Proteus Facades explains how copper cladding is bringing timeworn buildings back to life

Simon Gregory, Sales Manager at Proteus Facades, looks at how modern rainscreen cladding materials are helping architects re-purpose buildings that are listed or have other architectural merit, whilst still retaining their originality.

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here are thousands of buildings across the UK that are protected by English Heritage listings or which present some other element of architectural interest. However, many are in need of an upgrade as the client or developer looks for ways of making the building appeal to a new generation of owners or occupiers. This can involve contemporary additions that sit harmoniously with the original building, and more often than not, these involve materials that offer some historical context, with copper being a good example. In that respect, historical and listed buildings have always evolved over time as they are made relevant to today’s market.

As a result, the majority of older buildings reflect the cumulative changes of different ownership all the way up to modern day. In fact, well-informed decisions about refurbishing a historical building can create notable points of interest that extend centuries into the future.

Historical context

Originally designed with the materials available at the time, which tended to be brick and stone, most older buildings will, at some point, require a practical refurbishment solution. That’s because they have to stand on their own against the multitude of contemporarily-designed new buildings now appearing in our city centres and be upgraded to meet with modern building performance and safety requirements. The challenge that this presents for specifiers is how to ensure that they retain a link with the past and stay in keeping with their original character.

An increasing number of architects are choosing to integrate cladding into their designs, particularly when working on the regeneration of listed buildings, due to its aesthetic and performance benefits as well as the fact that it enables the use of traditional materials such as copper and its alloys, a material that has been used on buildings for centuries.

Bronze, an alloy of copper and tin, remains a popular choice on these kinds of structures because it looks stunning from the day it is installed and then continues to develop and embellish its aesthetic qualities by taking on subtle earthy brown-red to brown-grey tones through the natural weathering process. It provides the facade with outstanding mechanical abrasion and corrosion-resistant properties that mean it is one of the most durable cladding materials available.

Another copper alloy that has the ability to sit harmoniously on architecturally-significant buildings is TECU Brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, which again creates an extremely tough, robust facade. Brass will subtly change from its initial golden colour as a result of the natural weathering process to develop a matt finish on the surface before taking on a subtle and varied brown tone that continues through to a deep, rich dark brown-anthracite.

In order to shorten the timescale for achieving the subtle muted tones, specifiers can select pre-patinated options. This is where the oxidised layer is applied before the cladding panels arrive on site, bypassing the gradual development of the earthy tones through natural weathering resulting from exposure to atmospheric conditions once the facade is installed.

Storyhouse

Bennetts Associates’ Storyhouse in Chester is a great example of how a building once frozen in time has been brought back to life by the addition of a striking copper clad facade. Cheshire West and Chester Council had a bold plan to deliver a £37m vision for transforming the Grade II Listed ODEON building, which had been closed for many years, into an exciting new communal space. Featuring our Proteus HR rainscreen clad copper ‘head’, the project was an inspired rework and reinvigoration of the 1930s cinema. Whilst the building has undergone dramatic redevelopment, it has still retained its historical character and aesthetics.

The success of the award-winning design stems from the way that the TECU Classic copper clad extension containing the theatre spaces was added to the shell of the Grade II building. The ribbed, abstracted rainscreen clad ‘fins’ create a new facade that still pays homage to the original building. However, whilst the proportions of the extension relate directly to the listed structure below, the copper and glass helps to create an aesthetic that provides contrast and identity to the new-build elements.

Sitting comfortably side by side

In addition to upgrading existing buildings, copper alloy rainscreen cladding materials are also being used to help newly-developed structures integrate with adjacent listed buildings. Take the new Emily Wilding Davison Building at Royal Holloway, University of London’s Egham campus, for example. The east side of the striking 10,000m2 building features the beautiful brown-red to brown-grey and ochre tones of TECU Bronze cladding panels. The subtle colour variations of the bronze facade helps it sit harmoniously in a site steeped in history, flanked on one side by the Grade I Listed Gothic Revival building and surrounded by one of the most beautiful natural campus landscapes of any university in the world.

TECU Bronze cladding was selected by designer, Associated Architects, because the ochre’s browns and reds resulting from the natural weathering of the copper alloy material was considered to complement the colour of the brick and clay roof tiles of the adjacent Grade I Listed structure. The size and shape of the bronze cladding panels featured heavily during the design stage, with a decision taken to go with elongated portrait format panels with horizontal joints that aligned with projecting feature ‘tree-house’ meeting pods. The sensitive design response came out of a number of constraints imposed by topological aspects of the site, with one principal factor being a need to limit the height of the new building so that it remained clearly subservient to the listed Founders Building.

Natural progression

While listing a building does impose a number of design limitations, it does not necessarily mean that it should be frozen in time. Indeed, many buildings have gained listings because they express a progression of changes over the centuries. Making well-informed decisions about listed and architecturally-significant buildings, such as those taken at Chester and Royal Holloway, can therefore result in this natural progression continuing.

Choice of materials is critical to this and copper remains one of the most versatile, attractive and adaptable architectural materials available. It has been used for centuries for roofing, cladding and rainwater systems and remains as sought-after today as it always has been. Recent innovations in how the material is presented now makes its benefits even more accessible to a wider range of projects, particularly when working on upgrading listed buildings or developing new ones to sit alongside.

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