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January 16, 2014

Copper Panels Bring Beauty to New Mexico

Copper Panels Bring Beauty to New Mexico

The Gallup Technology Center graces the main entrance to the campus of the University of New Mexico at Gallup. Designed by RMKM Architects, this arresting two-story structure conveys technical sophistication in alignment with the Center’s teaching mission, while also providing comfortable integration with campus life and a deep sense of connection to the surrounding landscape. Extensive use of copper is key to the vision of technology in harmony with people and nature in this award-winning, LEED gold-certified building.

Aluminum composite materials are extremely popular for their easy fabrication, long-lasting durability and affordability. But when architects want a warmer, deeper, more earthy ambiance, they often turn to copper – a material that has added distinction to public buildings worldwide over many centuries. Copper offers an especially appropriate look amid the red desert sandstone hills of Gallup, New Mexico – site of the University of New Mexico’s award-winning Gallup Technology Center.

But as a raw material, copper is typically more expensive than aluminum, which raises the cost per square foot for copper-faced panels. For that reason, composite panels with a copper face and aluminum on the reverse side are sometimes mistakenly specified. This hybrid solution can cause thermal expansion concerns in any installation, and especially on a building exterior that must weather the temperature extremes encountered in the high deserts of the American Southwest.

In summertime, Gallup experiences average daily temperature swings of
around 40°F, and in the month of July temperatures have historically ranged from a high of 100°F to a low of 31°F. Aluminum and copper have markedly different coefficients of thermal expansion. In this application, the different expansion and contraction rates of the two dissimilar materials would have caused cycles of warping that could compromise the integrity of the panel fixing system.
ALPOLIC worked with RMKM, the architectural firm, as well as with Southwest Glass & Glazing, the panel fabricator, to understand the thermal challenge and propose a solution that would provide lasting performance without breaking the budget.

Instead of aluminum-backed panels, RMKM specified Revere/ALPOLIC® Copper Composite Material (CCM) panels, with copper bonded to both sides of a mineral-filled polyethylene core. The panels are just as easy to fabricate as aluminum, and can be easily worked with standard routers, woodworking tools, benders and joining methods. In this project, the higher material costs of copper were largely offset by the use of panels in different widths fabricated from the standard 36-inch width coil and combined to create an attractively stratified effect. The design echoes the surrounding landscape while reducing waste material by about 40 percent.
Most important, the two-sided copper construction ensures longevity as the panels expand and contract uniformly through countless heating and cooling cycles.
Sited at the main gateway to the campus, the new Gallup Technology Center combines poured-in-place concrete, high-performance glazing and copper – a material that has driven scientific progress like no other – to convey a message of technology leadership. At the same time, the warm, weathered patina added by the fabricator combines with hardwood floors, natural lighting and human-scale spaces such as a central patio to create a highly livable environment at harmony with its natural surroundings.

The Gallup Technology Center has achieved LEED gold certification and won the top design award at the 2013 convention of the New Mexico Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. ALPOLIC is proud to have been selected to provide a major architectural feature as well as technical assistance for bringing this important place of learning to life.

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