‹ View All Articles
September 9, 2021
Pushing the (Building) Envelope

The International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants (IIBEC) has retired the term envelope in favor of enclosure to describe a building’s array of exterior surfaces. They encouraged others to join them in this semantic switch, but we like the term envelope.

It’s not because we’re fans of office supplies, but because envelope encompasses a building’s outside walls, roofs, and even terraces and plazas in a single term—one with important implications.

The envelope of NYU’s Warren Weaver Hall under restoration


Sure, enclosure could be considered a more intuitive term to describe a building’s exterior, not to mention its primary function. And at the end of the day, it’s in IIBEC’s name.

We beg to differ and are sticking with envelope for a few reasons:

  • Envelope is more poetic, with connotations of an essential interface or, for that matter, conventional limitations to be tested. Nobody “pushes the enclosure.”
  • Envelope’s root, envelop, connotes a more sympathetic relationship to the building, suggesting a membrane that mediates between indoor and outdoor space.
  • Sidewalk vaults—one of our areas of expertise—challenge the notion of limited, stand-alone enclosure. We see the building envelope as a continuum, tied into a larger, urban fabric.
  • In case you haven’t seen one in a long time, some envelopes have windows. Sound familiar?

So what’s in a name? In this case, a lively debate more than a definitive rebranding. When it comes to describing the exterior surfaces of a building and the focus of our business, we’ll take the envelope . . . please.

SUPERSTRUCTURES Engineers + Architects

14 Wall Street, 25th Floor, New York, NY 10005
(212) 505 1133


Subscribe to SuperScript, our email newsletter.