Achieving Design Objectives with Metal Roofs and Facades

How seven projects met performance, sustainability, and aesthetic goals with metal cladding
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Sponsored by PAC-CLAD | Petersen
By Jeanette Fitzgerald Pitts

Create Awe with Curved Roofs

Metal roofs and wall panels can also be curved to create a unique and dynamic building appearance, which is exactly how they were used in the design of the Discovery Center, the 100,000-square-foot centerpiece of a 50-acre park called Discovery Park of America located in Union City, Tennessee. The $100-million education center was primarily financed by the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation. Kirkland, a retired businessman and investor, is a native son of Union City. He wanted to build a permanent venue in his hometown that would enhance education for children as well as adults. He also wanted visitors to be entertained.


The curved roof forms found on the Discovery Center were designed by Boston’s Verner Johnson to create a building that was futuristic, uplifting, and exuberant.

Boston-based Verner Johnson was hired for the design. The firm specializes in the planning and design of museums and science centers and has completed more than 200 projects around the world—but this project and its $300-per-square-foot budget would challenge its creative expertise. “Mr. Kirkland wanted the building to look like something no one in that region had seen before. He wanted the design and the exhibits to educate and elevate the aspirations of young people and the community,” explains Louis Sirianni, principal at Verner Johnson. “The design concept started with the idea of expressive, curving roof forms. We wanted the building to be futuristic and uplifting and exuberant. From the very beginning, the owner liked the idea of the curving forms, so once that was resolved, the metal standing-seam roof was an obvious choice. I’ve used a similar concept on other museum projects. I’ve always liked the texture, rhythm, and shiny, metallic appearance of this style of roof, and it’s economical, which was a factor given the tight budget we had on this job.”

The Discovery Center has two main areas: the Grand Hall and South Hall. The roofs of both halls are dramatically curved and clad in metal standing-seam panels. The panels on the Grand Hall were tapered as well as curved. “The deck slopes in three different directions—almost like a football shape,” explains Gordon Jones, the president and project manager of Ralph Jones Sheet Metal, the company that installed the panels on the roof. “There are about 400 panels on the roof, and no two are exactly alike. Every one of them is custom. This was one of the more complex jobs we’ve done in our 35-year history.”

Engage an Audience with Perforated Metal Panels

A new design trend gaining popularity is creating visual interest and intrigue on the facade with perforated aluminum walls panels. Perforated metal is layered over a non-perforated metal to create dimension and contrast. Beyond a unique aesthetic, architects can specify perforated metal to diffuse light, air, or sound and help control the immediate environment of the project. Typical applications include equipment screens, partitions, sign panels, parking decks, guards, interior acoustical applications, and enclosures of any kind. The perforation of a panel is designed in terms of the hole sizes, the spacing of the holes, and the total openness of the panel, which refers to the percentage of the panel that is actually open space. The perforated panels are available in any number of combinations, and the results have been award winning.

Memphis Ballet

A nationally acclaimed professional ballet company dreamed for 15 years of relocating to a more prominent location in Memphis, Tennessee. When it finally got its new 44,000-square-foot facility in the more centrally located Arts District, it wanted to uplift the community beyond dance and exercise with an inspiring community space filled with creativity and vibrancy. The resulting building was designed to engage the public in movement, wellness, culture, and community connection and was awarded an AIA 2018 Education Facility Design Award of Merit.

Photo: archimania

Perforated and solid copper panels frame a walkway that runs between the screen and the studio windows of the Memphis Ballet, inviting passersby to connect with the dancers inside.

“Dance and architecture share a focus on movement, space, and time,” explains Todd Walker, principal of archimania and project architect. “We wanted to make the project dynamic and energized.” To that end, the team created an exterior form comprised of layers of glass and contrasting metal panels (in copper and zinc) that resembles a music box, with the ideas of transparency and opening up to the community at the core of the design. Perforated and solid copper panels sit at the edge of the historic street and frame a 7-foot walkway between the signature screen and the studio windows. The lower, street-level portion of standing-seam panels are perforated and allow light and sight into the structure. Passersby can easily view the activities of the dancers inside.

