Celebrating Earth Day by Understanding Metal’s Role in Sustainability

Our special webinar series METAL ARCHITECTURE at METALCON, aimed at showcasing projects that illustrate the beauty, durability, efficiency, and sustainability of metal, continued earlier this month with a panel of three industry leaders who discussed how metal building products support the increasing demand for sustainable building practices. Moderated by Paul Deffenbaugh, editorial director of Metal Architecture, two architects from two ends of the country discussed their selection process for metal building components on recently executed projects.

Rick Schneider, FAIA, principal of ISTUDIO Architects, Washington, D.C., talked about the newly completed Marvin Gaye Recreation Center in Washington, and Hafsa Burt, studio head, hb+a Architects, San Francisco, presented her modular residential construction called the “Box Factory” as a sustainable model home that could fit in any environment. Both projects selected a variety of steel and metal materials for their long-term sustainable benefits. Bob Zabcik, P.E., technical director of the Metal Construction Association, joined the conversation by providing technical insight along with his extensive knowledge of metal components and sustainable building practices.

If you missed this episode, watch it ON DEMAND! Watch it soon and you can still apply for your AIA credit or CE certificate.

Marvin Gaye Recreation Center in Washington, DC by IStudio Architects

This award-winning project for its cutting-edge sustainable strategies is the first resilient hub built in DC and the first in DC to utilize daylighting and integrated natural ventilation. Lead architect, Rich Schneider, commented, “The project used metals soup to nuts … steel structure – decorative steel – outside clad in steel panels and perforated aluminum screen.”

Schneider explained, “The entire facility is designed for sustainability which looks a lot like resilience. The building breathes – it breathes in fresh air and breathes out fresh air. Rather than burning coal, instead, the building uses the natural air. Healthier buildings improve our eco-system; built correctly, it mitigates climate change and provides strategies for climate adaptation. Green buildings are more resilient buildings.”

Schneider commented, “Design is more than the sum of data points – think outside the box when thinking of use of metals.” Steel cladding was selected because of the level of durability and flexibility, ribbed aluminum was used because it allowed them to span distances, perforated aluminum was used for decorative panels and structural steel was needed to deeply root into the ground due to it sitting on a 100 year old flood plain. 

Box Factory in Jackson, California by hb+a Architects

Box Factory; Photo Credit: e-architect

Hafsa Burt opened by saying, “Experimentation is the essence of their business.” The Box Factory project is a pre-fabbed 1750 sq ft single family home that sits on a 9-acre site in northern California. It is a zero energy zero carbon home with energy provided by solar and water coming from an existing well. The decision to use specified metal materials and galvanized sheet panels were made in part to fit in with the existing eco-system of the surrounding land and area. Referencing a Cambridge study that said “you can reduce carbon emissions by reducing materials,” Hurt decided to used a pre-fabbed structure which meant minimum construction and a big positive for metal products. She commented, “Prefabrication was key for the speed of the project and definitely created a new way of thinking about metal applications.”

Metal’s Role in Sustainability

Bob Zabcik, P.E., technical director with the Metal Construction Association, shared the ways MCA is helping to promote the value of metal to building owners, architects, consultants, and contractors by focusing on educating them on the aesthetics and performance. The MCA website offers informational Type III Environmental Product Declarations (EPDS) available for download on IMPs, metal composite materials and roll formed cladding. These EPDS’s get updated every five years.

The challenge is to get people past their old biases about metal and steel so the mission is to make people aware of the materials on MCA’s website and through education programming. Bob shared, “The metal industry is constantly working to be cleaner. Most of environmental impacts have already happened by the time the product reaches the job site so much of the impact needs to happen during manufacturing process. Still comes back to getting people educated on the current data versus old data and get them past old biases.” Metal products will last 45-60 years and the concept “cradle to grave” is an important one.

When people need recycled product information and information on the sustainability of steel, Bob suggests looking to the industry association, AISI. According to AISI, the American steel industry is the cleanest and most energy-efficient of the seven largest steel producing countries in the world. Going direct to manufacturers may not give you all the answers you need but industry associations can provide “bigger picture” data. 

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