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.

Part to Whole

The relationship between the part and the whole is particularly important in the design of building envelopes, as the part of the building with the highest level of modularization. The skin may be treated as a sealed, monolithic membrane or as the composition of multiple tiles, filtering air, light and temperature. From the brick wall to the curtain wall, the integrity and the performance of the envelope depends on the fabric of walls and roofing systems, their scale and the joint between elements. In some cases material organizations have a literal effect on politics, enabling replacement, maintenance or implementing economies of labour and material costs. Sometimes they relate to the environment of the building, adjusting to climatic differences,etc. In some instances, those effects are driven through political associations between forms of assemblage and construction, sometimes through metaphor or resonance with representations of collective organization.

The surface of the envelope also registers the interior structure’s interface with the outside and becomes an expression of the internal organizations that occupies the building, becoming an index of the internal organization. If a modular structure is usually linked to equalitarian and democratic societies, some emerging political systems seem to be pointed towards organization with the capacity to incorporate difference or variation, both as a political representation, but also as an environmental device. Type, model, and prototype become instrumental to these discussions on the politics of the envelope.