Metal cladding continues to defy conventions in architecture and construction. Metal can be cut, bent, and curved to meet intricate designs once left only to imagination. It boasts a durability that addresses the environmental and physical needs of a particular environment. It can, with modern systems, be installed with relative ease and speed.
Referring to metal cladding casts a wide net. Beyond a large family of metal types, such as aluminum, steel, and titanium, there is a variety of unique finishes, systems, and applications. An architect may suffer from an embarrassment of riches: with so many possibilities, how might one reign in a single idea for a metal clad building?
Such a question is ultimately left up to you. This article will detail the general benefits of metal cladding, and many of the options in way of finish and material.
Metal Cladding Benefits
It is easy to get excited about metal cladding. Before getting into the many distinct types, it is good to get an idea of the general benefits of these products, to see if metal cladding speaks to your next project!
This benefit is apparent from far away. From the backs to our cell phones, to the fuselages of spaceships in the latest sci-fi movie, metal invokes modern–and future–innovation. With metal cladding, you can achieve sleek, glossy, and sharp exteriors that are models of the cutting-edge.
Metal cladding, as we know it today, traces roots back to the industrial revolution in the early work of architect Louis Sullivan. The malleability of metal and its creative possibilities, has allowed proceeding designers continue to push the envelope. This steady revision and discovery–aided by the flexibility of material–has kept metal cladding modern, even as our perception of what is modern has changed.
There is a stark contrast between metal and traditional materials, such as concrete, brick, and wood. This leads to metal buildings that quickly become notable landmarks in a town or city. The presence of a building that shines in the sun and curves in convention defying manners is impossible to ignore.
In this lies metal cladding’s profound initial appeal. It can be bent to contemporary aesthetic taste, even as we continue to build upon the concept of modernity itself.
Durability walks beside visual appeal, when it comes to picking the right cladding solution. Metal is, generally speaking, a strong material, but there are strengths and weaknesses to each specific material type in this regard.
For instance, steel is extremely durable to physical damage, while aluminum is better suited to bear the brunt of elemental hazards. The question of fortitude should begin with an analysis of your building’s particular locale. In all cases, there is not one pound-for-pound champion, but rather, the best one for your needs.
In comparison to bricklaying, metal cladding installs with ease. There are ways to install metal panels and siding, each affording a unique design.
Metal Cladding is often used to facilitate a rainscreen system. Simply put, this is a method of cladding installation that facilitates proper flashing of rain and condensation that your building will no doubt see. For more information on rainscreens, check out this article on the topic.
The big question: which metal should you choose? Here are the particular strengths of each metal cladding material.
Aluminum is a dense metal. Its strength is packed into cladding that is lightweight and easy to manage during shipping and installation. This makes aluminum a logistically sound cladding solution as it accommodates the many needs of a complex cladding project. No design is too intricate: Aluminum is a breeze to fabricate into anything an architect’s brain can cook up. Once installed, aluminum is easy to maintain and requires a simple cleaning regimen.
Aluminum has an innately strong defense against elemental damage such as rust, taking much of the stress out of maintaining the product. One thing to consider is that aluminum’s lightweight stature can leave it prone to dents, and thus is not the best fit for some applications.
With the help of coating and finishes, aluminum can be colored to meet your design vision, whether wild or sophisticated. If you are intrigued by what aluminum has to offer, Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) is an exciting variation of the raw metal. By sandwiching polyethylene between aluminum, and coating the product to boost elemental damage, ACM is the superhero alias to raw aluminum.
Aluminum’s lightweight and malleable nature means there is a large family of cladding products produced from the metal. Beyond ACM, aluminum siding and plate come with their own styles and price points, all while maintaining the freedom to customize with the color you seek. You can even find siding with a wood grain texture, which pairs well with the product’s typical plank shape. All the knots, warmth, and character of wood, without the rot! If you would rather a drop of color, ACM, siding, and plate made from aluminum can be painted how you like.
For an added sense of pop, these products make great compliments to one another. Picture wood grain siding framed by black ACM soffits, and you get a sense of aluminum’s cladding potential.
Steel is first in mind for many when it comes to metal cladding. Often seen in large-scale projects, steel comes in as the cheapest–and in consequence, the heaviest–metal cladding materials. Steel is sound and durable, especially when sheets are profiled.
Rust is an issue for any exterior built from steel, and there are a few solutions to mitigating damage. A thin coat of chromium oxide can ward off corrosion, producing what you know as stainless steel. In the same vein, zinc is often used to produce galvanized steel.
Steel comes in at a great price point, and is strongly suited to areas that see hail and similar impact. The important consideration to make is towards its weight, and the process involved with fabricating, shipping, and installing it for your particular project.
Skip adding zinc to your steel cladding, and just go with the zinc itself! You may know this material as a dietary supplement, but it can clad an exterior as well. With Zinc, oxidation is a feature, not a pitfall. Zinc cladding is designed to weather itself, forming a patina that ages gracefully into blue and green hues.
Copper–once the spark of the bronze age–now wishes to clad your exterior! As far as earth tones are concerned, there is no beating the red and orange that that sunlight finds on copper walls. Like zinc, this metal will mature into a deep brown as the seasons pass on. Finally, it will complete its patina, leaving your building green and reminiscent of an ancient artifact picked right from the shores of the mediterranean!
Brass also will enjoy a patina from oxidation. The metal will grow into a golden-brown gloss. Brass is flexible, which makes it great for fabricating ornamental elements of an exterior design.
Titanium was unveiled as the shiny new cladding solution in architect Frank Gehry’s famous Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain. Much like aluminum, this is a lightweight solution that boasts a high gloss.
Titanium cladding will be as successful as the effort you put into cleaning and maintaining it. Over the last twenty years, Gehry’s building has taken on a brown hue, due to improper maintenance.
Choosing the Best for You
If there was one material that worked best for everyone, every building would be made of the same material! What is important is that you choose the right metal cladding with a balance between want and need.
Every block is unique, and exterior design is all about contrasting or complimenting the surrounding environment as you see fit. In addition, the climate of one area over the next means different structural concerns your building must address. As you saw with every example, there are roses and thorns to every material. There is no perfect choice, but with the right hierarchy of needs, there is a great choice suited for you.
At Wiedehopf, aluminum is our cladding solution of choice. Over the years we have found this material well suited to buildings in southern Ontario, where we call home. Aluminum, ACM in particular, is a great all-rounder for many cladding projects that seek the benefits of metal cladding with high customizability and lightweight handling.
If you fancy Aluminum as we do, we would love to hear about your next project, and explore ways that we can bring this modern cladding solution to you! Call our office, at no obligation: +1(905) 761 9791.
The concept of modernity is ever on the move. With metal cladding, we can keep up with it!