There is a common misconception that paint is a decorative element with no real architectural importance.

While it’s true that paint often falls under the definition of interior design, there is no doubt that it has an important role to play in the creation of architecture that is safe, sustainable and visually striking.

Cutting through the noise

By now we are all aware of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the impact they can have on indoor air quality and in turn, human health. As a result, we have seen the development of many new low VOC paints over the past few years, and the use of these non-toxic paints has quickly become standard in many architectural projects. But now that there are so many low VOC options to choose from, it can be difficult to ‘cut through the noise’ and choose the most effective option for your use case.

One sustainable paint option that stands out, however, is Ecolour’s water-based paint. Completely VOC-free, it is suitable for interior, exterior and timber finishes, and can be tinted to almost any colour from any paint chart. Because there are no VOCs, this means there is no unpleasant paint smell and spaces can be safely and comfortably occupied while painting.

Perhaps one of the most impressive examples of its use is in 10 Star Home, a sustainable build in Adelaide that boasts a 10-star NatHERS energy rating. Designed by SUHO, the goal was to demonstrate how the building industry can contribute to an ecologically sustainable future through clever design and collaboration. It was important that the structure was durable and adaptable, using contemporary construction materials and techniques to build a home that contributes to the circular economy. At the time of its completion in 2020, 10-Star Home was the first 10-Star rated home in Adelaide, and one of very few in Australia.

Ecolour’s VOC-free paint was also used inside The Commons, a Melbourne mixed-use residential building designed by Breathe Architecture. The aim behind The Commons was to create a residential building that would facilitate a sustainable lifestyle and a strong sense of community, while also being a flagship of sustainable development that could be easily replicated. This was achieved by designing a simple building using natural materials, according to Breathe, which won the Best of the Best award for The Commons at the 2014 Sustainability Awards.

On the subject of materials, another low VOC option worth mentioning is Intercote by Rockcote – a water-based, low odour paint with less than 5g/L of VOCs. The new range, expected to be released in 2021, includes Rockcote’s Hydratech technology, which creates a water-repellent barrier that provides stain resistance and ease of cleaning. This makes it a good solution for residential builds, especially in moist and stain-prone areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.

“In this day and age, it is expected by tradesmen and homeowners alike that interior products have low, if not very low VOC content,” says Alana Dewar, product innovation and development coordinator at Rockcote.

“However, with a reduced VOC content comes an expectation that performance must be compromised. Intercote has been specially formulated not only to compete with very low VOC interior paint products, but also paint products that contain much higher levels of VOC to ensure that tradesmen and homeowners can feel assured there is no compromise when choosing a product that is right for their health.”

Coatings are as important as the paint underneath

Let’s not forget about coatings, which may not always be visible to the naked eye but can have a real impact on the durability and functionality of a build.

Apartment buildings, for example, require a solution that is low-maintenance and weather-resistant. One good option is Interpon D3020 Fluromax, a coating system based on Flurocarbon technology. According to Interpon, D3020 is a cost-effective and environmentally conscious alternative to liquid fluorocarbon paints. The powder coating does not require the use of solvents or VOCs and is Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) certified. Some common uses of D3020 include its application to architectural aluminium in window systems, curtain walls, balustrades and louvre systems.

One notable example of its use is on the facade of a building in NYC’s Hudson Yards development – the largest private real estate development in US history, and one of the most complex construction projects ever built in NYC, according to project lead KPF. Interpon D3020 was used on 35 Hudson Yards, a mixed-use skyscraper designed by SOM that includes 143 private residences, a luxury hotel, fitness club and spa, first-class office space and ground floor retail.

Hudson Yards’ tallest residential building, 35 Hudson Yards is part of the first LEED Gold Neighbourhood Development in Manhattan, which includes onsite power generation, two cogeneration plants and stormwater collection for reuse on site. Clad in limestone and glass, it was important to find a coating solution that would protect the structure against the elements while also contributing to the project’s sustainable ethos.

Exterior durability is one thing, but what about the resilience of a building’s occupants? The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to consider a lot of things that we previously overlooked, and one of those is the role architecture and design has to play in negating the spread of disease.

In this respect, one interesting product is Pylon’s Bio-Guard, a range of antimicrobial coatings with Biomaster technology, which is based on silver ions. According to Pylon, Bio-Guard Coating offers highly active antimicrobial protection for the lifetime of the coating. It is designed to reduce the ability of bacteria to grow and spread on coated surfaces, while also reducing the risk of cross-contamination. The product is recommended for use in high-risk areas where hygiene is a priority, such as kitchens, bathrooms, aged care facilities, shared living facilities and even domestic furniture.

Not too long ago, it may have seemed over-cautious to include antimicrobial coatings in a residential build. But it actually makes a lot of sense to use such a product in kitchens and bathrooms, which tend to be hotbeds for bacteria. And as more Australians move into apartments and shared living facilities, it stands to reason that buildings’ design and materials will need to play a greater role in keeping people safe.

Therefore, while paints and coatings are not necessarily “architectural” in nature, they have an important role to play in healthy and sustainable design – something that is now more relevant than ever. So the next time you are considering paint or coatings for a build, take a deeper look into some of their properties and evaluate how they fit the brief and ethos of your design. After all, paint should never be an afterthought.







Image: Unsplash