Top Five: Exterior Skins

by Matthew Bushey, August 26, 2010

posted by Matthew Bushey, AIA

Summer is starting to wind down, and we’re enjoying these last few days of late August.  So too are we nearing the end of our 10-part series of Top Five lists of our favorite products and places.
To prove that I care about more than just what’s on the inside, this week I review my top five exterior cladding materials.  Some of these products can be found on our own buildings designed by TruexCullins, but I didn’t work on any of these projects personally, so I feel I’m still able to provide somewhat of an unbiased opinion.
1.   Parklex Facade
You may have seen this new façade go up on the Maltex Building on Pine Street.  This TruexCullins project included the interior and exterior renovation of a 1960s office building. The lower half of the front of the building is clad with Parklex exterior panels.
What looks like a simple wood panel is actually a highly engineered product designed to withstand the forces of nature, suitable for even our harsh Vermont winters.  Technically speaking, it is a high-density stratified timber panel manufactured from kraft paper treated with resins.  The panel is factory-finished with a wood veneer that is resistant to UV radiation.  The product comes in 4×8 sheets in 8 colors.  The “gold” color was used at the Maltex building.
Parklex is a Spanish company.  We also looked at one of their competitors who makes a similar product, Prodema, which is also from Spain.
2EcoClad Exterior by Klip Biotechnologies
The EcoClad Exterior panel is one of the newest products from Joel Klippert, the inventor of that popular green countertop material, PaperStone. 
EcoClad is a bio-composite panel that comes in standard 4 x 8 sheets.  It is available in 10 wood grains and 8 matte colors, all as stock products, and custom color matching is available.  Like Paperstone, this product is made primarily from FSC-certified post-consumer recycled paper with a water-based co-polymer resin binder.  The difference here is that bamboo strands are added to the mix, a rapidly-renewable resource that adds strength, durability, and scratch resistance.
So far, there are very few installations of EcoClad, probably due at least in part to its high price.  But I hope it catches on, as it is a beautiful, sustainable cladding material with a truly modern look.
3.  Highway Signboard Backing
This new house, recently completed on Chase Street in Burlington, is unlike any of its neighbors.  Designed by architect Christian Brown, the home features some creative exterior skins.
What I find most unique about it, at least on the exterior, is the use of highway signboard backing as an exterior cladding material.  This is a novel use of a relatively inexpensive material.  Exterior wood panels (like Parklex) or composite panels (like EcoClad) are normally pretty expensive, but I imagine this is a much cheaper solution.  It might help to have a friend who works at the state highway department.  This material is what they use to make highway road signs, so you know it’s rigid, water resistant, and can withstand a fair amount of force.
If you’d like to take a closer look, this project is one of the houses that is on the upcoming AIA Vermont Home Tour, September 11th from 10 to 3pm.  The theme for this year’s tour is “The Tradition of Innovation”.  For more info, click over to http://www.aiavt.org/, or jump directly to this PDF of the event postcard that describes all six homes that are on the tour.
4.  Insulated Metal Panels by Metecno
The Heritage Aviation facility at the Burlington airport was recently expanded to include this renovated aircraft hangar and Fixed Based Operation for the private charter airline.  The 1955-era Army National Guard hangar was stripped to the underlying steel and concrete shell and then outfitted with a new high-performance exterior envelope.  One of the key components in this new envelope is the skin of insulated metal panels.  The product used here was Metecno, but we would also recommend another brand, Kingspan.
The core material is a laminated polyiso insulation.  The gurus at Building Science Corp have touted polyiso as one of the best choices in rigid insulation, so we know that the laminated panel is a great way to provide wall insulation and finish material in one easy step.  The panels lock together to form a continuous skin around the entire building.
What I like about the composition of the Heritage Building is the random mix of colors and the proportion of the individual pieces.  This façade proves that insulated metal panels need not be reserved for suburban warehouses or undecorated sheds.
5.  Corrugated Metal Panels by Centria
For the last entry, I’m going back to the Maltex building.  This time, I’m looking at the corrugated metal skin along the top of the façade.  These metal panels are from the Concept Series by Centria.  They are a ribbed panel with interlocking joints and concealed fasteners.
What’s most striking about this installation is how the signage is built right into the skin.  The lettering and the graphic logo were cut directly out of the metal using a high-precision waterjet.  The profile of the corrugated metal gives the graphics a deeper relief and increased dimension.
What used to be a nondescript painted concrete block box has been made into something of a modern landmark. The ribbed metal marries nicely with the Parklex wood skin, and together, this new palette of materials complements the beauty of the original 1899 brick structure.  What I like best about this façade – and many of the other projects in this list of five – is the unconventional use of the materials that are all too often used in mundane ways. 
What do you think of these five building skins?  Leave a comment below.  And come back next week for my final post.

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