metal cladding

Integrating Sustainable Metal Cladding Into Eco-Friendly Buildings

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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The push for sustainability in today's world is not only an immediate need but also a chance for architectural innovation. As architects and designers globally grapple with the impacts of climate change, their goal is to design environmentally conscious buildings that equally make a bold visual impact. Metal cladding is an increasingly favored sustainable material being incorporated into eco-friendly designs.

Let’s explore the innovative techniques by which sustainable metal cladding can be incorporated into green building designs.

What is Metal Cladding?

Metal cladding is the process of overlaying or covering the exterior of a building or structure with metal panels or sheets. These metal cladding panels are usually made from copper, aluminum, galvanized steel, zinc, or other alloys. The metal cladding serves functional and aesthetic purposes, improving buildings' durability, appearance, and energy efficiency.

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The cladding process typically involves attaching the metal panels to the structure's or building's framework, creating an additional layer that protects it from external elements.

What Are the Common Metal Cladding Systems?

Metal panels can be easily connected and attached to a building or structure in a wide variety of ways thanks to their foldable, malleable nature, with each metal cladding system providing different benefits in terms of aesthetic finish and construction complexity. Some of the common metal cladding systems include:

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1. Standing Seam

Standing seam cladding is one of the most popular systems due to the sturdy folding connections between each panel. Its popularity spans building types because of its sleek architectural exterior appearance, which may be achieved through its concealed fixing features. This cladding system can be used with most types of metal, including aluminum, zinc, galvanized or stainless steel, titanium, and weathering (Cor-ten) steel.

2. Flatlock and Shingle

Flatlock panels lock together to provide a smooth, malleable, thin facade. The cladding system can also be installed in reverse, "reversed flatlock," creating a deeper express line. For a remarkable variation on the flatlock cladding system, a shingled metal façade can be created using metal panels folded into interlocking tile shapes.

3. Interlocking

An interlocking system provides a smoother appearance with bold, flashy joints. Metal cladding panels that interlock can be any width and arranged in any pattern, including horizontal, vertical, and diagonal.

4. Snaplock

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Snaplock is a simpler alternative to standing seam cladding, with a comparable ribbed profile but no need for specialized closing equipment during installation. The panels of a Snaplock system are made to easily "snap" together, making assembly a breeze.

5. Cassette

The open-jointed cassette system is perfect for large cladding areas since it can accommodate up to 13-foot-long panels. The cassettes are bent and attached with invisible clips, typically to an aluminum framework, resulting in a contemporary, flat appearance.

6. Custom

If none of those mentioned above metal cladding systems work for your project, a custom system can be created by a specialized manufacturer by changing an existing system or starting from scratch. In this case, the project budget must be considered since customization considerably increases costs.

The Concept of Using Metal Cladding in Innovative and Sustainable Ways

1. Layering with Metal Cladding

Integrating metal cladding systems has redefined the way we approach building exteriors. These systems are particularly beneficial because they offer both aesthetic and environmental advantages. The metal can be recycled, reducing the building's carbon footprint.

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Additionally, the reflective properties of certain metal claddings can enhance a building's energy efficiency by reflecting sunlight and reducing the need for artificial cooling during hot months.

Layering techniques have also evolved to include perforated designs, which can provide shading while improving the building's thermal performance.

2. Green Insulation Solutions

While metal cladding offers many benefits, combining it with green insulation solutions amplifies its sustainability quotient. Materials like sheep's wool or recycled denim can be used as insulation behind metal cladding.

This ensures that buildings remain cooler in summer and warmer in winter without relying heavily on HVAC systems, thus reducing energy consumption.

3. Rainwater Harvesting Integration

One of the often overlooked advantages of metal cladding is its potential to contribute to rainwater harvesting systems. Smooth and slanted metal surfaces can direct rainwater into collection systems, which can then be purified and used for various purposes within the building, minimizing water wastage and aiding conservation efforts.

4. Solar Panel Symbiosis

For those looking to maximize a building's eco-friendliness, integrating solar panels with metal cladding is a match made in sustainable heaven. 

Metal claddings can be designed to hold solar panels, thus utilizing the exterior for energy generation. The reflective nature of some metals further optimizes solar panel performance by reflecting more sunlight onto the panels.

5. Adaptable and Modular Designs

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Metal cladding's versatility doesn't just lie in its look but also in its ability to be used in modular designs.

This means industrial buildings can be constructed with the flexibility to expand, reduce, or modify their structure in response to changing needs without the waste associated with demolition or complete reconstruction.

6. Localized Material Sourcing

Another technique to enhance the sustainability of metal cladding is to source the material locally, where possible. This reduces the carbon emissions associated with transporting materials over long distances.

Furthermore, using locally sourced metals often means that the cladding will be better suited to the local climate and environmental conditions, boosting the longevity and performance of the cladding.

7. Natural Patina Development

Certain metals, like copper or corten steel, create a natural patina over time when exposed to the weather elements. This patina acts as a protective layer, extending the lifespan of the metal. Still, it also provides a dynamic visual appeal. The building's exterior can change hues over the years, creating a living artwork that reflects the passage of time.

8. Energy-Efficient Lighting Integration

The combination of architectural metal cladding and energy-efficient lighting solutions stands as a symbol of innovative design amid the push for sustainable architecture. By seamlessly integrating lighting components into the cladding, architects can create an ideal balance between function, form, and conservation.

Thoughtful placement of LED lighting inside the cladding's contours transforms buildings into illuminated masterpieces at night while maintaining energy efficiency objectives. With this integration, traditional lighting techniques are no longer necessary, and the idea of energy conservation is extended to all aspects of a structure.

