In commercial architecture and design, ceilings, and walls aren’t often the first creative tools we turn to in order to give a space life and personality. There’s a tendency to think of them as functional, monolithic surfaces—flat planes that cap off rooms and divide spaces. But today’s ceilings and walls are as critical to design palettes as furniture or lighting—and not just because they can be covered with a paint color.
Thanks to manufacturers’ ever-growing product repertoires, ceilings and walls have become a veritable playground of material, form, shape, size, and finish. Designers are using ceilings and walls like never before to push creative boundaries and set new thematic tones, drawing eyes upward and all around a space. That’s especially true in the category of metal products where the limits are now virtually endless in what’s possible with ceilings and walls.
While metal is a particularly reflective surface, many products are available with a combination of perforations and sound-absorbent infill that offer acoustical benefits. But, for designers, metal is more valuable for its visual potential: extensive options in colors, finishes, lengths, widths, and heights, along with curved, canted, tiered, and diverging options create rhythm and movement on the ceiling plane.
That means when inspiration strikes, there’s very likely a metal ceiling or wall product that can translate any design idea—even the most boundary-pushing ones—into a real-life architectural masterpiece.
Here we examine five of the latest building trends in which designers are incorporating metal ceilings into their creative palettes for magnificent effect.
Emulating the Organic
Photos © Studio 66 LLC, click to enlarge.
One of the most notable and unexpected properties of metal ceilings and walls is that they don’t have to actually look like metal. The finish possibilities are vast, covering everything from vibrant standard color offerings to custom options for specific design themes or brand palettes. But even more striking are the decorative wood-look and real wood veneer finishes some manufacturers offer. Convincing species and stains can suit any biophilic theme, adding a touch of natural flair to any space.
Designers are using metal in linear, beam, soffit, and open plenum applications to provide the natural appearance of wood in projects where solid wood ceilings are not ideal or simply not desirable for performance reasons. Plus, some metal products are engineered for exterior applications, allowing designers to tackle projects that, quite literally, link the great outdoors with the great indoors through a continuous visual plane.
Raising the Roof (Beams)
Photo © Wade Griffith
Photo © Richard Cadan Photography
When it comes to open spaces, vastness is often the defining characteristic of the overall aesthetic. Designers have been incorporating angled metal beams and baffles into open plenums to lend an even grander presence to the open space. Coupled with a decorative wood-look or wood veneer finish, beams incorporate the classic warmth of wooden joists into open spaces.
Angled beams can even provide clever functionality in the design, like lighting integration, acoustical control, and wayfinding. In one recent arena application, for example, the design team specified a custom combination of angled wood-look metal beams that gradually increase in degree, using a series of A-frame apices to add a subtle touch of wayfinding that guides occupants around the arena’s concourse.
Playing with Curves
Photo © Studio LLC
Left and right, up and down, curved metal beams and baffles are a designer’s way of adding playfulness and movement into the space overhead. Ideal for open plenums where electrical and mechanical components are less pronounced, curved ceiling elements provide the raw material for some of today’s most immediately striking ceiling designs.
Whether it’s a randomized serpentine of horizontally curved baffles, parallel curved lines reminiscent of train tracks, or a topographic landscape of vertically curved baffles, designers are making waves with intriguing combinations of arcs and radii in various combinations of colors and finishes.
Looking Beyond Ceilings
Some of the most exciting new ceiling and wall products come in the form of vertical applications. In open spaces, metal solutions are being used to create rooms within rooms and define separate collaborative areas, all without sacrificing the feel of the open space. Vertical elements can even add wayfinding around the key areas of a space, like stairwells, elevators, restrooms, and points of egress.
In some applications, designers are also using vertical metal solutions to create continuous ceiling-to-wall lines that form sculptural focal points that are works of installation art in their own right.
Combination & Integration
Much like the trend of mixing materials in residential interior design for details like hardware and lighting fixtures, commercial designers are scaling up the mix of materials to macro applications such as ceilings and walls. There are two similar and fast-developing trends popping up across commercial interiors in the metal ceilings and wall category: first, pairing different combinations of colors and finishes of metal ceilings and, second, combining metal with other materials, like felt or wood. These kinds of combos add texture and depth to each space’s design.
As manufacturers continue to develop new formats and applications for metal ceilings and walls, the architecture and design community is responding by dreaming up new and sundry ways to incorporate the material into the built environment.