Contextual Envelopes

Using Modern Methods to Address Heritage in Urban Sites



Photo of Zoltan Neville

Zoltan Neville

Coldefy & Associes Architectes Urbanistes



Aesthetic and technical capabilities of façade 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 façade 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.


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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Rights and Permissions

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