9. Sound Insulation Integration

Beyond metal wall cladding role in energy efficiency and aesthetics, the combination of metal wall cladding and sound insulation ushers in a new era of acoustic comfort in architectural design. Reducing noise pollution and providing tranquil spaces in urban environments have become increasingly important since they are becoming increasingly bustling. Here, the combination of metal cladding and sound-absorbing materials reveals a commitment to holistic sustainability.

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Architects can create tranquil havens in their buildings by integrating sound-absorbing layers within or beneath the metal cladding. Through this integration, exterior walls are transformed into barriers that keep out unwanted noise, such as the chatter of crowded streets or the clamor of traffic.

10. Waste Reduction in Production

In the push for sustainable building practices, waste reduction during metal cladding production emerges as a critical strategy. This commitment to waste reduction aligns with the overarching objective of conserving resources and reducing the environmental impact of construction activities.

Excessive material waste in traditional production can contribute considerably to environmental pollution and resource depletion. However, advances in manufacturing processes, such as computer-aided design and precision cutting, have ushered in a new era of efficiency. These advancements allow manufacturers to maximize material consumption while reducing scrap and offcuts.

Moreover, the concept of waste reduction extends to the design stage, too. Architects and engineers work together to establish precise dimensions that fit with manufacturing capabilities, reducing material waste even more. This collaboration between design and manufacture emphasizes the holistic aspect of sustainable architecture.

What Are the Advantages of Metal Cladding?

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1. Weather Resistance

Metacladding serves as a protective barrier against UV radiation, rain, snow, and wind. It prevents moisture from entering the building envelope, minimizing the risk of mold growth, water damage, and corrosion of internal components.

2. Aesthetic Versatility

Metacladding provides a huge variety of finishes, textures, and colors. This versatility allows architects and designers to achieve different design aesthetics, from rustic and industrial to sleek and modern, improving the building's aesthetic appeal.

3. Energy Efficiency

Some metal cladding systems, such as insulated metal panels (IMPs), contribute to a building's energy efficiency by offering insulation that helps manage indoor temperatures. This results in reduced heating and cooling expenses.

4. Sustainability

Most metal cladding materials are usually recyclable, making them eco-friendly options. Besides, metal cladding panels can be coated with reflective finishes that minimize heat absorption, contributing to overall energy efficiency.

5. Durability

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Metal cladding materials such as aluminum, steel, and copper are popular for their incredible durability. They can withstand temperature fluctuations, extreme weather conditions, and other environmental factors without deteriorating or requiring extensive maintenance.

6. Low Maintenance

In contrast to materials like wood or masonry, metal cladding doesn't require extensive maintenance. Regular cleaning is enough to keep metal panels looking great, making them a cost-effective option over the long term.

7. Design Flexibility

Metal cladding materials can be conveniently shaped and formed, allowing for intricate and creative designs. They can be folded, curved, and perforated to attain unique architectural features.

8. Long Lifespan

Compared to other materials, metal cladding has a long lifespan. When well installed and maintained, it can last for several decades, making it a reliable option.

9. Fire Resistance

Since metal is naturally fire-resistant, it can improve the safety of building occupants. Metal cladding can help prevent fire from penetrating the building's interior and spreading.

10. Quick Installation

Metal cladding panels are often prefabricated off-site, allowing for faster installation than traditional construction techniques. This may result in less time and money spent on building.


As the architectural world pushes boundaries and seeks sustainable solutions, metal cladding emerges as a frontrunner in eco-friendly design. It's not just about the appeal or the longevity, but the holistic approach it offers towards creating buildings that are in harmony with their environment.

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As we've seen, integrating sustainable metal cladding isn't a mere trend but a response to the pressing environmental challenges of our times. By embracing these innovative techniques, we can look forward to a future where our buildings are functional and beautiful guardians of our planet.

Frequently Asked Questions on Metal Cladding

1. What is metal cladding used for?

Metal cladding is the process of overlaying or covering the exterior of a building or structure with metal panels or sheets. It's often used to increase corrosion resistance, improve mechanical properties, repair worn-out components, or fabricate metal matrix composites. Additionally, it offers several benefits, including functionality, insulation, protection, and aesthetics. Surface material can be laser-cladded directly onto a highly stressed part to create a self-lubricating surface. 

2. What are the characteristics of metal cladding?

Metacladding has many characteristics, making it a popular option in architectural and construction projects. These characteristics help to explain its durability, versatility, and aesthetic appeal. Any other cladding material can't match the metal panels' durability. Metal cladding is incredibly strong and highly resilient to corrosion, electrochemical reactions, and water damage. Overall, metal cladding panels have a remarkably long lifespan and require practically no maintenance.

3. What materials are used in cladding?

Cladding can be made of various high-quality materials, including metal, brick, wood, vinyl, composite materials, aluminum, cement blends, recycled polystyrene, or rice or wheat straw fibers.

4. How is metal cladding attached?

The setup is simple. A silicone sealant is usually put between each panel as an air and water barrier; then, basic female and male clips are connected to the cladding of the building regardless of the shape, size, or complexity of the panel designs.

5. What is the thickness of the metal cladding?

The thickness of metal cladding can vary greatly depending on several factors, including the type of metal used, the structural requirements, the intended purpose, and the design specifications. However, the standard design thicknesses are 0.46mm, 0.61mm, 0.76mm, 0.91 mm, and 1.22 mm. Metallic paint and coating thicknesses are additional. Prefinish is generally determined by coating technology and the color of the finish coat. For laminated material, check with your supplier.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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