Why Zinc?

Zinc offers the most appropriate solution for the facade of the Physics and Nanotechnology building on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities East Bank campus. Utilized by the science building typology in Europe and Canada, this low-maintenance, durable cladding lasts 200-300 years making it an economically responsible and relevant choice. As zinc is only emerging as a viable cladding option in the United States, bringing the ecological and technological innovations of zinc to campus is representative of the University’s goals of progress and discovery. The specification of the tri-color patina provides a unique textural aesthetic which speaks to the dynamic technological program of the building – continued exploration could yield an even more specific pattern which directly mimics nano-cellular compositions – while the blue-grey hues respect the muted tones of the immediate and greater campus material pallet. This facade choice achieves originality without being ostentatious and becomes part of the living history of the campus as the zinc panels, which will continue to patina over time, create a dialogue with the aging copper cladding of nearby Rapson Hall and McNamara Alumni Center.

From an ecological perspective, zinc, as opposed to other metals considered in this evaluation (particularly aluminum), is obtained from underground mines which preserve natural habitats and vistas at the surface more so than open pit mines. Although non-renewable, zinc is 100% recyclable; over 90% of zinc used in building materials comes from recycled product. Technological advancements in mining and manufacturing have severely reduced the environmental impacts of zinc production making it one of the most ecologically conscious metal cladding types.

Research revealed one of the forefront manufacturers of zinc to be a German-based company, Reinzink, which has registered a zinc-based product by the same name. Reinzink ® is zinc infused with titanium and copper alloys to increase durability and performance. Material innovations include the use of photovoltaic technology and solar thermal zinc panels which utilize the inherent heat conduction and absorption properties of zinc to generate energy for a building. Reinzink ® Solar Thermal zinc cladding specifically is the most appropriate option for the Physics and Nanotechnology Building because the technology is in keeping with the sustainable energy goals of the University of Minnesota, is a fitting representation of the research the building will house (photovoltaics are one type of nanotechnology) and the product maintains the above-mentioned aesthetic and ecological benefits of zinc products in general.


Research, evaluation, selection and application design by: Lizzy Adler, Ashley Grzywa, Devan Shihata and Jessica Wang

Photoshop of material on rendering: Jessica Wang

Original Rendering taken from University of Minnesota Physics and Nanotechnology web page, courtesy of  Architectural Alliance and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects.


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