Metal Architecture Home

My Best Use of Metal-October 2017

Architects show off their favorite projects

Best Metal Orion Oct17
Orion Federal Credit Union, Memphis, Tenn.

This credit union sits along a busy arterial street, positioned at a slight bend. In addition to the effect the project has on the pedestrians and cyclists that occupy the site, the design had to consider the view from a car at 40-plus miles per hour. The custom-designed sawtooth panels use the thin material to maximize the depth of the wall and are organized in alternating courses to exaggerate the dynamic movement of the project's material pallet and shifting volumes. Light and shadow play off of the undulating panels, allowing new readings of the building with the changing time of day, weather conditions and driving speed. The panels are finished with Zalmag, a proprietary finish with the healing and patinating properties of zinc. In concert with the brick, tile and glass, this natural weathering material reinforces the stability and authenticity of the credit union moving forward in time.

Lauren Mitchell, archimania, Memphis


Southwest Regional Library, Louisville, Ky.

Southwest Regional Library, Louisville, Ky.

The Southwest Regional Library was a perfect testing ground to leverage metal’s most interesting properties in a high-exposure, public project. Our design team sought a material that was lightweight, modular, durable, and expressive in color and texture. Flat lock metal panels were fabricated to nearly eliminate material waste while adding depth and shadow at each joint to animate the skin at close range. The oxidized coated stainless steel was the perfect answer both in terms of the material’s potential longevity, and the subtle variety of tone that offer a richness that might otherwise have been lost with a more monochromatic material. By embossing the metal surface with an extremely fine line pattern, the large-format panels were able to be thinner gauge to reduce material use, more rigid to virtually eliminate panel distortion, and a subtle discovery for visitors as they approach the building.

The spirit of this building was to tangibly express the feeling of discovery, and embody a spirit of imagination. We applied and detailed the metal cladding to read as thin, overlapping veils. These metaphorical curtains are raised and pulled back from the occupied interior areas to allow daylight to envelop the public collection, and to choreograph views of the landscape. 

The play of sunlight across the cladding creates dynamic shadow patterns, while on overcast days the panel color variation has greater fidelity. These layers are further articulated with accent lighting that gently washes down the wall facets in the evening, effectively inverting daytime shadows into nighttime highlights. Where the metal cladding gives way to luminous curtainwall, brushed stainless steel trim boldly contrasts with the typical cladding, reinforcing these featured areas while maintaining a similar base material for optimal weathering stability.

Beyond the limits of the building, we embraced the earthy richness of weathering steel for the pedestrian bridge that spans our storm water infiltration basin. This prefabricated bridge structure minimized site disturbance in fabrication, and provided an expressive counterpoint to the building out in the landscape.

Colin Drake, AIA, LEED AP, Associate, JRA Architects, Louisville


The McConnell Foundation Maintenance Facility, Redding, Calif.

The McConnell Foundation Maintenance Facility, Redding, Calif.

When a local philanthropic foundation approached us to design a new maintenance facility for their headquarters, we were certainly happy to oblige. At the time, we had no idea how much design would be involved in what would became a signature project for our studio. The proposed location for this 18,000-square-foot building was directly adjacent to a single-family residential subdivision.

Needless to say, the neighbors were initially not very excited about the idea of a maintenance building across the street from their front yard. The site itself was gently sloping with many existing mature oak trees. In order to minimize its impact, we began by carefully locating the structure on the site to remove as few trees as possible. Next, the concrete structure was cut deeply into the existing slope, thus reducing the roofline to be more in keeping with the scale of the single-family homes across the street. But that’s where steel comes into play.

We made the decision to build a mostly exposed steel structure on top and adjacent to the concrete retaining walls. Careful effort was exercised by our design team to detail the various steel components, ranging from custom-designed steel trusses to the wire mesh enclosure and scissoring metal roofs. But our primary design element was our introduction of a steel and canvas shade canopy along the entire length of the building. Our idea was to create shade for the building and the adjacent public walking path, as well provide a clear entry to the facility. Not intended to be adjustable, our idea instead was to create a hinge detail that allowed us to set different angles for each individual canopy. The canopies were then positioned to create a gently undulating pattern of shade and form. For the greenhouse and vehicle storage areas, we decided to use conventional chain-link fencing material using carefully thought out attachment details. It was not only cost-effective, but a good way to show how conventional materials can be utilized within a non-conventional design.

The result was an AIA Honor Award winning building that respects its context, and happy neighbors.

James E. Theimer, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal Architect, Trilogy Architecture, Redding