Total envelope

The pavilion has a long history of expressing architectural ideas in a pure, early form.1 In that tradition, the Assembly pavilion explores the possibilities of a structure as a ‘total envelope’.  Lacking climatic controls, integral lighting and furniture but maintaining clearly defined boundaries, it is an architecture of scenographic affect located entirely in an enclosure.  The conditions for this investigation of an architectural interface were suggested by Alejandro Zaera Polo’s article “The Politics of the Envelope.” But while it shares a pragmatic approach to public engagement with his essay, the Assembly pavilion reveals the limits of a singular focus on the enclosure as it challenges the disciplinary bounds of architecture.  


Zaera Polo’s argument of the envelope as a critical place of investigation is rooted in a keen sense of contemporary architecture’s limitations.  He notes the transition from the social activism of architects in the mid-twentieth century to our current, apathetic representation of political power2 as architects choose to avoid challenging existing structures. Furthermore, the surrender of project control and risk management to avoid litigation greatly diminishes architecture’s role in many aspects of a building’s development.  Koolhaas’ “impotence of architecture”3 and Gehry’s lamentations of limited control4 suggest that, among our most successful practitioners, the decline of the discipline is one of the few things upon which all agree.  In both the realm of the building itself and its greater social sphere, the agency of architects is severely compromised.   

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Jonathan Chesley