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My Best Use of Metal

Architects share their favorite projects

Ankara  Office  Tower
Photo: Florian Holzherr

As an architect, is there a project that stands out to you as being your best use of metal? We decided to find out what projects you have worked on over the years that stand out to you for its use of metal and why. On the following pages, you'll see some of the responses we received. While we are unable to publish everyone's submissions, we do plan on continuing this feature as a column in upcoming issues, and will set up a page of the website for you to submit the project that best represents your best use of metal.

Ankara Office Tower, Ankara, Turkey

The experimental folded aluminum curtainwall cover caps of the Ankara Office Tower, a 14-story office building in Ankara, Turkey, serves multiple functions:

  • The depth of the cover caps (30cm) and vertical spacing (120cm) are calibrated to reduce solar heat gain during summer months and optimize solar gain during winter months. Various techniques were tested for milling the aluminum to create repeatable controlled bends and to achieve consistency in the final shape.
  • The system is stacked at the dimension of the spandrel, effectively obscuring the spandrels and thereby lending stature to an otherwise small office tower
  • A variable section is achieved through folded, rather than extruded, aluminum cover caps. By successively shifting their arrangement as they wrap the tower, they produce a transformative effect as one moves around the building.

The tower's entry canopy is composed of water-jet cut, garnet-blasted stainless steel panels, likening its texture and color to the stone pavers of the entry bridge.

Photo: Florian Holzherr

Alex Anmahian, AIA, Cofounder/Principal, Anmahian Winton Architects, Cambridge, Mass.

Woodard Residence, Memphis, Tenn.

The small lot was carved from a recently completed development including a repurposed warehouse into offices and four attached townhomes. The compact site exists between a railroad overpass to the north and an alley to the east. A Cortenclad rectangular form rests atop a masonry base. Charcoal standing seam metal is used to break down the primary Corten volume with a series of large-scale carves that form balconies and window openings that frame views. This articulation of the mass mediates the various scales and materiality of the surrounding industrial context, and allows the interior functions to be expressed on the exterior.

Lauren Mitchell, archimania, Memphis

Ligutti Tower, Des Moines, Iowa

ASK Studio looks for opportunities to use metal in its simplest configuration. The beauty is found in the utility of its forms with simple requirements for weathering and exposure.

Our insertion on an urban rooftop uses metal as building structure, sculpture and boundary. With a simple and unadorned collection of metal components we create space, add layers and provide focus. All with a material that can withstand the winds of tall building canyons, while needing very little maintenance. Metal effortlessly is a vertical element, then a horizontal element. The collection of prefabricated elements are minimally detailed, allowing users to appreciate the forms and rhythms of frame, fluted decking and welded wire panels.

While rigid as structure and rhythm, metal is malleable in form and purpose. The structural frame begins as building, then transforms to trellis like no other material would allow.

The material is used simply highlighting characteristics that are uniquely metal.

Brent Schipper, Principal, ASK Studio, Des Moines

Winters Police-Fire Facility, Winters, Calif.

This project consists of two pre-engineered metal buildings, with a two-story wood frame structure sandwiched in between; but it is the texture and pattern of the metal siding that ties the entire approximately 35,000-square-foot facility together as one cohesive building. And doesn't that non-fade red metal siding simply scream "Fire Station"???

Dennis Dong, AIA, CSI, FARA, Calpo Hom & Dong Architects, Sacramento, Calif.

Photo: Emery Architectural Photography

Rosalind Franklin University's Rothstein Warden Centennial Learning Center, North Chicago, Ill.

Rosalind Franklin University's Rothstein Warden Centennial Learning Center demonstrates the flexibility of metal cladding (in this case, metal insulated composite wall panel with prefinished steel face and liner). The vertical window slots along the west façade were inspired by DNA sequencing. This enables the design to reflect the legacy of the university's namesake, Dr. Rosalind Franklin, a central figure in the discovery of the structure of DNA.

The aluminum panels have high R-values and span 10 to 20 feet between the horizontal structural supports. They required no interior finish material.

Ted Haug, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Design Principal, Legat Architects, Chicago

Urban Plaza, 1001 Woodward Ave., Building, Detroit

As part of a plaza revitalization in downtown Detroit, we introduced a stainless steel mesh canopy overhead to create a sense of enclosure and pedestrian scale against a high-rise tower. The tensile canopy cuts down direct sun during the day, and is stippled with custom LED lights to activate the space at night.

Bill Ash, AIA, LEED AP, Design Principal, SmithGroupJJR, Detroit

Meyer Natural Foods, Loveland, Colo.

