazas, and waterways that are physically and visually accessible regardless of ownership.


the standard of something, measured comparatively against things of a similar kind.


The addition of new fabric that is not considered ‘new work’ under the Burra Charter. These approaches are usually relevant to sites of very high heritage value, but may be part of a larger adaptive project.
A building, place, or space that can withstand or recover from difficult conditions.
Buildings, places, and spaces that react positively to place and local character and context.
Defined in the Burra Charter as “returning a place to a known earlier state by removing accretions or by reassembling existing elements without the introduction of new material.”
The ability of an adaptation to be removed in the future without damage to heritage significance and, in particular, without damage to significant fabric.


A building, place or space that protects its people from harm or risk of harm.
The relative size or extent of something – scale is a device used to quantify objects in a sequence by size; for example a city scale, or a building scale. In architecture, scale is also used to describe a ratio of size in a map, model, drawing, or plan.
The horizontal distance from the building to a prescribed boundary (such as a site boundary) or other relevant marker (such as the alignment of houses in a street.
The area around a heritage place, which contributes to its heritage significance and may include views to and from the heritage item. The listing boundary or curtilage of a heritage place does not always include the whole of its setting.
Social value
Social value relates to how scarce resources are allocated and used for social, economic, environmental wellbeing and collective benefit – when they are of value to people in society.
State environmental planning policy (SEPP)
A statutory plan, typically prepared by the Department of Planning and Environment and endorsed by the Minister for Planning. It can be a spatial plan for particular land in NSW, or it can set policy which applies to particular land or all land in NSW.
A plan of action designed to achieve an aim, vision, or outcome.
Strategic plan
A document that guides the implementation of a strategy for a particular area.
Statutory plan
Part of the planning process that is concerned with the regulation and management of changes to land use and development.
The visual elements of a street, including the road, adjoining buildings, footpaths, street furniture, trees, and open spaces, etc., that combine to form the street’s character.
Relates to the endurance of systems, buildings, spaces, and processes – their ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level, which contributes positively to environmental, economic, and social outcomes.


The spatial configuration of the natural and artificial physical features of an area.
The comparative study of physical or other characteristics of the built environment and their classification into distinct types.


Universal design
Designs where all users are acknowledged and designed for – not just those with physical disability. Includes providing access to websites and audio cues for those with a vision disability, and audio loops for those who are hard of hearing.
Urban canopy
The layer of leaves, branches, and stems of trees that cover the ground when viewed from above.
Urban forest
The layer of trees and tree populations that exist in urban settings.
Urban design
An interdisciplinary practice that draws together elements of many built-environment professions, including landscape architecture, urban planning, architecture, civil and municipal engineering.


Value (of design)
A measure of what design is worth. Value is not merely related to economics, but includes an understanding of social and environmental factors as components contributing to the value of good design.
The process of thinking about future plans and directions and setting up a framework to achieve these.