The Princeton Envelope Group (PEG) is a design and research unit at the Princeton University School of Architecture. Headed by Alejandro Zaera-Polo and coordinated by Urtzi Grau. The unit is engaged in a three year research program on the Politics of the Building Envelope the conclusions of which will be published in a forthcoming book by Actar Press, Barcelona+New York.

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An attempt has been made to establish a set of normative behaviors for the Flat Horizontal type in terms of its response to scale. This emphasis on scale allows new avenues for prototypical development, in the sense that existing examples can be examined with regard to their envelopes’ behaviors across scales and the degree to which¬† these might (or might not) align with the behavior of Flat Horizontal buildings in general, opening up potentially new prototypical manifestations.

The Flat Horizontal envelope is, far and away, the most programmatically varied of the 4 envelope types, yet this variation occurs across such a wide range of categories and scales as to perhaps allow for a temporary re-routing of questions regarding the relationship between building form and programmatic necessity. For while there are certainly no shortage of programs for which a Flat Horizontal building is absolutely ideal, programs for which location within a Flat Horizontal envelope would be untenable are few and far between. Any attempt to create a taxonomy of Flat Horizontal form based only on program would be wrong half the time simply because there’s not much it can’t accomodate. While the programmatic flexibility on the part of the Flat Horizontal type is obstinate in its obfuscation of the “why” of building form, its physical flexibility is illuminating. The Flat Horizontal type encompasses projects ranging in size from that of Mies’ Crown Hall to OMA’s Jeddah Airport, yet its translation from the former to the latter is hardly a simple enlargement operation. It is in fact within the way in which the Flat Horizontal envelope “scales” that a series of formal responses seemingly endemic to the type begin to emerge. In examining the response of the Flat Horizontal building envelope to its subjection to a series of scalar shifts, distinct stages in its evolution have become apparent.

Currently, these are, from small to large:
Glass Box (prismatic form, large expanses of facade glass, impermeable roof; i.e. Farnsworth House)
Big Box (featureless facade, some skylighting; i.e. Wal-Mart)
Broken Box (small courtyards begin to appear, corrugation of edges occurs; i.e. Aplix Factory)
Mat Building (proliferation of courtyards, general edge irregularity; i.e. Van Eyck’s orphanage)
Mother Ship (monolithic figures; i.e. Mies’ Convention Center, Water Cube, Jin Yuan Mall)
Donut (single, large, central courtyard; i.e. Pentagon, Jeddah)
Early figures produced by examining Surface Area/Volume ratios in relation to P/(2X+2Y), our method for calculating invagination, seem to bear out this thesis. It is, however, not the identification of evolutionary stages that interests us but rather in that of its gaps and overlaps and the limits of the Flat Horizontal type, for identifying these areas will provide opportunities for more focused inquiry as to their originas, be they programmatic, economic, social, etc.

Currently, these are, from small to large:
Glass Box (prismatic form, large expanses of facade glass, impermeable roof; i.e. Farnsworth House)
Big Box (featureless facade, some skylighting; i.e. Wal-Mart)
Broken Box (small courtyards begin to appear, corrugation of edges occurs; i.e. Aplix Factory)
Mat Building (proliferation of courtyards, general edge irregularity; i.e. Van Eyck’s orphanage)
Mother Ship (monolithic figures; i.e. Mies’ Convention Center, Water Cube, Jin Yuan Mall)
Donut (single, large, central courtyard; i.e. Pentagon, Jeddah)
Early figures produced by examining Surface Area/Volume ratios in relation to P/(2X+2Y), our method for calculating invagination, seem to bear out this thesis. It is, however, not the identification of evolutionary stages that interests us but rather in that of its gaps and overlaps and the limits of the Flat Horizontal type, for identifying these areas will provide opportunities for more focused inquiry as to their originas, be they programmatic, economic, social, etc.

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