The sky’s the limit for zinc

Jonathan Lowy of VMZinc explains how Zinc can now be specified far more easily for a wide range of projects, whether it’s for a transformation of a tower block or creating a vibrant interior.

Cast your mind back 15 years and zinc roofing, cladding and rainscreen projects were still relatively uncommon. Today, however, the variety of projects in which it can be seen is almost limitless – from schools and hospitals to retail, social housing and self-builds. The material is now seen so regularly that, for many, it has become instantly recognisable.

The ability to specify zinc in a variety of colours adds a fresh context to its use. Sustainable, pre-weathered colours and distinctive, highly evocative shades are available from manufactures. These lend themselves to both rural and urban environments and can provide a level

of colour retention which sustains the ‘as-installed’ appearance. For older buildings, often of no architectural value, upgrading can also introduce a highly contemporary visual aesthetic.

A good example is Cambrian House in the centre of Shrewsbury where, as part of a £3m renovation, an interlocking panel facade was specified in conjunction
with a standing seam and flat lock panel roofing system. This has enabled a dreary 1960s office block to be converted into what has become a highly sought after apartment building.

Zinc was installed to the principal elevation and existing concrete frame, with contrasting dark and engraved finishes being used to complement oak and render in the creation of 17 apartments
and penthouses.

In much the same way, the regeneration of Friars Mill, Leicester’s oldest wool mill, came at a time when the building had lain derelict for many years after a fire destroyed the roof. The Grade II-listed building was considered ideal for creation of high quality, creative workspaces within a £4m conservation framework. Externally, Levitate Architects’ design saw new services housed in a zinc and glass extension in order to reduce impact on interior spaces. The project establishes a sustainable and appropriate use for buildings previously considered to be at high risk.

The scope to create curved profiles and complex detailing has made zinc a highly practical option. Projects as diverse as Red Box Design Group’s transformation of Newcastle College’s Parsons Tower and de Rijke Marsh Morgan’s Hastings Pier redevelopment (shortlisted for this year’s Stirling Prize) show its effectiveness in both modern and traditional designs. Domed, natural zinc roofs spanning covered seating areas of the £14.2m pier are particularly eye catching and complement facades, all of which will take on the natural patination for which zinc is renowned.

At Parsons Tower in Newcastle, zinc played a pivotal part in the rejuvenation of an ugly tower block, the visual impact of which was all the more obtrusive given its position on one of the main approaches to the city. Being such a dominant feature of the local landscape, a key element of the design brief was to transform the building into one with a distinctive and positive visual aesthetic. This was achieved in large part by extending the facade into the roofline using two contrasting shades of zinc.

The overall effect has been to provide a thermally efficient structure which extends the usable life for student accommodation by at least 40 years.

Zinc is less well known for its use in interiors but this too is beginning to change with specifications for areas such as hallways, stairwells and hotel foyers. Its use as an intrinsic element of design can also be seen in restaurants, bars and public buildings such as museums and libraries.

Zinc’s muted colours and texture provide a step away from the neutral tones favoured for so long in such environments and not only create a greater sense of identity but can add sensory value too. They blend well with wood, stone, ceramic, slate and fabrics in the creation of highly contemporary and atmospheric settings. With lengths of up to 2.5 metres and the light weight and resilience of panels there is no compromise in terms of fabrication or installation, available time for which can often be very limited.

Zinc cassettes have a simple yet innovative fixing system that makes assembly and disassembly quick and easy, while bespoke sizes, colours and shapes are now very much the order of the day. The degree of customisation available extends to stamped images and perforation of panels to meet corporate design requirements, to allow for back-lighting and to meet levels
of acoustic performance.

The first engraved zinc is also now available for use in construction. It has provided further discernible refinement for the metal and resulted from consultation with more than 400 architects throughout the world. In conjunction with the first BBA approval for both non-vented standing seam structural warm roof and compact roof systems, and availability of BIM objects through NBS Plus, the ease with which zinc can be specified has never been greater.

Jonathan Lowy is operational marketing manager, VMZinc