Story at a glance

  • Metal cladding is often chosen by architects for its longevity and cost efficiency.
  • Today’s metal has an increased emphasis on sustainability and performance.
  • Modern metal cladding solutions are available in more color and finish offerings.

When a hurricane hit Mississippi a few years ago, all the homes in one area were flattened except the Blue House with its blue metal roof. It’s a testament to the durability of their products, says Kenneth Holler of Petersen, manufacturer of PAC-CLAD architectural metals.

Holler says some architects are primarily concerned with performance, while others are all about aesthetics, but the right metal cladding accomplishes both. “What has become common is the uncommon,” he says.

Aesthetics of Metal

Modern clients want buildings with unique facades. That’s why Petersen’s PAC-CLAD product line includes an extensive offering of wall and roof cladding systems, perimeter and edge products, and custom fabrication services. Their wall panels alone come in more than 45 standard colors, multiple wood grains, and custom finishes.

Part of Holler’s job is to work with designers, structural engineers, and contractors to help them choose the right cladding for their project. For example, when the Perkins Eastman team was designing the International Magnet School for Global Citizenship in South Windsor, Connecticut, metal roofs were the obvious choice from the beginning. “There are a lot of barns in the area, and many of them have standing seam metal roofs, and zoning requirements stipulated that any portion of the building that faced a major street must have a pitched roof,” says Joseph Culotta, project architect at Perkins Eastman.

In that design, four adjoining structures were laid out in a “village” configuration, with a circular media center acting as the hub of the school. Aluminum Snap-Clad panels were segmented to create the roof of the media center and each of the other four structures. The design team chose Hartford Green and Dark Bronze finishes to reference the local area and complement the brick and concrete masonry facade.

Sustainable Solutions


The John Lewis Elementary School was designed for net-zero energy and “net-positive” education. Photo by Joseph Romeo

Perkins Eastman often turns to metal panels to help make projects more sustainable. They also designed the John Lewis Elementary School in Washington, D.C.; it’s reported to be the world’s first net-zero, LEED Platinum, and WELL-certified public school. “Material selection was based on delivering the highest performance space for the kids,” says Nicholas Leahy, co-CEO and executive director at Perkins Eastman.

Light color metal panels were used on the facade of this project to blend in with the surrounding residential neighborhood. The insulated metal panels also eliminated the need for an air barrier system.

Truly efficient buildings often have strong exterior insulation, according to Holler. “The building envelope has evolved, and we’ve been evolving along with that envelope,” he says. “Metal has become a very popular cladding product because of that evolution.”

Holler continues, “We’re now moving insulation to the outside of the building. The wall panel becomes part of the whole rainscreen system. We’re using it to get better efficiency, better sustainability, and better energy performance.” It can also reduce the risk of mold growth.

Innovative Technology


The design of the Altgeld Gardens public housing complex in Chicago included metal wall panels in a custom Dynamic Blue finish. Photo by Horton Photography

Leahy says technology is changing the way the industry works with metal. With the introduction of Boolean geometry to computer programs like Rhino, architects can create any form, and with the advancement of technology like CNC machines, manufacturers can customize far beyond the more expected standard offerings.


Themed around a moonrise, a new Symphony Hall designed by Perkins Eastman is under construction in Wuxi, China. Rendering courtesy of Perkins Eastman | Pfeiffer

Perkins Eastman recently worked on a very expressive design themed around a “moonrise” for a Symphony Hall in China. The roof was first sculpted using software, and then Rhino and parametric modeling were used to determine the panelization and connections. Zinc panels were chosen for their longevity and sustainability. The panels were overlaid to look like reptile skin, a nod to the dragon in Chinese culture.

Petersen also takes advantage of technological advancements to create more custom solutions for clients. Play was at the center of the KOO Architecture–designed Altgeld Family Resource Center, for example. Located in Altgeld Gardens, a Chicago public housing complex that was once a dumping ground for toxic waste, the new resource center includes a library, childcare center, and community meeting rooms.

In contrast to the mostly boxy buildings of its surroundings, the resource center is a continuous curved ribbon, with no distinct front or back. The outside facade is made with masonry to echo the brick used in the development, but KOO opted to use blue metal wall panels for the interior courtyard.

With its compelling curves and angles and custom cutouts, installers from Progressive Dynamics handmade many of the panels from PAC-CLAD coil. The blue wall panels contribute to creating a separate protected space in the courtyard, where children are free to play. Part of the blue metal walls and roof peak above the masonry, for bits of whimsy seen from the outside.

Holler says no matter how trends evolve, beauty and performance are always top priorities for Petersen. “Our products contribute to beautiful buildings that are functional and sustainable because beautiful buildings get maintained.”


Millennium High School uses metal wall panels for its exterior facades to capture the school spirit. Photo by Alan Blakely