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Zinc showcased to perfection


Photos copyright Serge Brison

There may be few contemporary commercial building designs today which provoke widespread public praise, but Umicore VMZINC’s new office building in Greinerstraat at its Hoboken plant, south of Antwerp, is clearly an exception. At what is the largest recycling facility for precious metals in the world, a new design approach was taken to regenerate the local environment and to showcase the design flexibility that zinc cladding can provide. The company has thousands of stunning roofing, cladding and rainscreen projects throughout the world to its credit, but none stands comparison with the shape and form of the Hoboken building.

Architects Conix Architects’ brief was to integrate the plant buildings more effectively into the immediate environment. The snake-like form hints at what has been achieved but hardly does it justice. Conix Arcitects’ Christine Conix commented, “The new building is constructed as if it were a folded ribbon and was completely 'wrapped' with zinc standing seam cladding. This undoubtedly adds emphasis to its form”. Conix Partner Architect Sylvie Bruyninckx added, “It became clear at the concept stage that zinc should be used as its flexibility lends itself perfectly to the creation of curves and folds. It encloses the building just like a skin”. The comment hints at the complexity of detailing, described by the contractor as “conceptual extravagance”.

In the UK, growing interest in zinc roofing, cladding and rainwater systems owes much to the metal’s sustainability. It also reflects the fact that zinc can be used with a wide variety of construction materials in either new build or refurbishment. Use of distinctive colours such as black ANTHRA-ZINC®, grey QUARTZ-ZINC® and subtle shades of PIGMENTO® green, red and blue has enabled zinc to develop a clear identity. A thriving recycling record has long been established throughout Western Europe but without the combination of performance and appearance, such growing success could not have been maintained.

The depth and diversity of zinc projects throughout the UK combining aesthetics, sustainability and long-term performance offers tangible proof that it is now in the construction mainstream for both contemporary and traditional styles. If none quite match up to Hoboken, the visual distinctiveness of zinc is common to all.

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