Copper can be recycled infinitely: 8 projects with a sustainable cladding
Copper is believed to be the first metal found by men and used to make tools and weapons. This happened in the last period of prehistoric times, more than 10,000 years ago, in the so-called Metal Age, when groups, even then nomads, began to settle, develop agriculture and start the first urban settlements. Since then, copper has been used in a variety of ways. Used for decorative objects, jewelry, auto parts, electrical systems, and even for dental fillings, the material has seen great demand. In architecture, copper coatings are highly prized for their aesthetics and durability. But the factor worth noting is that copper can be recycled infinitely, practically without losing its properties.
This is an important advantage, as the demand for the material is expected to increase significantly in the future. The World Bank’s 2017 report “The Growing Role of Metals and Metals for a Low Carbon Future” highlights how the demand for metals such as aluminum, copper, lithium and others has increased with the widespread use of solar, wind and batteries. The document emphasizes that effective recycling measures are necessary so that copper extraction in mines does not need to be greatly increased. The copper recycling process consists of collecting scrap and sorting it according to its purity. Depending on its level, it can be sent directly to the smelter (in the case of pure copper) or subjected to processing, forming anodes or other alloys.
To say that copper is a green substance would never be an exaggeration. This is because, in addition to the unlimited recyclability, when exposed to the weather, it develops a greenish color, like a thin layer of protection that leaves the interior of the piece intact. Rather, it’s an aesthetic that many designers seek, while others prefer the orange tones and polished hue of the original pieces. With the eight examples below, we may see the different possibilities of use and appearance that copper can have:
In the Dallas Museum of the Holocaust and Human Rights/OMNIPLAN project, for example, the copper paint, still fresh in the photographs, bears the most distinctive bright orange color of the material. According to the architects, the project’s exterior and interior materials embrace the idea of reusing materials and recyclable content. “Copper has an infinitely recyclable life, making it highly reusable for future generations.”
At JKMM Architects’ Lahti Travel Center, copper works simultaneously to highlight and integrate urban infrastructure into a historic red brick building. Brass is part of nearly all transmission equipment, resulting in subtle structure reflections and accentuation. In the building designed by LAN Architecture, with offices in Lille, France, it was decided to create a striking difference between the new construction and its urban context. In this case, copper appears in several different forms, already with a gray patina. “The building’s surroundings were envisioned as a way to visually reinvent the city. The facades have different designs depending on their orientation, uses and thermal requirements. In this way, predominantly glazed spaces, some of which have double film, are placed together with various forms of porous copper cladding to Somewhat “.
Copper also has an advantage in reducing the need for maintenance. For the office building of Skelleftea Kraft, of General Architecture in Sweden, the robust structure and articulating tectonics of the new building is based on a three-dimensional general arrangement and is linked to a classical rationalist tradition. The use of pre-anodized copper on the facade meets this goal, as it has been improved for durability and reduced maintenance cost over time. Nine thousand copper plates mounted on a hidden stainless steel chassis. The result is an outer layer composed entirely of inorganic materials.
In the oxidation process, the copper pieces form a layer called vermilion, which is responsible for the green appearance, and which also protects the interior of the piece. In fact, copper is a substance that radically changes its appearance, from orange to green, passing through gray and even black. A wise decision could be made considering how aging materials are, as was the case with Suvela Chapel, Finland. In this project, the architects note that “the tactile sense of the material has an intentionally strong presence both inside and outside the building. The exterior covering is entirely clad in copper to accentuate the unity of the building’s varied volume. Copper was an environmental choice of materials for outdoor use. It is durable, recyclable and therefore sustainable. It also ages well and acquires a beautiful appearance over time.”
In Villa Drei Birken, from Plasma Studio, copper and wood undergo a natural discoloration caused by the atmospheric effect of sun, rain and snow, increasing the building’s integration into its context over time. The Kirkkonummi Library’s copper tile coating pattern, designed by JKMM Architects, combined with the oxidation of the material, is associated with a reimagining of its maritime heritage. The main building of Aalto University, by ALA Architects, highlights the final stage of oxidation. The greenish texture, which varies with respect to orientation and exposure, brings out a different dimension to copper as an architectural material.
From these examples it is possible to note how diverse the use of copper is. It was already beneficial to mankind as the source of our first metallic tools, and should be very important in future efforts to reduce carbon emissions. In addition to being indispensable in multiple aspects of our daily lives, it can take on various shapes and appearances when applied to building construction.
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