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Designing with Metal Wall Panel Systems

Architects looking to make a statement with their new or retrofit commercial design should consider metal wall panel systems. These systems help maximize the efficiency and performance of commercial buildings while also bringing aesthetics, structural capacity and sustainability benefits to the drawing table. All of these attributes are appealing to architects, but arguably, the adaptability of metal wall panel systems could be seen as the prime characteristic that appeals to building professionals who want to bring a highly unique, complex design to life.

Diversity of Metal Composite Materials

Of metal wall panel system options, metal composite materials (MCM) exhibit the flexibility needed to meet the needs of complex and unique designs. MCMs are highly flexible-they can be bent, curved or joined together-and come in a variety of panel profiles, materials, colors and finishes allowing for a nearly infinite number of design options.

MCMs come in traditional aluminum and can incorporate more exotic materials such as zinc, copper, stainless steel and titanium.

MCMs also offer architects uniformity of flatness and finish. Aluminum and steel MCMs can be finished in various colors, which lends to aesthetics. The flatness of the material helps guarantee the paint finish remains consistent from one panel to the next. Materials like zinc, copper and titanium tend to be left unfinished to give a more natural look.

Structural Capacity

Metal wall panel systems are a popular option for architects from a structural perspective for two reasons. First, they are lightweight, which helps to lower the structural load of a building and extend the life of the structure. Second, metal wall panel systems are durable and can withstand severe weather elements.

A building's façade needs to be able to withstand live loads. This is especially true for skyscrapers or structures located in areas prone to severe weather such as hurricanes and earthquakes. For example, if a facility is located in a hurricane zone- or an area with high winds such as on an ocean- wind loads should be a prime architectural design consideration.


If an architect wants to incorporate sustainable products into new or retrofit buildings, metal wall panel systems fit that requirement. Metal wall panel systems are made up of a high recycled material content, are recyclable at the end of useful life and increase the energy efficiency of the building. In fact, the recyclable material content of metal wall panel systems can earn points towards LEED. From universities to hotels, religious institutions to office buildings; metal wall panel systems help meet a variety of building design and performance needs.

Real World Example

To help illustrate the flexibility of metal wall systems, let's look at the iconic new 20,000-squarefoot Port Canaveral Welcome Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Port Canaveral is one of the nation's premier gateways to travel and leisure destinations. Located on the east coast of central Florida, businesses and vacationers alike use the port to access cruise lines, cargo ships, beaches, parks, fishing spots and restaurants. GWWO Architects Inc., Baltimore, set-out to design the new Port Canaveral Welcome Center to express the following characteristics-transience, function and imagery of the area-which is synonymous with cruising, the space coast, the military, nature and beaches.

The Port Canaveral Welcome Center was no easy undertaking and required a highly experienced team of experts to help design and construct the building which has a unique and highly complex geometry specifically on the structure's sail. Indianapolis-based Firestone Building Products used building information modeling (BIM) to generate digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of the building. Those digital models were then used in conjunction with the models of the structural steel and the curved steel stud supplier. By using the three digital designs together, this eliminated field dimensions and allowed the project to finish on a tight schedule.

While metal wall panel systems can come standard, almost no two projects are alike, so often systems are custom designed and engineered in order to meet the needs of an architect's signature project. This project was no exception. To handle the complicated area, Firestone Building Products manufactured a custom plate product on the sail. Once the sail was constructed, it was finished in the color shifting paint to create an interesting visual for visitors and onlookers.

On the back side of the sail, the architects used Firestone's Series 1000 Aluminum Composite Material System with a fluorocarbon paint finish in bone white. This system was ideal because it is made to achieve bent and radiused shapes. Additionally, it can be applied without disturbing other panels, and has a narrow dimension of 60 inches. Firestone's Series 1000 Panels are tested to ASTM E 283 with less than 0.12 cfm/sf.

Not only was the building's geometry and design complex, but it needed to withstand harsh environmental elements like high winds and corrosion from salt due to its location on the Atlantic Ocean. The strength and durability of metal wall panels helped to meet this structural requirement.

Rick Kruger is the director of technical support services and product development at Indianapolisbased Firestone Building Products, a leading manufacturer and supplier of a comprehensive "Roots to Rooftops" portfolio of products for commercial building performance solutions. To learn more, visit