Metal Ceiling Designs

Metal ceilings provide high performance and visual customization for applications ranging from transit facilities to financial institutions to public libraries and private universities.

Applications offer high performance, aesthetic versatility and more

By Michael Thill

Helios Education Foundation, Parking Structure, Phoenix. Photo: Dror Baldinger, FAIA | Architectural Photography LLC; courtesy of Architekton

Suitable for both interior and exterior spaces, metal ceilings offer a cost-competitive, sustainable, durable, low-maintenance solution. Typically aluminum or galvanized steel, metal ceiling products resist humidity, do not support the growth of mold or mildew, and will not corrode or rust. Metal ceilings can be specified to meet acoustic, seismic, fire and wind load performance requirements as well as recycled content and other sustainable criteria.

Metal ceilings traditionally are installed as panels in a metal suspension grid system. The visible grid can be minimized for a monolithic appearance with a concealed system, accentuated with an exposed wide-face system, or recessed for a shadow effect. Panels may be specified with square, reveal or round edges, and in standard and custom sizes. They typically are flat, but can be curved and accommodated with specialized suspension systems.

Ceiling panels with a length greater than two times their width, are called planks. Linear metal ceiling systems typically consist of panels up to 12 inches in length, and 8 inches or less in width. Many designers like the continuity linear planks provide when transitioning from an interior space to an exterior soffit or canopy, particularly in highly transparent buildings.

Interior open plenum metal ceiling systems include beam, open cell and baffle systems. They frequently are seen in industrial-inspired designs, creating a minimal visual separation between the occupied space and the exposed slab and equipment above. Beam and open cell systems use deep metal framing to define large open modules, allowing unobstructed air circulation. Metal baffles and plenum mask systems block the view of mechanical systems and add acoustic performance.

Enhancing acoustic performance and aesthetic versatility, perforations can be added to metal ceiling panels. The holes’ diameter may be larger than 0.5 inches or so small as to appear solid. Perforations can be round, rectangular or square, and placed in lineal, diagonal, custom or staggered patterns. When sound absorption is needed, the addition of acoustic insulating backers to perforated metal ceiling panels can achieve a high Noise Reduction Coefficient of up to 0.90.

Further optimizing acoustic performance and visual diversity, metal ceiling clouds may be composed of panels or planks installed in suspension systems and enclosed with perimeter trim. Metal perimeter trim provides a smooth, distortion-free edge for projected accents, light coves and transitions between ceiling heights. Perimeter trim profiles include concealed, razor or revealed designs in a range of sizes.

Metal ceiling trim, panels and suspension systems can be finished in almost any color, including those mimicking the look of wood. Nature-themed colors complement today’s interior design trends, generating a sense of calm, comfort and connection. Ceiling components may be finished to match or contrast with each other to elicit the intended affect.

Understanding the aesthetic, functional and installation considerations for metal suspension systems, panels and accessories will ensure the desired, lasting appearance and performance for inspired ceiling designs.

Michael Thill is the product manager–metal ceilings at Rockfon North America, Chicago. For more information, visit