Whether on the facade or in rooms, walls are being dressed up in an array of innovative materials, says Apurva Bose Dutta after checking out the latest trends in cladding.
Amercian architect Julia Morgan once said: “Architecture is a visual art, and buildings speak for themselves.”
Wall cladding, which is an integral part of this visual art, had limited options until a few years ago – but newer and newer materials are invading the market today. Exterior cladding and interior cladding/panelling, apart from imparting an aesthetic look, fulfill functional requirements by shielding the surface beneath it against moisture and foreign elements.
“The plethora of choices in cladding materials is what distinguishes our design work today from what it was 20 years ago. The types and varieties of each cladding type place a daunting list of questions before designers,” says architect Christopher Charles Benninger, speaking about the relevance of cladding.
With people’s receptiveness to contemporary architecture and an ambient style of living, wall cladding has gained much significance.
Mukesh Shah, managing director of Mumbai-based Naman Steel, a supplier of stainless steel claddings, adds, “Over time, design has started getting preference over the costs of products. Today, people are going in for anti-scratch and vandal-resistant designs.”
There have been major advances in glazing and facade technology over the past four years, and one expects to see continued innovation in product development.
Says Bengaluru-based architect Indraneel Dutta, principal architect of DKA: “There is a constant flow of ideas and materials into the architectural market from Europe. We are so used to seeing stone cladding and stucco or lime plaster on the facades of homes, that a new material is a welcome change.”
According to a report published by Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), an autonomous organization set up to look ahead in technologies, composites have hit the market in many ways – one of them “for the manufacture of exterior cladding panels, which can simulate masonry and stone”.
KALZIP, a new composite material, lightens up The Infosys Technologies Ltd office building at Pune. Kalzip façade systems (manufactured by Kalzip Business Unit, a major Corus brand) combine lightness, strength, durability, low maintenance, sustainability and are available in a number of finishes and profiles.
With the use of Kalzip perforated facades, a crisp, precise finished appearance is achievable with stunning effects due to light.
Breaking away from normal materials, architect Dutta has used ‘Trespa’ and ‘Fundermax’ in some of his residential projects. These, though equivalent to wood in their look, have high performance and a lifetime guarantee.
The materials retain their wooden texture and colour even in adverse weather conditions. Trespa International BV, which specialises in the design and production of high-end architectural panels for contemporary exterior and interior building applications, has Trespa Athelon and Trespa Virtuon for interior panelling.
There is SHERA play which has wood-like grains and, with an appropriate mixture of different paint shades, one can possibly achieve a wood lookalike.
In a recent press interaction with Saint-Gobain Gyproc in Bengaluru, global experts from Saint-Gobain Gyproc UK and Sweden cited Drywalls as the future of interior construction in India.
These are gypsum plasterboard based ‘Drywall Solutions’, which are 8-10 times lighter than traditional masonry construction systems, 30%-40% faster to install, provide excellent fire rating and acoustics, and are 100% recyclable. Drywalls are the preferred solution for hotels, hospitals and residences worldwide, and the Indian market is showing great potential for it.
Decorative cladding panels are the choice of those who want a dynamic appearance for their buildings.
Vivalda, one of the leading suppliers of decorative cladding to the construction industry, has a number of products like Pictura, Natura, Steni Nature, Vivalda Lamina and Bauclad for the same.
More interesting materials in the market include fun wall cladding by Unifab and contemporary wall cladding available from Udaipur-based Ashoka Arts & Exports.
Galvalume and Kayanar-coated cladding materials are also being used to provide high corrosion resistance and longer resistance to colour fading owing to UV radiation. Keramag tiles from Spain give a wood-like appearance and come in beautiful shades and textures.
Australia-based Unitex has come out with Uni-Base Board Cladding System™ which is a technologically-advanced method of insulating a project, as well as protecting and decorating the exterior of a building.
Architect Smaran Mallesh, principal architect of Bengaluru-based architectural firm Cadence, mentions that today there are a gamut of options – something like laser cutting on various materials like gold; MGF can also give birth to various cladding patterns which then appear completely different and unique with the help of lighting.
