When it comes to making a striking statement, there are no cladding materials more versatile or brimming with possibility
Plastic and rubber can provide a wide range of looks, from sleek futuristic Fibre Reinforced Polyester panels to the rough-and-rustic appearance of shingles made from sections of recycled tyres. Plastic cladding has often been associated with the kind of uPVC window method of construction, and some of the facade products out there are equally low cost imitations of other materials. It is also true that plastic is not sustainable like wood, or recyclable like some metal. However, at the cutting edge of architecture there are effects achievable with plastic which wouldn’t be manageable with other materials.
Formed of woven glass or other fibres embedded in a plastic resin, glass/fibre reinforced plastic (FRP)is a material that combines the best of both worlds. The strength of glass fibres in the plastic makes the material rigid and resin gives it a smooth impermeable surface. The production process allows tailormade curves and shapes, and achieves high strength and stiffness with low weight. Durability is impressive, cost is relatively low, and the mix can be self-coloured in the manufacturing process. Prefabrication and mass production are easy, and panels are mounted and supported on rails like aluminium cladding. As well as being used in panel form, FRP can be applied as a liquid, coating the surface of any wall and creating a smooth, seamless layer. Whilst dirt can accumulate, surfaces can be cleaned relatively easily, but dark colours may fade.
Plastic Sheets and Membranes
A plastic membrane alone isn’t capable of forming a wall, but it can be great for decoration. Plastic netting can be held up on a steel frame around the exterior wall of a house to form a patterned, translucent facade. Even the most humble of products can be used, like plastic corrugated sheeting. A layer of this wrapped over a foil or metal wall can refl ect light and colour, and the double skin can provide insulation.
The pillowy ETFE panels used on the Eden Project in Cornwall might seem beyond the reach of a domestic project, but that won’t be true for long. New company Inflate has developed the Airclad system where sheets of ETFE, reinforced PVC or textile are held in an aluminium frame system and filled with pressurised air, which gives the cladding its insulation and wind loading capabilities.
Not as crazy as it sounds. The idea of rubber cladding was dreamed up by architect Simon Conder for a house in sea-battered Dungeness, Kent. It uses the kind of rubber sheeting commonly used to line ponds or roofs, which is tough, watertight, breathable and also very cheap. Once cut to fit over a solid surface, in this case plywood, the rubber is vulcanised or welded to seal it. Another possibility is using old tyres to make shingles. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects formed the exterior wall of a visitors centre in a Pennsylvania National Park by this method. As well as forming a tough, durable wall, it’s also a great way of recycling a waste product.