I’ve been researching weathering, aging, or degradation of exterior cladding materials over this semester because I’m working on a design project that deals with embracing patina rather than discarding worn materials for new. I chose the architectural problem of material degradation because I felt that material streams, especially in residential applications, were very much ‘cradle to grave’ with relatively short life spans. My intention has been to come up with a way to stop the waste, accept the degradation, see it as beautiful, and give materials long lives as cladding.
Though I have not been surprised by everything my research has uncovered on this topic, I have begun to notice something interesting. People are not necessarily opposed to aged-looking materials; in fact, distressed or rustic is a popular aesthetic. Instead the opposition seems to be toward materials that are actually aged or rather, old. Embracing the fact that everything ages over time is not something that I feel our society is very good at doing. There is a need to have things always shiny and new when it comes to our possessions, our homes. We’ve made materials to clad our houses that are supposed to outlast any natural cladding system, however because of their longevity, the cladding materials ultimately end up degraded to a point of aesthetic displeasure and in a landfill.
There are a few approaches to weathered, or weathered looking material that I think are important to note. The first is closely related to the idea of making low maintenance cladding materials to outlast traditional wood options. The below image is a vinyl material made to look like aged cedar – the fake weathered approach.
This is a material made to look like it has seen many years, but that also will never change over the span of a decade.
The second approach is to constantly add protection to materials that will weather. In the case of houses, this material is wood. In order to maintain wood siding to a level of ‘acceptable’ aesthetic, one must paint or stain it every five years. This, of course, is the reason so many people have turned to materials like vinyl.
Another approach sort of takes the first two approaches and combines them in a sophisticated manner. Corten steel is a material force-weathered to the point where a layer of oxidization becomes the protective layer for the steel underneath – a method that allows the metal to be unfinished. This actually comes closer to my idea of a good approach to weathered cladding systems, which is to design it right at the beginning and to let it last over time without additional chemical coatings.
This brings me to the final approach that one could take, natural weathering. Wood already succeeds in weathering beautifully by the natural forces of the environment. I am puzzled as to why the aesthetic of aged wood is rejected for new residential applications. The rot that could occur due to water infiltration may be a deterrent, however different methods of installation could prevent moisture from sitting in the material for long periods, thus decreasing the risk of rot. Innovation in how the materials are constructed could be the answer to giving wood and other beautifully weathering materials another chance to be the go-to cladding system on homes.