Why do architects use copper roofs?
Copper roofing is one of the world’s most enduring roofing methods. Copper is a natural material that has been used since the medieval period to protect buildings, and as such, many of the most famous structures in the world use copper. It’s an attractive material, owing to its aesthetic value.
Weaknesses of copper roofs
However, in recent years copper has also become a prime target for thieves thanks to its high scrap value. In 2011 and 2012, headlines were mainly concerned with copper cabling thefts, but as recently as February 2017 copper theft made news again when thieves targeted a church roof in Melton Mowbray.
Aside from theft, there are other drawbacks to note. Firstly, copper roofs are expensive. They don’t buffer noise as well as other materials so are not a good choice over an open frame. Using copper in a project also requires foresight over seasonal temperatures, as copper can expand and contract depending on the season so must be accounted for.
Ultimately, to better discuss the pros and cons of copper roofing, we’re looking at famous copper roofs to see what we can learn.
Madam Tussauds, London
Used under CC 2.0 by deepstereo on Flickr
What we can learn: The building that was once the London Planetarium is now Madame Tussauds, and the thousands of visitors who queue daily to see the waxworks inside need only look up to see a beautiful example of roofing. The green dome showcases the first thing we learn about copper: it takes on a distinctive, aesthetic patina over time.
The great Kremlin Palace, Moscow
What we can learn: The roof of the Kremlin is made of copper, showcasing its effectiveness on prestigious buildings over time. When a structure is being designed to house royalty or act as a seat of the state, copper roofing is a great choice. At home, where people want their homes to convey a sense of luxury, copper detailing can provide an air of magnificence. The famous ‘onion’ domes in Moscow are also generally made of copper.
Berlin Cathedral, Berlin
What we can learn: Copper is often used in the ‘cupola’ of a grand building, used to create contrast and attract the eye. On a smaller scale, we can replicate this by picking out key details on a home or building with copper, rather than use it across the entire roof.
Statue of Liberty, Manhattan
What we can learn: Whilst not strictly a roof, the statue of liberty is perhaps one of the best examples of patina in action. Originally a shiny copper colour, her new hue is one of the world’s most visible and recognisable signs of a copper structure in the world.
Millennium Centre, Cardiff
What we can learn: This striking example is not actually copper at all, but mimics its appearance. It is coloured stainless steel, chosen because the architect did not want colours to change over time. The roof also incorporates multiple materials such as slate for an aesthetic finish. Alternatives to copper can be just as viable.
Using a copper alternative roof
These majestic buildings all showcase copper at its finest, but they are all landmarks with millions of pounds of state funding behind them. In commercial projects, copper offers energy efficiency, patina development, sustainability and of course, tremendous aesthetic value. However, copper costs a lot more and is at risk of theft. Like the Millennium centre, designers can choose alternative materials that mimic the appearance of copper. Our FLAGON copper art membrane offers a synthetic waterproofing membrane that is UV and tear resistant at a more affordable price. It takes on the patina of age and also provides many performance benefits including reducing the risk of water ingress and accommodating complex profile designs.