5 Nov 2015

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5 reasons why aluminium cladding makes beautiful buildings

From glittering gold to rusted steel, aluminium cladding has the ability to transform a building from the mundane to the extraordinary. With its excellent durability and sustainability credentials, it’s fast becoming a go-to product for architects. In this first post for Aliva Insights, Aliva UK MD James Ormerod explains why aluminium should be top of your list.

Aluminium Cladding

The many faces of aluminium cladding – NHS Manchester’s Grafton Street car park, and the dome of San Gioacchino’s Church in Rome

Architects have used aluminium in building design and cladding for over 100 years. In fact, the first known use of it dates back to 1897, when the dome of San Gioacchino’s Church in Rome was clad in aluminium sheets. It’s still there today, in almost pristine condition.

True ‘rainscreen cladding’ came later. In 1952, the Alcoa Building in Pittsburgh, USA – a 30-storey building clad in open-jointed aluminium baffle panels – became one of the earliest and best known examples.

Over the last 10 years, Aliva has seen aluminium swiftly becoming the most popular choice of rainscreen cladding for architects and other customers, but why?

Aluminium Cladding

The many faces of aluminium cladding – City West HQ in Salford, and student accommodation in Liverpool.

Why use aluminium cladding?

There are lots of reasons why aluminium cladding is becoming so popular, but here are five reasons why we believe it stands out from the crowd:

1. It’s versatile enough for the most stunning and inventive designs

Maybe you want to create a beautiful gold building? Or perhaps create a Corten effect without the issues that Corten can present (such as its corrosive nature)? Or maybe you need a practical but decorative mesh to veil your building? Aluminium cladding is so much more than silver panels. Aluminium panels – like our Alucovering – are of course an option. Even here though, the varieties are extensive. High quality billets of aluminium are extruded to create the panels, a process which allows us to create any profile, from flat, to corrugated, to a smooth wave, and much more.

And it’s not just the shape that can be altered. Our panels can be anodised or powder coated, and come in any conceivable colour, as well as looks that mimic Corten, wood and other beautiful finishes.

Aluminium cladding doesn’t stop at extruded panels; there is the option to use expanded or perforated mesh and to screen print onto both panels and mesh – as in our project for Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Or you can even create something completely bespoke, as we did for Prada, Las Vegas, where each panel was created individually to encompass conical light fittings producing a truly unique finished look (pictured).

Aluminium Cladding

The Prada store in Las Vegas features completely bespoke aluminium cladding

2. It’s lightweight and extremely durable

Aluminium isn’t just beautiful; it’s practical too. It’s extremely lightweight, which means it doesn’t place a significant load on the building’s supporting structure. One of our recent projects – student accommodation in Liverpool (pictured at the top) – involved fitting aluminium cladding to a timber-framed building. This was only possible because aluminium is so light.

Aluminium is also extremely durable. If you put aluminium on a building, you know it is going to last. The windows of the ‘New University Library’ at University of Oxford are an excellent example of this. According to the Council for Aluminium in Buildings (CAB), the aluminium window frames have been in place for over 70 years without requiring any maintenance other than occasional cleaning.

3. It creates sustainable buildings

Aluminium cladding can help insulate, acting as a thermal ‘skin’. This isn’t just true for new buildings; old buildings can be made more energy efficient too. Take the Torenflat (high-rise apartment block) in Zeist, Netherlands. In 2008, a renovation project enclosed the entire building in a ‘warm jacket’ of fully prefabricated aluminium façade units. The energy performance has been improved by three categories according to the Dutch building energy labelling system.

Aluminium is also a truly sustainable material. It can be completely recycled and turned into other aluminium products. In fact, the CAB state that 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use and recycling rates for architectural aluminium are between 92%-98%.

4. It’s low maintenance and safe

Apart from periodic cleaning for aesthetic reasons, aluminium cladding needs no maintenance, which translates into a cost and ecological advantage over the lifetime of the product. Aluminium also does not burn, and is therefore classified as a non-combustible construction material (European Fire Class A1).

5. It can quickly transform old and new buildings

Not only can the myriad of design options help architects to realise their dreams for new-build projects, but aluminium cladding can also revitalise old buildings. Its lightweight nature means that it can be added without needing to strengthen or change the existing building structure. It’s also very easy and quick to install, offering major cost advantages. Take our student accommodation project mentioned earlier – the bronze and silver cladding was installed in just 6 weeks.

The future of aluminium cladding

Our clients constantly push Aliva’s design and consultancy teams to create bespoke, inventive aluminium cladding solutions. We are continuously researching and developing novel applications for the use of aluminium in facades. With its flexibility and its chameleon ability to transform buildings, aluminium’s possibilities are only limited by our imagination.

James Ormerod

James Ormerod, BA Hons (Sales and Marketing) MA, DipM, FIDM, FCIM, is Managing Director of Aliva UK.

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