Building with Metal

Strong, malleable and striking to look at - it's the material of choice for a cutting-edge design


theselfbuilder_metal1Dimensionally precise, versatile and incredibly sturdy, edgy metal is a favourite with architects as it lends itself well to intricate shapes and can be used for structural work such as cantilevers. It is also good for cladding large areas, and unlike wood, which unless treated will eventually turn a streaky black, metal grows old gracefully. For the self-builder it is not the cheapest option – but whether left to form a natural patina or painted the brightest of hues, metal will make your grand design stand out from the crowd.

The most important thing to know before using metal, is that it needs skilled craftsmen to cut and fit. ‘Building with metal is almost like making a car in a factory – it is very precise work,’ says Clifford Dyer, director of the Metal Cladding and Roofing Manufacturers Association (MCRMA). But finding skilled metalworkers in the UK is hard work, says architect Justin Bere of Bere Architects. ‘Our vernacular of brick and stone means there are few good quality metal craftsmen out there. Bad metalwork is horrendous, the material is so unforgiving.'


Light and easy to extrude, aluminium is more expensive and weaker than steel. It starts life as a powdery white colour, turning grey as it picks up dirt. However, it coats and paints well and sheets are popular for cladding and window frames.


Has a history of use, that is at least 10,000 years old. Turns its distinctive green when it oxidizes, making it an interesting cladding choice. Will Alsop, one of this country’s most feted architects, clad Peckam Library in the stuff.


The most widely used metal, it is relatively cheap and easy to bond, paint and powder coat. Stainless steel is good for flash and flare, but note that the metal ‘stains less’ rather than actually being stainless. To keep your stainless-steel window frames looking pristine, the MCRMA recommends washing them with soap and water every three weeks. Alternatively, you could make a stunning feature of rust by using corten steel, which is weather resistant and has a lovely burnished orange colour.


When it’s used for cladding, zinc is usually fixed in strips onto plywood panels, but remember, when it’s combined with timber it is important that the rain run-off from the acidic timber doesn’t touch the zinc, as this will leave very ugly stain marks.

Useful Contacts

Aluminum Federation:
Amari Metals:
Copper Development Association:
Online Metals:
The Metal Cladding and Roofing Manufacturers Association:
Titanium Info Group:
UK Steel Association:
Zinc Information Centre:

Words: Karen Glaser

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