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Building up a reputation

The decorated aluminium sheet cladding on the dome of the San Gioacchino Church in Rome is testament to this metals reputation as a performance material with long-term durability. Installed in 1887, the dome is still in excellent condition with virtually no maintenance. A little more recently, the £40 million Selfridges department store in the new Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham acts as an advertisement for the stunning effects that can be achieved with 15,976 660mm pressed, spun, anodised and mirror-polished aluminium disks.

These very different buildings demonstrate not only the versatility of aluminium but also, despite popular belief, its ability to transcend architectural fashion and fads. It was these qualities that were discussed last month at The Aluminium Federations (ALFED) conference on the sustainability of aluminium in building and architecture, entitled Specifying for the Future.

Architects, specifiers and industry members gathered to examine the benefits of aluminiums use in building and construction, that are not only found in its strength and design possibilities, but the environmental benefits that accompany a metal that is coming to be characterised by its high recycling efficiency.

In his opening address, Andrew Stunell MP, who recently piloted The Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act, discussed how his bill introduced the idea that in assessing a buildings design the whole life energy content, including demolition, should be taken into account. In this country sustainability is thought of as a drag, said Stunell, and if we do it, it is done to minimum standards. There needs to be a change in popular perception of what ought to happen.

Its light weight, high strength, resistance to weathering, ease of forming and, of course, recyclability have meant that in the past 100 years, aluminium has moved from being a rarely used metal to the second largest metal used worldwide. According to ALFEDs UK aluminium fact sheet, more than 150,000 tonnes of aluminium are used by the building and construction industry in the UK each year, a large proportion of which is in the form of extruded and rolled products.

Not only an ideal roofing material, aluminium sheet is the preferred material as a decorative or protective cladding to buildings or as a cost-effective way of preventing further discolouration or spalling in concrete structures. Conference chairman Richard Horden of Horden Cherry Lee Architects outlined his view of the significant role that aluminium would play in architecture of the future. Concerned that aluminium was being undersold with a false reputation for being ecologically inefficient, he said: The domestic client is still critical of aluminium and its concept needs to be explained.

No one here has quite clarified the ecological benefits of aluminium but this is the material of the future. Although it is expensive to make, there is very little loss of material. It resists corrosion and will still be going way beyond our lifetimes.

Aluminium will play a serious role in reconditioning the abundance of suburban houses in the UK that are in poor condition, according to Horden. He said that in the future an enormous task lay before architects in the renovation of suburban buildings and, while aluminium may not be fashionable at the moment, it will be as architects become better informed in terms of materials.


It was not just the longevity of aluminium but its recovery and reuse that were the focus of the conference. Professor Jan van Houwelingen from Delft University of Technology discussed the study into aluminium content and collection rates in European buildings that the European Aluminium Association commissioned the university to conduct.

The demolition of a significant number of buildings in six European countries was closely monitored and the collection rates of aluminium in this sector were found to vary between 92% and 98%. The report concluded that because of aluminiums inherent

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