Metal Architecture Taps Legat’s Loren Johnson as Judge for Awards Competition
National metal design competition juror reflects on state of metal in the architectural industry
Loren Johnson, designer at Legat Architects, served as one of three judges for the 2017 Metal Architecture Design Awards. Among the winners in the seven categories were a visitor center at one of the largest urban parks in the country, an office building, a pediatric clinic, three museums, and several educational buildings.
After pouring over 150 entries from local, regional, and internationally-renowned designers, Johnson and his fellow jurors took note of several trends. Despite the debates the submissions incited, one thing is certain: metal is and will continue to be a critical material in the building industry.
Following are several of Johnson’s observations about the use of metal.
Lesson 1: Subtlety
In several cases, the jury praised a more subtle approach to the use of metal, rather than blatant attempts to maximize the amount of the material used. A case in point is Grand Award Winner First Tennessee Visitor Center at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee. Johnson praised the facility for exemplifying “a much more humanistic way to design with metal.”
The cantilevered upper level of the 8,000-square-foot facility creates a sheltered porch, complete with large overhead recessed fans that improve airflow. The façade’s aluminum bar grating highlights the structural system, while lower-level voids between functions invite people to step inside.
Johnson also admired the shifting appearance of the panels. “When one thinks of metal panels, what typically comes to mind is something that is solid and perhaps reflective,” he said. “However, what often gets neglected is the play of light and shadow and how it changes throughout the day. The visitor center reveals that the designers were very conscious of these often overlooked factors.”
A similarly light-conscious use of metal is Mundelein High School’s science and classroom expansion. Because of the white metal’s versatility, its appearance changes depending on shading, sunlight, and perspective.
Lesson 2: Consideration of Other Materials
In several instances, the Metal Architecture jury expressed interest in how metal was used in conjunction with other materials, whether that meant blending or contrasting. Johnson cites The Cultural Center at the Portland Japanese Garden (Portland, Oregon) as a prime example.
He said, “I was particularly impressed by the sharp angled roofs and the stark contrast between the lower aluminum and upper green roofs, as well as the thoughtful use of metal soffits.”
Another example of a structure whose metal panels respect other façade materials is the Hyatt Place Chicago South/University Medical Center. In this case, it is zinc shingles, which created a cool counterpoint to the darker and larger porcelain tiles. The result is a diverse tapestry of contemporary materials that establish the hotel as a chic, though respectful resident of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
Lesson 3: Honesty in Materiality
The natural metals category piqued the interest of the jurors. Should architects specify a naturally weathering steel that develops a patina to protect it from corrosion? Or should a project use a more coated reflective approach like a mirrored metal?
Johnson believes that the use of metal in its most natural state (as opposed to metal that is painted, refinished, or altered in some way) achieves a strong aesthetic expression. He reports that quite a bit of juror conversation focused on the natural metals category “because natural metal has so many different ways it expresses itself. It has its own awards category in this case, but architects in general should strive for honesty in materiality.”
The winner in this category, the Minneapolis-based T3 Office Building, features a pre-weathered steel exterior that blends with a historic warehouse district, along with massive steel blanks as an interior finishing material.
“You can see the oil stains on them,” said Johnson. “It looks like the steel came right out of the foundry.”
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