The Meyer Natural Foods headquarters in Loveland, Colo., was a modern mix of stone, glass and architectural steel. The client desired a clean contemporary design and desired the highest quality of materials. Adair Natural Limestone was selected as the primary material for the buildings, and storefront glazing provided the building with an abundance of natural light.

What separated the design from the ordinary was our ability to use elements outside the building envelope to create space. The client wanted the occupants inside to maintain a level of privacy while working in the building. They wanted something interesting to look at, but not be a distraction.

The use of the stone monoliths was designed to provide that interest as they are peeled away from the building face. As the design evolved, we found ourselves wanting to connect the monoliths back to the structure in meaningful way. We looked at the use of wood and prefabricated aluminum, but both were not substantial enough to offset the heavy feel of the stone.

We selected architectural tube steel to provide the connection. The use of the steel as vertical fins and horizontal connectors enabled the occupants to see through to the landscaping and sky, but feel as though they were behind something substantial. The steel became functional as a canopy, and sculptural as the floating monolith. The utilization of the three materials created a unique, modern feel to the project. The use of the steel elements allowed us to create something unlike any other project in the area.

Randell Johnson, AIA, LEED AP, Principal, Infusion Architects, Loveland

Keg 1, Fredericksburg, Texas

In late-2014, Mustard Design Architects was charged with refreshing Keg 1, an unassuming commercial office and distribution facility. The client wanted a fresh look for a building that is primarily used for transporting and delivering goods and the occasional client meeting.

No one expected this type of building to be anything but ordinary. That's what made the design possibilities so intriguing.

We had been experimenting with using metal to re-skin building facades for a while, and this project offered us the opportunity to expand on our ideas and explore some new executions.

We wanted to create an entirely new aesthetic of visual interest by capitalizing on metal's textural differences including rusted, painted, solid and perforated and playing off these characteristics to create a dynamic structure.

Beyond our design intent, the project had to satisfy five goals:

  • Make the entire building front more visually engaging.
  • Conceal incongruities created by a previous addition.
  • Create a clear entry point to the building.
  • Serve as a showpiece for the client.
  • Stay within a limited budget.

To do this, we created a shell outside of the existing split-face concrete block wall by attaching metal studs to the existing wall and applying a Fabral pre-finished 24 gauge exposed fastener 7/8-inch corrugated metal wall panel in a dark bronze finish to each end. To create the screens, we used "Western Rib" metal panel from Western States Metal Roofing in A606 finish, which was affixed to structural steel columns.

The panels conceal mismatched split-face concrete block, different colored sections of roof, and a seam from a previous addition. They create an altogether more striking exterior.

We supported the screens with a freestanding steel wide flange arbor that minimally impacts the existing building. To provide a foundation for the new steel columns, we removed bands of the existing sidewalk, poured new piers and reinstalled strips of sidewalk in an accenting texture. The steel columns facing the highway were then wrapped with limestone that tapered toward the base. A trellis of angled steel also brings visual prominence to the entryway.

For such a seemingly uncomplicated project, we knew the details would make or break the assignment. So we took exceptional care to study steel connections, trim profiles, metal panel connections, purposeful joinery including the tie rods behind the perforated panel-right down to the screw alignment. Panel joints were carefully placed to minimize cutting of metal sheets, and we eschewed clunky trim at every opportunity.

When combined, the variety of metal forms, products and finishes united to forge something extraordinary. Each piece was an elegant solution that created a new face for the building and breathed new life into what had been a non-descript warehouse on the side of a highway. And we did this all without touching the inside of the building.

The trust between the client and our team allowed us both to be bold, and the result is more than a facelift. It's nothing short of a transformation.

Andrew Bray, AIA, and Brad Bertrand, Mustard Design, Fredericksburg

Modern Farmhouse Residence, Arroyo Grande, Calif.

This modern farmhouse utilized metal siding as a feature material to emphasize its rural agrarian community. The home and adjacent eucalyptus grove frame views to the Pacific Ocean and sweeping sand dunes from the historic El Camino Real-Highway 1. The grey standing seam metal was used on the gable, flat and monitor roofs, which are typical agrarian or farming roof forms. This composition of metal roof forms draw the eye in a natural way so that the home seamlessly blends into the neighborhood, yet the home has a distinctive and special look. The metal also sheaths the canted, two-story chimney and three-story section of the house, which emphasize the vertical nature of agrarian structures such as grain silos. While the home appears to blend into the rural California landscape, it is subtly modern and serves to pull adjacent barns, houses, and accessory structures to itself visually resulting in a harmonious neighborhood. By partnering these metal forms and textures with the redwood board and batt siding of the rest of the house, the structure feels like a home-after all it does serve human habitation.

Leonard Grant, AIA, Principal, RRM Design, San Luis Obispo, Calif.