Zinc is undoubtedly achieving increasing prominence as a façade and roofing material through projects of increasingly high profile. Its sustainability is reflected by an already thriving recycling market which, in western Europe, is already seeing around 90% of old rolled zinc being reused. In addition, energy consumption in the manufacturing process from natural ore is the lowest of any metal used in construction today. The lasting appearance and low maintenance requirements over a design life spanning 50 years thus enables zinc’s level of sustainability to be clearly defined.

Coventry University’s new Health Design and Technology Institute has incorporated the latest innovations in building access and inclusive design to allow effective perception of depth and texture for the partially sighted. Zinc was used in the £5.2 million design, but in this case for both exterior cladding and as an element of interior design. Associated Architects’ project architect Matthew Lucas commented, “The overall concept was to create a legible spine which links spaces through the building. It was important that this element read internally and externally. We selected zinc because we wanted a material which could be crisp and express the spine but also have a hand made quality. We developed an elevation treatment which had varying vertical widths and we wanted to create a different aesthetic when viewed from various angles. This led to the development of the splayed window heads and cills which has been very successful. We used the zinc internally on feature walls and the lift shaft. This created a homogenous aesthetic on the project.”

Designed around a central breakout space, the institute houses design studios, laboratories, workshops and test areas where researchers and clients can explore and evaluate new ideas. The zinc spine links two wings and the building has exposed concrete soffits. Specialist metal contractor Richardson Roofing undertook installation of the zinc and a complex carpentry specification for the outer wall substrate.

Such projects highlight the way in which zinc can be used to fulfill design criteria based on a combination of aesthetics, practicality, performance and sustainability. The range of finishes VM Zinc now offers enormous design scope for use of standing seam and interlocking panel systems with contemporary and traditional materials.