The Building Envelope

The building envelope is the transition between the outdoors and the inside, consisting of the windows, doors, floors, walls, and roofs of the building. The envelope encloses and shelters space. It furnishes a barrier to rain and protects from sun, wind, and harsh temperatures. Entries are the transition zone between the building's interior and the outside world.

Traditionally, the building envelope was regarded as a barrier separating the interior from the outdoor environment. Architects created an isolated environment, and engineers equipped it with energy-using devices to control conditions. Because of the need to conserve energy, we now see the building envelope as a dynamic boundary, which interacts with the external natural energy forces and the internal building environment. The envelope is sensitively attuned to the resources of the site: sun, wind, and water. The boundary is manipulated to balance the energy flows between inside and outside.

This dynamic approach leads the architect to support proper thermal and lighting conditions through the design of the building's form and structure, supported by the mechanical and electrical systems. Engineers design these support systems with passive control mechanisms that minimize energy consumption.

A building envelope can be an open frame or a closed shell. It can be dynamic and sensitive to changing conditions and needs, letting in or closing out the sun's warmth and light, breezes and sounds. Openings and barriers may be static, like a wall; allow on-off operation, like a door; or offer adjustable control, like venetian blinds. The appropriate architectural solution depends upon the range of options you desire, the local materials available, and local style preferences. A dynamic envelope demands that the user understand how, why, and when to make adjustments. The designer must make sure the people using the building have this information.

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