This topical study analyzes the relationships between construction technologies of building envelopes and their capacity to express cultural specificities, in relation to the local environment. It defines envelopes as articulate when they selectively reveal and conceal their material and structural constitution in order to express abstractly something beyond their construction. In so doing, they situate the architecture in relation to place, climate and time. The study first grounds articulation in a historic semantic framework and identifies five common operations of articulation in the work and words of architects Renzo Piano and Kengo Kuma. It then examines how the architects have used the operations jointly in six case studies completed between 2000–2015. These diverse buildings demonstrate that the principle of articulation can apply to any climate and culture and employ a variety of techniques and crafts. By appealing to people’s immediate sensory perception and to their understanding over time, articulate envelopes may both foster and express social values in relation to the environment.