Metal Wall Panels Renovate City Hall

Interlocking panels produce a tight rainscreen to stand up to weather.

An exterior renovation of Durham, NC, city hall used metal wall panels to bring the building into the 21st century with a durable product that allowed a variety of design options.

A complete exterior and interior renovation of city hall in Durham, NC, used a maintenance-free exterior material to soften the building’s feel while also giving the structure a strong presence. The design team selected metal wall panels from Dri-Design, Holland, MI.

“The desire to have a rainscreen system where the water barrier was behind the metal panel with few caulk joints was important to the design team,” said Rhonda Zack, project manager and designer with Roughton-Nickelson-DeLuca Architects, Durham. “In addition, the Dri-Design panel, unlike its competitors, had an interior gutter system that kept rainwater off the face of the panels, directing flow through the gutter system to the bottom of the screenwall. The panels interlocked and made for a tight rainscreen that would stand up over time.”

The original city hall façade was a cementitious aggregate panel. The weight of the panels caused sagging and open surfaces for water to penetrate the building, leading to leaks and water damage. The openings had been caulked many times, but waterfalls reportedly still occurred inside the building.

Post-painted aluminum wall panels covering 23,535 sq. ft. were installed. The primary wall color is Dorian Gray with Agreeable Gray and Amazing Gray worked into the panel layout.

After the material was removed, general contractor Balfour Beatty US, Raleigh, NC, and panel installer SPS Apex, NC, determined how to use the building’s original framing for the metal wall-panel installation. Because of 40 years of leaking and sagging, the framing was not straight and was out of alignment by as much as 4 in. over three stories in some areas. Additional framing was worked into the existing framing to create a straight panel installation.

Post-painted aluminum wall panels covering 23,535 sq. ft. were installed. The primary wall color is Dorian Gray with Agreeable Gray and Amazing Gray worked into the panel layout. Dark Bronze wall panels were selected as an accent to the gray panels.

“Dri-Design panels were invented because of situations like this at the city hall,” noted Brad Zeeff, president, Dri-Design. “[The] panels do not use sealants or gaskets, eliminating maintenance and dirty streaks, and they are not assembled with caulk or tape. They will never delaminate because [the] panels are not made with laminates or composites—they are 100% metal panels, also making them non-combustible.”

The project has been a hit with locals and visitors. It won the People’s Choice Durham Golden Leaf Award and the Adaptive Re-Use Durham Golden Leaf Award.

Zack said, “The design of the new façade has brought new attention to a building that was neglected for far too long. The design team took the opportunity during this re-design to soften up the brutalist language of the original design and add more pedestrian-friendly areas so that the city hall would feel like a building for the people. The metal panels allowed us to bring the look into the 21st century with a durable product that allowed for a variety of design options.”

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