Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Essential Zinc: Building For The Future

Low-maintenance zinc gains popularity for buildings that last
This course is no longer active
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Sponsored by Umicore Building Products
Janet Zaso
Continuing Education

Learning Objectives - After this course, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the types of building applications suitable for using zinc materials.
  2. Discuss and dispel some misconceptions about building with zinc roof systems and walls.
  3. Identify some specific installation requirements for zinc roof systems and walls.
  4. Explain the positive environmental impacts of zinc.



Zinc building products, including roofing, cladding and rainwater systems, are enjoying new popularity in North America due to recognition of product quality and its long-lasting, low-maintenance benefits for owners. From the distinctive look of the University of Cincinnati campus housing to the curves of the University Town Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, zinc roofs and wall cladding are now being specified for commercial, public and residential projects.

Design professionals have long recognized the durability of buildings in European cities such as Paris, where the beautiful patina of zinc roofs has crowned the city since the days of Napoleon III in the late 1800s. Today many of the city's rooftops are still over 80 percent zinc and some have been around for more than 100 years.

Stateside, zinc is relatively new to the market and is popping up across the country. Its rise in popularity can be attributed to more building professionals discovering the metal's distinct advantages for design flexibility and life-cycle return on investment. In addition, the positive environmental aspects of zinc are becoming better understood.  New Jersey architect Dean Marchetto of Dean Marchetto Architects PC summed up why he thinks zinc popularity is on the rise: "Zinc is a natural material that lasts forever, requires no maintenance, has superior aesthetic qualities with a natural patina, it's affordable, easy to bend and shape, and it's green."


While two-thirds of the zinc sold worldwide is for flashings and rainwater goods (gutters, downspouts and accessories), zinc roofing systems and cladding are the attention-getters. The material is suitable for a full range of applications from conventional gables, eyebrows and mansards, to more contemporary curved walls, roofs and sun shading devices. The metal has been used for building envelopes for over 150 years and is distinguished by its beautiful patina characteristic that many building professionals are starting to understand.

Tangeman Hall at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Architects: GBBN Architects & Gwathmey Siegel & Associates

Photo courtesy of Umicore Building Products


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Originally published in Architectural Record