On capsularities: Physical and diffuse envelopes between accessibility and representation

Keywords: envelopes, capsules, capsularity, enclosures, control


Envelopes are an important topic in the study of architecture and urbanism and have a profound impact on our daily lives. They form boundaries, edges, enclosures and joints with ecological, territorial and representational functions that have social, cultural, economic, technological, environmental and political significance. Referring to warnings about capsular civilisation, this paper promotes the metaphorically telling concept of capsularity, in order to overcome terminological inconsistency as a characteristic phenomenon that denotes enclosures at different scales. It includes both capsules as small-scale cellular units on an architectural or industrial design scale – referred to as units of individual capsularity – and extended structures and territorial enclosures as manifestations of collective capsularity. Furthermore, a typology of collective capsularity is proposed. While complete and permeable envelopes entail physical spatial demarcation, diffuse envelopes are based on a technological system of control and surveillance. However, diffuse envelopes also complement both complete envelopes and permeable envelopes, forming masked capsular hybrids. After contextualising the proposed typology according to accessibility and its representation, the ambivalences of collective capsularities are considered through the lens of three selected and distinctive co-existing effects: Freedom/Control, Reality/Simulation and Seclusion/Exclusion. These effects present the concept and associated discourse as critical, pertinent and stimulating for imagining, inventing, proposing and implementing democratic, participatory and caring urban(istic) activities. The exposed typology and narratives of antagonisms involved in the operation of capsularities propose further research, policy development and planning directed towards the decapsularisation of contemporary space and promote democratic and caring possibilities for urban living in the future.


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