Architectural Excellence with Insulated Metal Panels

Insulated metal panels offer environmental benefits, ease of installation, and potential for high design
Sponsored by Metal Construction Association
By Kathy Price-Robinson
1 AIA LU/HSW; 1 IDCEC CEU/HSW; 0.1 ICC CEU; 1 IIBEC CEH; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines; AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.; MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.; This course can be self-reported to the NSAA; NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour; OAA 1 Learning Hour; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Define the benefits of insulated metal panels for meeting environmental goals, ease of installation, cost effectiveness, and design potential.
  2. Describe notable sports and event facilities designed with insulated metal panels (IMPs) for durability and low maintenance.
  3. Discuss how IMPs played a major role in designing commercial and medical buildings with superior interior environmental quality.
  4. Identify high-performing educational, municipal, transportation, and aviation projects designed with IMPS.
  5. Describe noteworthy, durable, and energy-saving roofs designed with insulated metal panels.

This course is part of the Metal Architecture Academy

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When you envision distinctive, notable, and award-winning buildings, do insulated metal panels come to mind? They should. Some of the most interesting and iconic architecture built today—from the Chase Center in San Francisco, to Hilton’s 123 Carnack Hotel in Chicago, to Austin Community College—stand out precisely because of the artful deployment of insulated metal panels.

After the qualities of insulated metal panels (IMPs) are understood, from their environmental benefits to their ease of installation and the potential for high design, it makes sense that competition judges who are themselves accomplished architects have taken notice.

Photo courtesy of Jason O’Rear Photography

Some of the most iconic architecture built today stands out because of the artful deployment of their insulated metal skins, as seen on the facade of San Francisco's Chase Center.

“Each year when the Metal Construction Association calls for submissions for our Chairman’s Awards competition, we are truly impressed by the projects that are submitted and the creativity of the architects,” said Robert (R.C.) Antal, Insulated Panel Manager at ATAS International, Inc., and MCA's IMP Alliance Chair. “The competition clearly shows the design industry’s growing appreciation for insulated metal panels.”

As we’ll see from the following striking and award-winning buildings designed and constructed with IMPs, these unique building components are being used in a wide variety of noteworthy buildings.

Sintered stone surfaces are available in many colors and finishes, providing durability, resilience, and aesthetic appeal.

What are Insulated Metal Panels?

Insulated Metal Panels (IMPs) are lightweight composite exterior wall and roof panels with metal skins and an insulating foam core. These panels have superior insulating properties, and their outstanding spanning capabilities and one-pass installation makes them quick to install, saving costs compared to other wall assemblies. IMPs are available in a wide variety of colors, widths, profiles, and finishes, enabling virtually any aesthetic desired for walls and roofs.

Photo courtesy of Matt Winquist

Austin Community College San Gabriel Campus, Leander, Texas

Design Potential

Architectural IMPs have the normal attributes of other commercial and industrial segments such as high insulation values, speed of build, and vertical and horizontal applications, but incorporate options such as custom shapes and widths, special custom colors and finishes, and custom fabrication including but not limited to bent corners, curved panels, and trimless ends. Architectural IMPs offer options that can incorporate panels that integrate with windows, louvers, sunshades, or other integrated products to offer total building envelope solutions. IMPs provide architects freedom to create their unique building designs.

A fitting example is the award-winning Austin Community College, which won a metal building design competition in the colleges and universities category. The decision was unanimous among the panel of architects: Steven G. Blye of Legat Architects, Steven Ginn of Steven Ginn Architects, and Paul Mankins of Substance Architecture.

The design team was challenged to create an attractive, inviting campus in a 100-acre cow pasture. Historical building forms, patterns and materials of Central Texas—simple geometries, lots of shading, and materials such as limestone, metal, wood, and glass—all came together in an architecture rooted in place and time.

The selection of materials was inspired by unique regional assets: the ranch, the creek, and the railroad. Corrugated, flat, and ribbed metal panels reflect the muted grays and rich rust colors found in ranch landscapes. In consideration of the harsh Central Texas sun, changing patterns of light and shade allow for seasonal use of outdoor spaces while adding visual depth and design interest to facades. Weathered metals comprise the expansive, shade-providing porch, the stair tower that provides a beacon for the campus, and the tanks used to harvest rain and irrigate the landscape.

"Even with the brick and other materials, the metal encompasses the building all the way around," said competition judge Blye. "It doesn't stop at a trellis or a canopy, but it integrates itself. It's celebrating metal as a special material that highlights the rest of the building."

The architect was SmithGroup in association with Pfluger Architects, and the contractor was American Constructors.

Ease of Installation and Cost Effectiveness

Insulated metal roof and wall panels can save costs in materials and labor, due to their single-unit composition and quick installation. Preformed metal panels are typically lower in installed cost than that of tilt-up, precast, or brick, and comparable to synthetic stucco or EIFS. That's because metal panels can often be installed faster than other building materials, resulting in construction cost savings. Lightweight metal systems can save money by reducing structural steel requirements, since less structural support is needed.

Insulated metal panels can be installed more quickly because their installation is not slowed by weather conditions. This all-weather capability minimizes construction delays, permits fast-track scheduling, gets the building dried-in quicker, and allows the other trades to proceed with their interior work.

Finally, ongoing maintenance costs are reduced because of continuing improvements in paint finishes.

It was that ease of installation that made possible the construction of 123 East Cermak Hotels, a 23-story hotel building in Chicago's South Loop neighborhood that is home to three Hilton-family hotels – a Hampton Inn, a Hilton Garden Inn, and a Home2Suites. The project was designed by Todd Halamka + Partners.

The insulated metal panel manufacturer worked closely with the contractor to create a special bundling and packaging system for the project. The panels were produced and released by elevation as the installer worked its way up the building. The panels were created and packaged at the manufacturing facility, then delivered to Chicago when needed. Because the jobsite was in a tight downtown space, multiple deliveries had to be scheduled to load the jobs for one-to-two weeks’ worth of panels.

But the ease of installation didn’t result in a sacrifice of style. The building's modern design features more than 35,500 square feet of architectural insulated wall panels. The design called for custom-width panels, as well as custom joint reveals. The typical reveal for an insulated metal panel is ½ inch, but the design for 123 East Cermak called for a 2- inch reveal. This custom detail adds an interesting design element as the light and shadows change throughout the day, as well as the seasons.

The color scheme includes panels in silver, medium gray, and clay. The panels are all 3 inches thick to provide a superior R-value, especially important during Chicago’s frigid winters. Metal panels were also incorporated into the design of a sky bridge that connects the hotels to one of the buildings at McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America.

Photo courtesy of Kingspan Insulated Panels

123 East Cermak Hotels, Chicago, Illinois

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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in December 2021