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August 26, 2019
The Envelope—Please

For many years, a building’s array of exterior surfaces—its outside walls and roof—have been known as its “envelope.” To the extent that envelope is analogous to enclosure, one organization, the International Institute of Building Enclosure Consultants (IIBEC), recently declared that they’re retiring envelope in favor of enclosure, inviting others to join them in this semantic revolution.

New envelope installation on the Marshak Science Building at City College, New York. SUPERSTRUCTURES provided quality assurance / commissioning support for our client, DASNY.


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.

But we beg to differ. We’re sticking with envelope for a few reasons:

  • Envelope is, arguably, 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.
  • Envelopes often 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


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