He mentions the new products of Hunter Douglas, too, which simulate wood and are a good substitute for it.
Bengaluru-based architect Bharat Gowda, in his technical paper titled “High Displacement Glass Seismic Systems” in the Practice Periodical on Structural Design and Construction of The American Society of Civil Engineering, has documented three new structural glass systems.
These include a Rail-Supported Seismic Glazing System, a Point-Fixed Seismic Glazing System, and a Point-Fixed Seismic Fin Glass System. These systems may be used for cladding for facades of buildings in high seismic areas.
Another contemporary innovation in wall cladding has been introduced by Wienerberger with the use of clay roof tiles as façade coverings, particularly preferable for renovation.
A correct execution of the same acts as a sound-proof barrier and an excellent thermal insulator for the building.
Gluing of façade bricks is another future technique, where the bricks are not fixed with mortar but with a thin layer of glue. Slimmer construction, stronger adhesion, more durability are some of the hallmarks of this system.
Let us also have a look at some of the older wall cladding materials that are seeing renewed upgradation in qualities/types.
With its versatile properties, glass today has become an integral part of contemporary Indian architecture. One look at the John Lewis Department Store at Leicester and you will be amazed by the glass façade that doubles up as lace.
Glass is aesthetically pleasing, can merge the inside and outside, can help make a space look larger and aid in obtaining natural daylight. Enamelled and laminated safety glass like SentryGlas® from DuPont™, due to their safety properties, are suitable for façade cladding; ceramic printed glass on account of its creative design options and increased resistance to pressure, impact and temperature fluctuations finds its way in embellishing interiors.
AIS, the largest integrated glass company in India has come out with AIS Stronglas™ (impact-resistant glass) and AIS Securityglas™ (burglar-resistant glass). The Grand Hyatt at Delhi sparkles due to the use of float glass. Glass blocks work well as interior partitions.
Planilaque by Saint Gobain, available in nine vibrant colours, is mainly used for wall panelling. It is a lacquered glass that is arsenic and formaldehyde-free, and it has a high resistance to humidity.
Steel cladding forms a part of major commercial complexes, factory buildings, multi-storey buildings, etc. The non-rustic stainless steel by Naman Steel, having 8% nickel content, is suitable for exterior and interior surfaces.
The finishes are numerous – mirror, hairline, texture, custom and perforated designs, 3E art designs – all in various colours. The Oberoi hotel at Nariman Point and the Taj hotel at the Gateway of India in Mumbai are just a couple of projects that use this material.
Shah adds that stainless steel is a good option due to its resistance to corrosion, termites and fire; attractive appearance, durability, its ability to take up different shapes and curvature, its various textures, patterns and colours.
He adds, “Stainless steel tiles and metal screens in Titanium colours is a new concept in India. Considering its long-term value, I would say stainless steel is the least expensive option.”
“Cladding is like attire for a building which gives it a personality, and we can definitely see a sustainable future with aluminium,” says Kedar Rele, head – Market Development Cell, Hindalco Industries Limited, one of the biggest producers of primary aluminium in Asia.
Presently, Hindalco is promoting Solid Aluminium for exterior and interior cladding –which is non-corrosive, with a high strength to weight ratio, has A1 fire ratings and is endlessly recyclable.
The sheets, besides being available in a wide variety of colours and finishes, have their unique factor in the colour they offer – Pvdf 80/20 ratio – chrome free which is non-hazardous to the environment.
Rele feels that Solid Aluminium in anodised or PVdf coating is best suited for exterior and interior cladding applications and the firm is looking forward to such products.
Novelis, a subsidiary of Hindalco Industries Ltd, has developed solid pre-painted aluminium products (ff2 and ff3) in façade cladding. These are ultra-flat solid sheets made up of 100% aluminium which can be workable for 40 years.
They are also developing new surfaces in metallic shimmer and high gloss in various colours.
Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP) have come up as preferred cladding materials. The market has lots of varieties like mirror-faced ACP (irresistible finish with easy cleansing properties), brush-faced ACP (longer colour retention and highly resistant to fading and chalking), wood-textured ACP, marble-faced ACP, basar ACP and acrylic-based ACP. Alucobond has been the preference of many architects and designers.
Prof Benninger adds that ACP sheets do look nice, but their alignment on MS frames that are rusting and rotting behind doesn’t serve the purpose. On aluminium composites, Rele adds, “Today, lots of aluminium composites are being used for cladding purposes. However, many composites brought into India, having core of polyethylene, are not ‘A1’ fire rated. The specifiers and the owner of the building have to be vigilant about this fact.”
For the wooden look, there is E-board, a multi-purpose fibre cement board with sound insulation, moisture resistance and good performance against fire. Adding on to it, are also designer and compressed cement boards. West Bengal firm Panja Brothers have Rapicon Modules, which are sandwich panels made of lightweight FRACC (fibre-reinforced aerated cement core) and E-Boards (asbestos-free fibre cement boards).
Rapicon’s smooth surface can accept a host of finishes, making these modules ideal for aesthetically pleasing interiors and exteriors.
At Optima Building solution at Nasik, a professionally-managed turnkey interior contracting company, the cladding installation focuses on advanced building facades that use daylight, sun control, ventilation systems and dynamic systems.
As per customers’ requirements, the firm provides wall cladding solutions using Cement Fibre Wall Boards, Gypsum Boards, Calcium Silicate Boards, Nova Pan Boards, and Polycarbonate Board amongst others.
Owner of the firm Vijay Donde adds, “A quick perusal of the leading architectural magazines or a discussion in most architectural firms today, will eventually lead to mention of some of the innovative new buildings that are being constructed with all-glass facades, aluminium facades and cement fibre compressed boards facades.
Most of these buildings are now appearing in all the metro cities. This “emerging technology” of heavily-glazed facades is often associated with buildings whose design goals include energy-efficiency, sustainability, and a green image.”
Laminates also make a good material for interior panelling and are available in three kinds – Plywood, Particle boards and Fibreboard. Green E-board™ is an environmental alternative and upgradation to replace gypsum drywall and cement backer boards for walls abroad.
Standard Core Plasterboard is a versatile and modern interior lining product. It can be fixed to timber, metal framing and masonry construction, while providing a high quality and economical finish to any interior project.
To obtain a textured or arty façade, natural stone has been much in the vogue – especially in interiors. Instead of cladding all the walls, minimalist cladding adds more interest.
Slate acts as an unfading, non-absorptive, stain-resistant element used on exterior and interior facades. Slate cladding comes in a number of finishes (textured, honed); patterns (rectangular, wild, decorative, strip); and can come in mixes with copper too.
There is sandstone, limestone (in various colours), and Kota stone to choose from. Textured walls have the advantage of needing just some feather dusting or regular vacuuming to dispense with the dust.
Stone veneers which provide a striking façade treatment have also hit the market, to replace construction of a building with solid stone. But a wrong application can be disastrous, as Prof Benninger clarifies, “Stone cladding in rainy zones has resulted in leakages, due to wrong application. Lime leakage resulting in white streaks is also a symptom of wrong methods.”
Tile cladding is present in various designs – v-tile cladding, wave cladding, random tile cladding, rustic cladding, strip cladding. Granite tiles by virtue of their weather-resistance remain a good option to choose for exterior surfaces.
If used in interiors, they impart a feeling of royalty to the space. Marble tiles, though expensive and difficult to maintain, are a favourite to bring in light and a spacious feel.
Brick or glazed tiles are other options. For the artistic bent of mind, a creative organisation of broken glass or tile chips also proves appealing. Pebbles and rice husk can be embedded in the plastering for a different and cost-effective cladding.
Concrete tiles available in various designs are durable, fire and water resistant, and can be used both as load-bearing and non load-bearing walls.
