Delivering bold, beautiful, but resilient buildings is an age-old challenge for architects, particularly in today’s climate, when so much emphasis is placed on balancing visual appeal with structural performance.
Architects want to ensure their creations are a cut above the rest. However, advances in technology, particularly around finishes and more specifically, powder coating, are helping to bring their creativity to life whilst still guaranteeing structural protection and resilience.
The perfect fit
Fundamentally, the beauty of powder coating is that ‘less is more’, using fewer resources to achieve a specific look and feel. Having started out with basic colourways, processes and techniques have come a long way over the past few decades, driven by more ambitious creative concepts for facades and interiors.
Specifier appetites have challenged our industry to deliver a wider array of toned, patterned and even textured finishes and keep its hand in the game in a fiercely competitive materials market.
Not only has it encouraged and inspired us to create a vast range of different colours, but it’s also led us to create surfaces that faithfully mimic the aesthetic qualities of traditional materials either regarded as cumbersome or carbon-heavy.
With sustainability a key aspect of the contemporary design brief, being able to achieve a desired style, whilst keeping emissions down is a massive bonus. One which powder coating can take advantage of.
As these surfaces can be produced quickly and relatively economically, we can now replicate solid timber, coloured glass or even distressed metal finishes to a standard previously considered unattainable.
A recent example of how close we can get a powder-coated surface to the source material can be found in the growing demand for ‘glazed terracotta’. Often expensive, weighty, and hindered by added design complexity (such as the need for substantial back panels), it’s remained a ‘no-no’ for many specification plans. However, new techniques of creating ‘made to match’ colourways have made it a viable option, leading the way for new design opportunities.
Even better, finishes don’t have to be like-for-like, architects can now dream of something entirely new. It may be the look of a specific aged timber or the ‘snaking vein’ within a piece of marble that catches an architect’s eye, all of which can be used as a design ‘launch pad’. These ‘inspirations’ can be merged into the final finish to create a powder coating that is exclusive to the project and most importantly, appears authentic.
Built to last and easy to replace
Innovations in powder coating production and application have also helped increase durability, making it competitive with other high-performance façade materials, including toughened glass.
The rise of ‘super durables’, which protect the metal from corrosion for decades longer than previous iterations, is now readily available. And it isn’t just about preventative measures, colour and gloss retention have also seen marked improvements, allowing buildings to maintain their visual appeal long after being erected.
Opting for high-quality powder coatings not only means achieving the right finish but also protecting it from the elements, a valid concern given current, unpredictable weather patterns. What’s more, powder-coating finishes are consistent and repeatable, so there’s no need to replace and fit expensive tiles or metals. Low-effort maintenance, such as a simple wash with water, will also keep facades looking ‘box fresh’ for years to come.
Powder coating isn’t just evolving in terms of design and durability, the refinement of processes has delivered a step change in eco-friendly practices. From September 2024, the industry will have moved away from chrome pre-treatments entirely. Used as a way to help “fuse” the powder coating to the metal substrate and protect against corrosion, it was common practice.
However, the latest application methods and the quality of today’s powder coats mean that chrome is no longer needed. Removing this dangerous pre-treatment and replacing it with long-established alternatives pioneered in the automotive industry not only makes powder-coated materials much more recyclable, but it can also be achieved without any loss in performance. Furthermore, as the chrome is carcinogenic, it’s safer for all those who handle these chemicals and the surrounding environments.
The final hurdle
For specifiers, who have put blood, sweat, and tears into making architectural magic, ensuring a building’s longevity is essential, yet many fall at the final hurdle. A lack of proper consideration or a hurry to complete means the finish gets overlooked. The result is that buildings quickly tarnish or are damaged, losing aesthetic appeal and compromising performance.
I often say finishes are ‘the first thing you see but the last thing you think about’ and the impact can be profound. By having the capability to achieve a wood or metal powder coat finish, designers and specifiers can slim-line designs, reduce weight, and by extension, dramatically lower a project’s carbon footprint. New technologies are making this possible – and this is just the beginning.