Aluminum cladding trend cues discussion on pros, cons in MENA

Aluminum cladding trend cues discussion on pros, cons in MENA
Aluminum cladding trend cues discussion on pros, cons in MENA

Throughout the Persian Gulf region and elsewhere in the Middle East, a new architectural trend is catching on -- but not everyone is a fan. 

Aluminum cladding, a practice that is often done for ecological benefit, to shield building facades from the sun, is generating some controversy in places like Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

As buildings get modernized, many engineers and architects are adding aluminum cladding to the front walls. Aluminum cladding is a lightweight choice for covering a building front to keep out light and decrease the need for interior cooling. However, it changes the look of a building and the character of a neighborhood.

An article in Al-Monitor presents Iraq as the epicenter for the aluminum cladding controversy, with examples of old streets getting these bright news fronts, and the push and pull between architects who want the best, newest thing and others who would rather keep the authentic ethos of a street.

The article describes the wholesale demolition of many Iraqi properties and the emergence of something called “cobond” architecture where aluminum is mixed with plastics for veneers. Describing this frequent addition, Al-Monitor quotes University of Babylon scholar and sociologist Hamza al-Kuraishi as saying that Iraq “lacks an artistic or architectural authority able to set standards.”

Noor Makkiya is an Iraqi-American designer who does a lot of design work in the Middle East.

“Baghdadi’s love for their heritage from one hand, and the need to build economically by using materials like aluminum cladding on the other, has pushed developers to design building façades with abstract geometries superimposed with historical clichés, and the result is an unfamiliar and often inappropriate architecture and a cheap and unjustified effort in reviving lost history,” Makkiya recently told Gulf News Journal. “These new buildings are currently too prominent in the city fabric and they are gradually changing the visual heritage of Baghdad. I wouldn’t mind if new, smart, sustainable architecture snuck its way to the city’s old fabric, but I do mind if the architecture was nothing but unsubtle colorful boxes of aluminum crashing into the sophisticated texture of the city.”

Makkiya said affordable price and flexibility make insulated aluminum composite cladding popular, and that after the Iraq war in 2003, soon after the U.S. Embargo ended on Iraq, the material really started to flood the local market. Builders, she said, like the cladding for four main reasons:

“It’s cheap, light, colorful and requires little maintenance,” she said.

Makkiya went on to say that some Iraqis see the prolific use of this “green” material as, in her words, an “architectural cancer.”