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.


Envelopes and enveloping strategies have become a crucial subject for contemporary culture. After a few decades of relentless globalization, we are now entering a stage where the illusion of a border-free world and the utopia of a free-wheeling, free-flowing spatiality has ceased to be the primary goal of spatial and material practices: we must address the fact
that the space where we live is not without borders.

The building envelope is possibly the oldest and most primitive architectural element. It materializes the separation of the inside and outside, natural and artificial; it demarcates private from public and delimits ownership. When it becomes a façade, the envelope operates as a representational device in addition to its crucial environmental and territorial roles. It forms the border, the frontier, the edge, the enclosure and the interface. Particularly at a time when energy and security concerns have replaced an earlier focus on circulation and flow as the contents of architectural expression, the building envelope emerges as architecture’s primary political subject.

Simultaneously existing as both the architectural surface and its attachments, the envelope is a point of contact, a material link, between architecture and other social, political and economic process es. Envelope is suddenly a loaded word across disciplines. Philosophers, anthropologists, artists, environmental engineers, product designers, marketing experts, economists have identified it as a critical aspect of contemporary culture. This series of conversations will explore the envelope’s potential across a broad range of practices, revitalizing architecture as a political agent and relocating it in a broader cultural field.