Metal as Ornament

Metal gets a lot of credit as a material of strength in architecture. It was during the industrial revolution when building was introduced to the wonderful tensile strength of iron and then steel. The Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London was one of the first examples of metal being used to support the spanning form of a space unseemly at that time. It was shortly thereafter when steel framing became the method of structuring buildings so that they would be able to reach into the sky. The race for the tallest building/Skyscraper, was begun with the use of steel as structure. Long before steel was created, however, metals of many different types were being used as ornament in architecture.

Metal is still commonly used as ornament or cladding for buildings. Metal technology has advanced so that machines can bend, fold, cut, perforate, weather, etc. metal into many different forms and patterns. Sometimes it is so much manipulated that it takes a second look or even a verbal description to realize that the material is use is metal. The below images are of the Wintergarden Shopping Centre in Brisbane, Australia designed by Studio 505.

Wintergarden Shopping Center

Wintergarden Shopping Center

My original thought was that the façade was a painted mural, and it took me reading about the project and looking at closer details to learn that this façade is comprised of five layers of various metals as seen in the diagram below.

Wintergarden Shopping Center – Facade Detail

The façade is exciting in ways not only of beauty and intrigue, but also that it demonstrates a use for manipulated metal in a way that speaks of artistry, durability, and protection. This metal façade has the potential for a lifespan longer than anything that could have been achieved through painted murals. And where a painted mural would have required opaque backing, this façade has built in structuring in the layers as well as a built-in sunscreen that allows light to penetrate into the building.

Wintergarden Shopping Center – Interior

There is something to be said about long spans and soaring heights being reached through the use of steel/metal in construction, but so much can be done with the various types of metals that can be found and manipulated for use in covering our buildings. This leaves room for countless innovations to be made, like in the Wintergarden facades, in order to awe with the result.


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