Optimizing Curved Metal to Enhance Buildings

Architects and designers are utilizing curved metal’s organic and fluid shapes to enhance buildings and create visual interest. Curved with ease and conforming to virtually any shape, metal can produce convex, concave and undulating designs not possible with other cladding options. A progressive move away from conventional, squared, plumb building components, curved walls and roofs eliminate wasted space and break up large spans. Corners divide space; curved walls blend spaces.

Curved metal walls and roofs are growing in popularity and creativity

By Mark Robins


“Architectural curves provide an aesthetic comfort and appeal ideal in many situations,” says Robert Widmer, marketing manager, Flex-Ability Concepts, Oklahoma City. “Architectural curves can be used very effectively in facilitating smoother and more natural traffic flow.” Bruce Congdon, general manager, Duraframe Solutions, Webster, N.Y., says to further improve building functionality, acoustic treatments can be integrated with curved surfaces, to control sound in auditoriums and theaters. [Also,] “Exterior curved framing can help control the way light enters a building, providing energy savings. Attractive curved surfaces and ceilings can dramatically enhance interior spaces and façades, contributing to increased foot traffic and business for retail and hospitality projects. The possibilities are endless.”

Differentiation drives architectural design. Businesses, universities, institutions and destinations leverage curved and geometrically complex designs to differentiate themselves and deliver a unique occupant experience. “Everyday views of people in unique spaces spread like wildfire across social media platforms as enthusiasts visit, snap and share,” says Chuck Mears, FAIA, chief design officer/CEO, Radius Track Corp., Minneapolis. “These types of spaces inspire and attract people.”




Architects want to design memorable spaces with curves, yet they must do that within their client’s budget. “Historically, designing with curves added weeks or months to the schedule and increased project budget and risk,” says Jeff Montague, director of preconstruction, the Los Angeles office of Radius Track. “Today, designs with curved metal roofs and walls are on the rise due to lower construction costs as a result of many technological advances in the design, fabrication and construction industries.”

Prior to virtual design coordination between disciplines and digital design-to-fabrication processes, curved and complex metal roofs and walls required greater job-site coordination, often involving change orders, unforeseen conditions and material waste. “Now, with early integration of disciplines through virtual overlays and 3-D model coordination, complete metal framing systems are fully integrated and vetted with interfacing systems before fabrication,” says Ryan Rademacher, AIA, vice president, Radius Track. “The process mitigates surprises during construction and provides a platform by each discipline or trade partner can discuss performance criteria, possible interface challenges and material limitations before delivery to the job site.”




One of the primary benefits of curved metal roofs, walls, soffits and domes is being able to fabricate them off-site. High construction labor costs and the industry’s skilled manpower shortage can make prefabricated elements more cost effective. Even when shipping costs are considered, prefabricated curved framing, domes and arches can be designed with low tolerances and can be easily installed on the job site.

“In an age when eco-friendly materials are so important, the many benefits of cold-formed steel (CFS) are often overlooked,” Congdon says. “Because CFS is uniformly manufactured, the quality is consistent. That means less scrap metal to remove, and ultimately less waste. CFS is light in weight, so it can be quickly and economically shipped to the job site. At the end of its life span, CFS is still 100 percent recyclable, and it emits no emits no volatile organic compounds, making it an exceptionally sustainable building material. Systems can be partially or totally fabricated and tested before arriving at the job site, using propriety equipment and computer software that general contractors don’t typically own. Because intricate or complex designs can be fabricated in a highly controlled environment with state-of-the-art tools, the architect has maximum design flexibility. Imagination is not limited by the constraints of field construction.”


Montague contends each exclusive and individual curved metal roof or wall project necessitates a new type of construction, and the most unique thing about the design of curved metal roofs and walls specifically for metal building systems is fabricators’ ability to accurately and economically manipulate metal profiles into custom shapes to deliver the design intent. “It is essential to have a fully integrated design system to achieve the additional requirements imposed when a design moves from a box building to a curved façade or anything in between. The benefit of CFS framing systems over most other framing systems is the flexibility to use its tolerance and high strength-toweight ratio to achieve cost-effective solutions.”

New, hand-curvable metal framing products that come in a full range of widths and gauges make curved walls, ceilings, soffits, clouds and furr-downs easier and quicker to frame. “Including these products in the specifications will greatly increase the odds of the project turning out per the architect’s design,” Widmer says. “Contractors who assemble metal building systems are accustomed to working with products that are highly engineered and don’t require as much cutting and modifying onsite as in wood framing. In our research, contractors are no longer afraid to take on projects with curved framing applications due to the availability of hand curvable metal framing products.”

Mears believes with appropriate planning, architects can be pleasantly surprised at how creative and affordable designs for curved metal roofs and walls will benefit and elevate their projects. He stresses choosing the correct project team members to strategically increase efficiencies translating to tighter numbers, realistic schedules and skilled installation crews. He says three qualifications to look for in trade and fabrication partners are:


• Extensive expertise in making solutions for curved metal roofs, walls and façades

• First-hand experience developing and building technologically advanced, constructible solutions that honor the design intent

• A well-defined process from beginning to end that can respond to a range of project types and sizes


Software interoperability is improving and allowing different teams with different processes to collaborate more effectively on curved metal designs. This includes not only the design teams, but also the construction and fabrications teams, which ultimately streamlines the design through construction process. With that, computational design processes and tools are increasing in their use and capabilities.

“This allows for rapid iteration, automation of repetitive tasks, importing and exporting of large data sets as well as virtual simulations among other things,” Rademacher says. “When these tools and processes are leveraged properly, they incorporate fabrication and construction constraints during the design process thus better virtually creating the desired finished product. Additionally, advancements in tools utilized in construction, such as greater leveraging of surveying and laser scanning equipment within the construction process is allowing for more accurate placement of abstract shapes with tight tolerances to marry up to adjacent building systems with looser tolerances. All of which allows for the design and construction of curved metal roofs and walls to be more feasible given the ever-present schedule and budget constraints.”

BIM technology has increased the use of curved surface technology. The quality and complexity of curved surfaces have increased exponentially with 3-D computer-aided design programs. Congdon concurs that sharing complex projects with the entire construction team simplifies the installation process and improves the quality of the end product. “In addition to fine-tuning the constructability of a project, computer-aided design can help identify clashes and resolve them before the project begins.”


Fabricators and manufacturers that leverage digital design-to-fabrication processes extract data from their 3-D model to CNC equipment to create precision metal framing elements. These are often delivered to the site as a kit of parts or unitized sub-assemblies with detailed installation instructions. “Combined with site-survey equipment, the geometrically complex design is simplified into a series of elements installed according to X, Y, Z coordinates clearly marked on drawings and parts for the installation contractor,” Mears says. “The level of accuracy afforded by this technology reduces installation errors, provides unitization opportunities, and allows for greater accuracy scheduling labor and installation sequencing, which makes curved or complex metal roof and wall systems more affordable.”

Linda Durand, AIA, architect at GWWO Architects, Baltimore, agrees the new technologies enabling better curved designs include digital fabrication, computational design and 3-D printing. “These advances in computer technologies have allowed designers and fabricators to visualize and produce curved designs quicker, easier and sometimes at a more reasonable cost. New technologies enabling metal to be curved have opened up a plethora of design possibilities for architects. It’s not every day that you see a curved wall or roof. Adding these features to a design can really make an impression, tell a story, and make the architecture stand out.”