Scale and Movement

Ribbed metal panels give Frontline Townhomes in Memphis, Tenn., texture and depth. At different levels, different panels create scales and a sense of movement. Furthermore, the sense of movement is expressed by projections at the second floors. Popping out from gray metal panels, bright yellow entry doors and, on top of the buildings, bright yellow rooftop structures make it clear where entrances are and where you are amongst the development’s five buildings, three of which comprise the project. Judges praised these aspects and more and recognized the project with a 2021 Metal Architecture Design Award in the Judges Award category.

Vertical ribbed panels, second-floor projections create scale changes and movement

By Christopher Brinckerhoff

Photo courtesy of archimania

Vertical Panels

In terms of alternating panel profiles to change scales and create a sense of movement, two ribbed profiles were used, one tighter and another wider. The buildings have concrete bases, three floors clad with the ribbed metal and, on some units, bright yellow popup flexible spaces on rooftops. The panels are the tighter ribs at the first and third floors and wider ribs at the second floor.

Todd Walker, FAIA, principal at archimania in Memphis, says, “Our thought at the pedestrian level is that the scale should be smaller and tighter. And in a way, it’s sort of this idea of creating a textured through shadow like a rusticated base. It might seem heavier because it has more texture and more shadow. On the upper level, where the ribs are more spread out, there’s less shadow; therefore, it might feel lighter.”

While the tighter ribs at the first floor give it more texture and make it feel heavier, the tighter ribs at the third floor actually make the building feel lighter because the sun hits it directly, Walker says.

“In the courtyard space, what you’ll see is the tight rib on the bottom, the more open rib on the middle and then on the third floor, we have the tighter rib again. It helps express each one of these floors and it brings clarity to each floor through scale and texture. But on the third floor, I think it becomes lighter because of how the sun hits it. The western sun in the late afternoon, on that upper tighter band, it makes it feel lighter again. On the Front Street side, it’s done with the same panel, but in a different way.”

Second-floor Projections

In addition to the vertical texture of the metal panels, another way the design expresses movement is with projections at the second floor that form overhangs above entrances.

“The scale change emphasizes this idea that the façade undulates with the porches and balconies and shape themselves on the second floor,” Walker says. “There is this nice concrete base, and then you get the clarity of what the first floor is. On one hand, you get this connection to a one-story building before its materiality changes to a different scale, and then you get this third floor.”

Photo courtesy of archimania

Pops of Bright Yellow

In contrast to all the dark gray ribbed metal panels, Frontline Townhomes has bright yellow entry doors and bright yellow rooftop popup spaces.

“When you’re in an attached townhome environment like this, people always want the entry to have clarity; I think the color adds clarity to the entry point,” Walker says.

Walking amongst the buildings in the development, the bright yellow doors and popups can be used for navigation, Walker explains.

“I think it becomes sort of a roadmap relative to those upper popups. If I’m down on the end where this yellow popup is, or I’m in the middle of where that yellow popup is, it’s a way-finding device. I think that’s a way you could look at it.”

Photo courtesy of archimania

Industrial Inspiration

With respect to location, Frontline Townhomes is in a former industrial area that is in the process of being redeveloped into a residential area, Walker says. On the site where the townhomes are located, there were warehouses with corrugated and standing seam panels. By using ribbed metal panels, the design team sought to respect industrial architecture from the area without copying it, he says.

“I think the metal adds a nice relief to the existing historic context,” Walker says. “It’s something new, but a material that pays homage to what was there in this industrial area. I believe you can pay more respect to existing and historic context by not trying to copy it, and I think that’s what this is all about.”

On the building exteriors, Memphis-based Boshco Custom Sheet Metal LLC installed two of Louisville, Ky.-based Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp.’s metal wall panels: T10-A and T10-B. The 24-gauge T10-A exposed fastener box rib panels have 1 1/2-inch-high ribs on 4-inch centers. The 24-gauge T10-B exposed fastener box rib panels have 1 1/2-inch-high ribs on 6-inch centers. Both panels have an acrylic-coated Galvalume finish in Old Zinc Grey.