Metal Architecture Home

Metal Ceiling Designs Look Up

Today’s metal ceiling designs come in creative customized forms

Moz Aug18 8
Photo courtesy of Móz Designs

In the 1950s, steel drop ceilings were designed to conceal HVAC and power distribution equipment in large, open floor plans. Today, now more commonly called suspended metal ceilings, they not only conceal, but they also attract attention with dramatic designs and unique customization. Specified for both interior and exterior applications, metal ceilings can be used in a wide range of sectors, including offices, retail, health, education and transport. They are hygienic, meet many building performance requirements, provide mechanical systems’ accessibility and have low-maintenance reliability.

“Metal can be structural and lightweight at the same time, especially aluminum, which allows for lot of different applications,” says Murray Sandford, president, Móz Designs, Oakland, Calif. “And, with perforated metal sheets, often the perforations can be up to 65 percent open area, which allows for sprinklers and other ceiling features to be hidden above the grid rather than being seen from below.”

Architects can also select aluminum ceilings for versatility, high acoustical performance, durability and excellent strength-to-weight ratio. “These material qualities give creative freedom to design with sizes, shapes and finishes that can establish the ceiling plane as a signature element in the project,” says Steve Udolph, national sales manager, Hunter Douglas Architectural Ceilings & Walls, Norcross, Ga. “In contrast to white-side-down ceiling tiles, aluminum ceilings allow architects and designers to consider larger panel sizes, various shapes, and a range of textures, colors and wood finishes.”

Metal ceiling systems are low-emitting products, manufactured with recycled content prompting sustainability. Metal ceiling systems do not absorb water and do not contain organic compounds that would support mold or microbial growth. No volatile organic compounds are associated with metal ceiling systems.

Photo courtesy of Hunter Douglas Architectural Ceilings & Walls

Photo courtesy of Hunter Douglas Architectural Ceilings & Walls

These attributes further contribute to indoor air quality and occupant health. Also, “The durability of metal ceiling systems assists in reducing waste to landfills,” says Michael Corpolongo, product and technical manager, Rockfon, Chicago. “Metal ceilings are traditionally manufactured from materials that contain post-consumer content. Both the metal suspension and the metal panels are 100 percent locally recyclable. With minimal maintenance, thesesystems have shown to deliver reliable performance for more than 25 years, with some lasting 50 years and more.”


There is an unwritten industry attitude that standard grid ceilings are becoming a thing of the past. “Clients want sculpture, unique shapes and floating ceilings to cover some of the HVAC or piping that is typically in the ceiling,” Sandford says. “Architectural metals help with this; welded frames with a sheet product attached can add all kinds of value. New and unique metal ceiling designs include features made from laser-cut sheets, perforated metal sheets and corrugated metal sheets. Floating ceilings are multi-functional, and allow for acoustic and lighting elements while replacing a standard 24-inch gird with an eye-catching artistic design element.”

Abby Martin, marketing manager, architectural specialties, Armstrong Ceiling Solutions, Lancaster, Pa., feels metal ceilings can provide a seamless, grid-less visual with more options than a traditional 2-foot by 2-foot mineral fiber or fiberglass ceiling. “Perforations can be added in standard or custom visuals to enhance acoustical performance,” she says. “Wood-look ceilings can be created for spaces where wood ceilings are desired but the environment may not be ideal for real wood. Custom 3-D looks can be created, and there are a wide variety of shapes and sizes such as radial and linear visuals.”

Photo courtesy of Rockfon

Photo courtesy of Rockfon

Compared to standard grid ceilings, Anthony Antonelli, creative director of Pinta Acoustic Inc., Minneapolis, says metal ceilings are typically natural or painted smooth surface, perforated or stamped sheet metal, expanded ‘diamond-shape’ metal mesh ‘suspended lay-in’panel systems. He claims they can be produced with or without any acoustic backer, and that expanded melamine foam panels can be laminated to metal panels to make them opaque. “Without any acoustic backer, a transparent, low-height ceiling plane may make the set height seem higher and create a more spacious effect,” he adds. He feels small or large panel openings can produce the following effects:

• A silhouette of what’s above the ceiling plane.
• A play on shadow effects by letting in sunlight.
• Stunning back-lighting color effects about small or entire ceiling planes wall to wall, clouds or baffles.


Diverse design trends are accelerating metal ceiling usage, and two of the most common are increased scale and customized perforations. It’s not just 2-foot by 4-foot or even 2-foot by 6-foot planks that architects are specifying anymore. Corpolongo says he’s seeing more interest in the larger 8-foot and 10-foot designs. “Rockfon offers a choice of sizes and large formats,” he says. “Our torsion spring panels can be ordered in sizes up to 4 feet wide and 10 feet long. A second trend is the custom perforations that provide a sense of movement throughout a space. It’s not just the old standard, consistent perforation. Now, it’s unique patterns that change from one panel to the next, often with the perforation patterns bridging adjacent panels or wrapping up the edges.”

Photo courtesy of Armstrong Ceiling Solutions

Photo courtesy of Armstrong Ceiling Solutions

Sandford agrees that perforated and laser-cut materials are a popular trend, and allow designers to bring unique pattern, shape and color to their designs. “These innovative products can also be used to create lightboxes within the ceiling that illuminate a room,” he adds.

With perforations, the holes can be round, rectangular or square, and placed tightly together or far apart. They can have lineal, diagonal or staggered patterns. “Most manufacturers have standard and custom perforation options,” Corpolongo says. “Some ceiling manufacturers offer graduated designs where the holes increase in dimension and decrease in spacing. Detailed, custom patterns also can be created for corporate logos, university mascots and other graphic reproductions.”

Udolph says architects are designing custom-engineered ceiling elements, especially using extruded beams that can be curved vertically and horizontally. He also sees new manufacturing techniques that are allowing production of ultra-flat, lightweight honeycomb panels up to 48 inches by 120 inches with microperforation that makes them strong acoustical options.

Architects are using durable finishes to extend their ceiling designs through the building envelope to incorporate exterior soffits. “In addition, they are blending selected colors and wood finishes, creating subtle patterns at the ceiling,” Udolph says. “Some are even mixing other materials such as felt with linear metal panels to play with surface texture.” Because of all these diverse attributes and customization, metal ceiling usage will continue to grow and provide excellent performance levels, ultimately improving the general living and working environment.

Photo courtesy of NAC Architecture

Photo courtesy of Brent Schipper