Delhi-based Pelican Ceramic Industries Pvt Ltd, leading manufacturer and exporter of industrial and exterior cladding has vitrified ceramic tiles with very low water absorption and resistance to water, stains and corrosion. Ravi Khullar, managing director of the company says, “Our tiles are homogenous and have a sheen on the top to protect them from dirt. With virtually no maintenance required, these can also be used in cold areas since they don’t absorb moisture. The markets are definitely rising for them.” The only downside he points out is that, in the case of high-rise buildings, these tiles have to be used with an adhesive so that they don’t fall.
External plastic wall cladding aids in the protection of walls against dampness, weather and breakdown from UV light. The accumulated dirt is easier to clean; and if a consideration of material, labour and finishing costs are taken into account, plastic wall cladding costs the least when compared to wood, fibre cement, stucco, brick and stone sidings.
The disadvantage is that plastic is less recyclable in comparison to other materials, the main advantage (amongst others) being that it doesn’t cause air pollution like painting or staining. For interiors, they are available in different colours and patterns.
Faridabad-based Plasopan Engineers (India) Pvt Ltd, manufacturers of Plastic Profiles supply Plasopan PVC wall panelling which is water and termite proof, fire-retardant, economical, maintenance-free, easy to install and available in various colours shades. VMI Group has polycarbonate sheets for exterior cladding.
Wallpapers are preferred in residential apartments, hotels, resorts or for aesthetic value in offices. They come in engaging patterns, modern designs and can alter the complete look of the interiors.
Smaran vouches for them saying, “Wallpapers are in a sense the thinnest of veneers that we can use. They are very effective and score over paints due to their texture and sheen.”
Old is Gold
A new trend of using elements from the past is gaining momentum. Brick cladding, which helps to reduce the damage by repelling water, is aesthetically fascinating too. Novabrik, an innovative rain-screen brick cladding system, has been launched abroad to replace conventional brickwork.
It is an entirely dry form of construction that requires no mortar or conventional bricklaying skills to install.
Though several wood-like materials are also being used now, actual wood cladding maintains its warmth and pliability in the space where it is used.
Major AK Bajaj, proprietor of Red Floor India (distributors and franchisees for Pergo), who also supply wooden cladding, says, “Earlier on, people used to confine themselves to wooden panelling only. But today, the trend has changed and people want to cover up entire walls. That is due to aesthetic reasons, inherent insulation properties, low maintenance and high durability.”
GRC (Glass fibre reinforced concrete) is used as a cladding material for decorative purposes. Extremely easy to maintain and install, it needs no painting or plastering and can be fixed directly over brickwork or masonry with stainless steel fixtures. Clay cladding has found a new status. There is glazed and acoustic clay façade cladding too. Terracotta is used to convey an ethnic feel.
For stringent acoustic requirements, Hindalco provides ff2 plus® which seems to be ideal for hospitals, concert halls and buildings which ask for a higher level of insulation. Since acoustical comfort is high with double glazed glass facades, AIS has come up with AIS Acousticglas™ – a sound-resistant glass which is laminated with a specialised plastic interlayer that dampens external sounds and provides a 90% sound reduction.
The dynamic façade of the Kiefer Technic showroom in Austria is attracting everyone’s attention. The façade changes continuously, each day, each hour and shows a new ‘face’.
Closer home, the Dream Hotel Kochi sports a facade that changes seven different colours within minutes every evening. Rele says, “As we go along, products which offer better performance on aesthetics, safety and sustainability will get quickly accepted.”
Shah makes a point saying, “The appropriate application of technology using the true values of the material can only be achieved with the sharing of information between architects, builders, contractors and material suppliers on the correct use of claddings for architectural purpose.” Prof Benninger adds, “I love cladding, but I love the application details that are unseen, even more! It is important that we define performance criteria, and only then select a material for cladding.”
Roof & Cladding India 2009, held at Mumbai and organised by Chennai-based Unitech Exhibitions Pvt Ltd, saw a number of national and international companies exhibiting their latest products in architectural cladding. The 2010 event in Chennai in April is expected to be bigger and better. Check it out for the latest trends in designer garments for walls.
Bangalore-based architect Apurva Bose Dutta is an architectural journalist. She writes for various national and international architectural and interior publications. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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