“We liked the idea of breaking up the mass and scale of the large building by using two different materials. The copper screen looks more solid during the day and perforated at night when lights are on behind it. Plus, the varying angles of the sun makes the copper ever-changing, and the natural patina process will change it further over time as well,” Walker adds. “I think copper adds an element that may be more dynamic than any other metal material we have used.”

Create a Mosaic with Metal Panels

Metal panels are available in any number of vibrant standard or custom colors. Designers can use this material to create an impressive mosaic on a facade or as an exterior architectural element. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways that designers have used this material to make a statement.

Photo: Tom Coplen

The bold mosaic on the facade of the Alma Brewer Strawn Elementary School was constructed out of metal wall panels finished in cardinal red, colonial red, and burgundy.

At the new Alma Brewer Strawn Elementary School in Lytton Springs, Texas, the design team created a random pattern of bold metal wall panels to serve as a focal point in the design of the 58,000-square-foot facility. The 24-gauge vertical flush panels were finished in cardinal red, colonial red, and burgundy. “We liked the playfulness of the random red panels for this elementary-school application,” explains Brian Cotsworth, project manager at the firm Huckabee in Austin, Texas. “The metal panels also helped to bring down the scale of the building. The profiles really complement one another and blend well with the limestone on the lower level. It’s a progressive design that everyone really appreciates.”

Exterior wall panels in three different colors were also specified to clad a vertical rooftop extension of the auditorium and stage at the new Austin Independent School District Performing Arts Center. The 62,000-square-foot facility serves all Austin ISD schools and offers a 1,200-seat auditorium that hosts concerts and theatrical performances in a 250-seat black box theater. The project has received LEED Gold certification as well as a five-star rating from Austin Energy Green Building, its highest honor.

“One goal of the designers was to make the extension and the auditorium appear like one sculptural element,” explains Jessica Molter, project architect and principal at Pfluger Architects. To that end, the team set the tall structure away from the edge of the roof and clad it in an eye-catching mosaic of burgundy, colonial red, and terra cotta metal panels. “The decision to use metal on the rooftop extension was made early in the process,” Molter continues. “We thought the metal would give us the wow factor from a distance. We first considered using just a single color, but the consensus was that we needed something that stood out even more. That’s why we went with the nice three-color combination.”

Photo: Tom Coplen

At the Austin Independent School District Performing Arts Center, metal panels finished in three colors clad a vertical rooftop extension of the 1,200-seat auditorium.

The colors of the metal panels were selected to complement the rich tones of the maple used extensively on the interior of the auditorium and main-entry lobby. “The facade of the main lobby was mostly glass that revealed the vertical wood paneling inside,” Molter says. “We had a strong desire to design the building so that it would read as if the same wood material cut through to the outside. We wanted the upper, exterior material to appear as an architectural continuation of the maple paneling, an effect that is quite visible at night when the lobby is illuminated.”

Ultimately, metal panels can be used from top to bottom on a home or commercial building to deliver high-performance, efficiency-enhancing, weather-resistant exteriors with high-caliber flair. Metal roofs can stay cool to the touch under the blazing sun, while helping to keep the interior air and local environmental temperatures low. Metal wall panels can be used to create vibrant and eye-catching facades that inspire or spark the imaginations of passersby. Used as either a roof or wall, metal panels offer designers flexible and functional solutions that can help them achieve their most dramatic creative visions.

Jeanette Fitzgerald Pitts has written nearly 100 continuing education courses exploring the benefits of incorporating new building products, systems, and processes into project design and development.


Petersen Aluminum Petersen produces a line of architectural metal products including metal roofing and wall panel systems, composite wall panels, column covers, soffit, coping, flashing and trim. 46 standard PAC-CLAD colors, 35 Cool Colors and 30 Energy Star, all include a 30-year finish warranty.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in September 2019