The Architectural Applications of Zinc

The Architectural Applications of Zinc

Many times, the most innovative minds in architecture aren't the architects themselves. They can come in the form of students, researchers and in this case - providers. We recently asked VMZINC, a company that provides material solutions for architects, a few questions about the use of zinc in architecture, the Stonehenge Visitors Center and more.

How do you create intricate shapes with zinc, as seen in the roof at the Stonehenge Visitors Center?

VMZINC: We customized our bent metal panels to meet our clients’ needs and specifications for seamless construction of intricate shapes, whether they are straight, curved, folded or all of those. When they have determined the specific needs of their project, then we look specifically at the size and angle specifications, as well as how and where the panel will be used, as we help them make the best determination of what amount of material they will need and as we place the order. It is of critical importance to ensure that panel lengths are correct, because they are too short, adding more material may be difficult and detract from the desired aesthetic. Panels are too large for a project means the zinc will be wasted unnecessarily, which we try to avoid both for environmental impact as well as for keeping the product affordable for our clients.

As soon as our customer accepts our terms, conditions and pricing for the products that they want to purchase, their order is entered into our fabrication system, where one project coordinator (PC) will assume responsibility for the project as well as for all communication with customers to answer any questions or address any concerns that they might have.

We have very high standards for each of our quality checks and a low tolerance for any mistakes made in the processing of customers’ orders and handling of their materials. These quality controls have allowed us able to create an award-winning assortment of unique designed protects in all types of terrain and climates.

The Roof Of Stonehenge - Custom Zinc Panels Fabricated By VMZINC. Image © Peter Cook

What are the benefits of using Zinc in an architectural setting?

VMZINC: Zinc performs the basic duties you would expect of any quality metal used for building. It keeps harmful elements out, safely protects what is housed within the unit and contributes to a building’s overall excellence. It is lightweight but strong. Zinc is compatible in association with many materials such as wood, brick and glass. In fact, its capacity to blend with or even highlight other materials, and to heighten their minerality (their natural aspect or their industrial dimension) is one of its advantages over other materials. Additionally, zinc is incredibly malleable. A 30-foot zinc panel can form to a gradual radius without the panel needing to be pre-curved using any metal tools or machinery.

Also making zinc appealing to architects is its relatively low startup costs, especially when measuring its environmental and maintenance savings. Zinc requires little to no maintenance over the life span of the panel due to the self-protective patina that forms on the material to heal any scratches on the surface.

Finally, zinc is naturally smooth and shiny when it comes out of the mill. It is also available pre-weathered or in our newest product, AZENGAR, which gives zinc an engraved look and feel. We also offer colored zinc called PIGMENTO, which is available in red, green, blue, and brown and allows architects and homeowners to create colorful designs with an expanded palette that blends perfectly with other materials. QUARTZ-ZINC, is a factory formed pre-weathered zinc that gives the metal an aged look, while ANTHRA-ZINC is dipped into an acid bath that turns the product into a rich charcoal black color.

What different architectural applications does zinc have?

VMZINC: Many architects incorporate zinc into their roofing needs because it is more durable and cost effective than other metals. Zinc is malleable, flexible and suitable for all roof pitches above 5 percent. These characteristics allow architects a great deal of freedom of expression for roof design when using zinc.

Zinc also is popular in façade applications as an extension of the building envelope from the roof down to the walls. All VMZINC facade systems belong to the rain screen family, cladding with a ventilated air space for sustainable performance. They come in straight, curved and complex designs that can be laid horizontally or vertically.

Additionally, we offer a standard range of roof ornaments such as weather vanes and dormers with our partner, Ornametals. Ornametals also helps us provide zinc rainwater systems that feature special kits with gutters, concealed brackets, stop-ends, corners, running outlets, downpipes and self-locking pipe brackets. Another partnership with W.P. Hickman allows our portfolio of products to include zinc coping caps featuring a two-piece design with a snap-on fascia and rigid termination bar to assure that wind and water stay out of the roof membrane. These coping caps come in both standard and customized sizes.

A recent development has been the inclusion of our residential zinc countertops and commercial bars. Zinc provides a pristine surface for various areas in the kitchen and other areas of the home, ranging from breakfast bars to bathroom vanities. These versatile countertops give architects and homeowners surfaces that are of high quality, and provide a clean and modern look and permanence.

Is Zinc considered a sustainable product?

VMZINC: Most definitely. Zinc ranks as the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. It exists naturally in air, water, and soil. Most rocks and many minerals contain zinc in varying degrees. It is relatively easy to mine thanks in part to being so abundant.

A big sustainability advantage for zinc over other metals is that it takes much less energy to refine zinc than aluminum, copper, or stainless steel. For instance, the energy required to produce zinc from ore is a quarter of that needed to make aluminum and half of that needed for copper and steel. 

Is Zinc Recyclable?

VMZINC: Yes, zinc is 100 percent recyclable even at the end of its life. Because scrap of VMZINC has a high metal content, many new products can be created from recycled zinc, including but not limited to zinc oxides used in paint, rubber production, and pharmaceutical products.

What is the life span of Zinc in an exterior setting?

VMZINC: Zinc will typically last between 80 and 100 years in exterior settings, depending on its application and location. This includes zinc used for roofing. Though results can vary due to outside factors, typically zinc roofs can last up to 100 years in rural areas, while zinc walls may last more than a century. In Europe, where zinc use is the most prevalent, roofs, gutters and wall systems have been known to last for generations.

Helping zinc’s durability is the fact that it naturally develops a protective patina that increases its lifespan as well as allows it to withstand harsh elements over decades. This process makes zinc low maintenance over the years as well, as zinc redevelops or “self-heals” any imperfections thanks to the patina. Officially called zinc hydroxyl-carbonate, this patina blocks moisture and chemicals from penetrating it. If that protective layer is ever scratched, the hydroxyl-carbonate will reform over time (typically taking two to five years, depending on the climate), making zinc naturally resistant to corrosion.

Interested in learning more about Materials and how you can use them in your projects? Check out our new US product catalog, ArchDaily Materials!

About this author
Cite: Andrew Galloway. "The Architectural Applications of Zinc" 06 Aug 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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