Cladding: The First Impression

Cladding: The First Impression

“Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together, there it begins.”
– Mies Van Der Roh

Cladding is the exterior skin of a building.  The material, shape, colour, texture, and size all give character and expression to the building. It can enhance the architectural form or allow the building to blend in with its environment.

Squish Studio designed by Saunders Architects. White painted spruce planks clad the exterior structure making it nearly invisible against the snow-covered terrain.

Aside from aesthetics, it also provides protection from exterior elements including: snow, rain, wind, and debris from entering the building. The exterior cladding should therefore be carefully considered. Here are some other things to keep in mind when deciding what cladding is right for your project:

Durability and Maintenance

Be honest with yourself. If you like the look of natural wood siding but you are not willing to keep up with the regular maintenance it requires then consider using a composite siding or a metal siding that mimics the look of wood. The exterior cladding should last the lifespan of the building so make sure to consider the time and cost associated with maintaining the materials appearance and its ability to protect the building from the elements.

Availability and Cost

Before selecting an exterior material, find out if the material is available, where it is manufactured, how long it will take to deliver, the cost of the material, and the time and cost to have it installed.


Cladding will have a significant impact on the appearance of the building – it’s the first impression so make it a good one! The material selection, colour, finish, and available size of the cladding system should all be considered early on in the design process.


Below are some featured projects that I selected to showcase common cladding materials that are used in unique and unexpected ways.

Masonry Veneer

I am a brick and I am NOT boring!

In North America, we see brick used everywhere, especially here in Toronto (shout out to the Brick Works). Whether its for a residential dwelling or a mid-rise building, brick is used time and time again because it is readily available, durable and a low maintenance material.  The vastness of brick gives us the sense of “sameness” so what I wanted to feature here are projects that use masonry in unique ways.

Tate Modern Switch House designed by Herzog & de Meuron’s
Brick House designed by Diego Arraigada
Termeh Office Building designed by Farshad Mehdizadeh & Ahmad Bathaei
Metal Cladding

Metal cladding is available in a wide variety of materials, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The material choice should be based on the desired aesthetic, climate conditions, structural system, and construction budget. Common material options for metal cladding include: stainless steel, galvanized steel, weathering steel (COR-TEN), aluminum, titanium, zinc, copper, brass.

There is such a plethora of metal cladding options that this topic deserves its own blog post (coming soon) but for now, I will introduce some projects that utilize metal cladding in unique, delicate, and creative ways.


Perforated metal façade at Manor Works designed by Architecture 00
The thin profile of COR-TEN steel expressed around the cantilevered monolithic volume at Igreja Velha Palace designed by Visioarq Arquitectos
Iridescent, hand-folded metal panels cladding the entrance canopy of the Ryerson Student Learning Centre designed by Snohetta
Wood Siding

Wood siding is a popular building material because of its natural aesthetic. The projects featured below use the material in its purest form as a way of engaging with their environment and lends itself to the elemental architectural forms.

Vertical Cedar board cladding on Maison Glissade designed by atelier kastelic buffey (AKB)
Two Hulls House designed by Mackay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.

Love the look of wood but not up for the maintenance? There are a variety of siding materials that have been designed to mimic the appearance of traditional wood siding, offer improved durability and resistance to weathering, and reduce maintenance costs. These alternatives include vinyl (PVC) siding, and fiber-cement planks and panels, and composite siding.

One technique we have used is called Shou Sugi Ban, more commonly known as charred wood. This process involves charring the surface of wood with a hot flame which creates a thin layer of carbon on the surface. This protects the wood in the same way that a stain or sealant would but without the use of chemicals. It is very low maintenance and resistant to moisture and insects.

You can see this technique applied to the vertical wood siding on the Sinatra Cabana we designed for a young family.

Sinatra Cabana designed by Frankfranco Architects


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