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.


Architecture is a cultural formation operating on multiple registers of sensation beyond the reach of the reading techniques founded on the rhetorical and semiotic models that have traditionally dominated political discourse. Movement, change, affect, and sensation are alternative tools to signs and signification in a possible engagement between scientific and cultural theory which may lead to a more reciprocal relationship between architecture and politics. Contemporary politics are in need of mechanisms capable to mediate across increasingly diverse populations where languages, protocols, and values are no longer consistent. We are assisting to forms of political expression that are mediated by physical manipulations that target emotions and affects.

There is a lineage of architectural research that explores the potential of affects as a vechile of expression and communication, operating on a primitive, physical manner, without the involvement of meaning and language and signification. As opposed to signs, affects are trans-subjective, non-signifying and imply an approach to material organizations that is not mediated by meaning, language and narratives. These forms of non-representational communication may challenge the traditional opposition between literal and figural with alternative distinctions between stasis and motion and between actual and virtual.

A number of architects are engaging into these practices, transcending narratives and meaning, using physical effects to communicate ideas about the communities that are represented by these buildings. Tokyo Opera House, Eberswalde Library, Birmingham’s Selfridges, and Beijing Olympic Stadium are examples of architecture that use the envelope as a physical expression of the project on an affective rather than semiotic level.