Contextual Envelopes

Using Modern Methods to Address Heritage in Urban Sites



Aesthetic and technical capabilities of facade design have become seemingly endless as building technologies progress. While the capacity to address complexity improves, the fundamental roles of the building envelope must not be overlooked. In urban environments, one of its essential roles is the ability to dialogue and connect with its surroundings. A building’s skin is what is perceived from the outside, and thus communicates its presence to the surrounding context, the neighborhood and its inhabitants.

Contextual integration in architectural design, notably in a historical setting, may seem in contradiction with the advancement of contemporary technology and methods. However, it is possible to take advantage of new techniques to strengthen the connection between contemporary architecture and sensitive urban and social context. Three case-studies are used to demonstrate this phenomenon. Two examples are taken from historically charged, fine-grained neighborhoods in France, while the third is taken from a large-scaled, modern neighborhood in China. Their juxtaposition shows that a critical and innovative approach that embraces new techniques can help address contextual design challenges.

In conclusion, these three projects demonstrate the ability to foster historical connection using modern methods in three ways: physically, digitally, and symbolically. Therefore, by carefully considering physical, historical, and cultural conditions, modern technology in facade design can help contribute to the cohesion of built environments and the creation of community at a neighborhood and city scale, in continuously complex urban contexts.


Photo of Zoltan Neville

Zoltan Neville

Coldefy & Associes Architectes Urbanistes



The advancement of design and building technology has given way to a new generation of architectural possibilities. Architects, engineers, and builders can now achieve results that were previously unthinkable in

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.

Case Study 1: Land'art, Lille-Moulins, France

The project “Land’art,” is in the Moulins neighborhood of Lille, a city in the north of France. The developer asked for the redevelopment of almost an entire city block to

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.

Case Study 2: Lucie Aubrac Secondary School, Tourcoing, France

Collège Lucie Aubrac is a secondary school in the city of Tourcoing, a historically industrial city in France near the border of Belgium. The project was launched as a public

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.

Case Study 3: Bao'an Public Art Center, Shenzen, China

The third and final case study selected is a project in a different context in order to demonstrate the capacity of urban contextualization in a more abstract way. The Bao’an

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.


These three examples of architectural projects display an approach to façade design that goes beyond isolated aesthetic or technical intentions. The envelope is treated as a connecting piece to the

Access Restricted

Members get unlimited access to all of our resources. Join now for the best value.

Rights and Permissions

Abkowitz, Alyssa. “Xi Jinping Isn’t a Fan of Weird Architecture in China.” (accessed December 15, 2017).

Acha, Carlos, Julio Comendador, Antonio Garcia, Begona Guirao, and Maria Eugenia Lopez. “New QR Survey Methodologies to Analyze User Perception of Service Quality in Public Transport: The Experience of Madrid.” Journal of Public Transportation Vol. 18, No. 3 (2015): 71-88. (accessed October 06, 2017).

Alexander, Christopher. A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction. Oxford University press, 1977.

Collective. Lille métropole: Un siècle d'architecture et d'urbanisme, 1890-1993. Le Moniteur Editions, 1993.

Carré, Dominique. Ville3000: Imaginer de nouveaux quartiers à vivre à Lille. Collectif Olivia Barbet-Massin Dominique Carré, 2010.

Da Silva, Wishva. “One Shenzhen Bay and China Resources Headquarters.” Photograph. 2016.

(accessed October 06, 2017).

Fonseca, David, and Janina Puig. “QR-Codes Applied to Architecture Data and Teaching.” The 7th International Conference on Social and Organizational Informatics and Cybernetics: SOIC 2011. (accessed December 15, 2017).

France. Ministère chargé de l’urbanisme. Récépissé de dépôt d’une demande de permis de construire une maison individuelle et/ou ses annexes - Cerfa n°13406*06. (accessed December 15, 2017)

France. Ministère de la transition écologique et solidaire, Ministère de la cohésion des territoires. “Présentation.” Les économies d'énergie dans le bâtiment. (accessed December 15, 2017).

Gorski, Heiko. “Naxos Marble.” Photograph. 2003.

(accessed October 06, 2017).

Hospodarova, Viola, Jozef Junak, and Nadezda Stevulova. “Color Pigments in Concrete and their Properties.” Pollack Periodica Vol. 10, No. 3 (2015): 143-151. (accessed October 06, 2017).

Lee, Christopher C. Common Frameworks - Rethinking the Developmental City in China. Harvard University Press, 2016.

Moussavi, Farshid. The Function of Style. Actar D, 2016.

Unknown artist. “The creation of man by Prometheus.” Italy, 3rd Century CE. Marble relief. Paris, Louvre Museum.

(accessed October 06, 2017).

Van Domelen, Sarah K. “The Choice is Yours: Considerations & Methods for the Evaluation & Selection of Substitute Materials for Historic Preservation.” M.S. Thesis, University of Pennsylvania, 2009. (accessed December 15, 2017)

Velvet. “Tourcoing gare.” Photograph. 2011.

(accessed October 06, 2017).

Velvet. “Tourcoing hotel ville 3-4.” Photograph. 2011.

(accessed October 06, 2017).

VVVCFFrance. “Rue de Valenciennes 73 85.” Photograph. 2017.

(accessed October 06, 2017).