Aluminium is a truly versatile metal; it’s light, durable, almost infinitely recyclable and offers excellent design flexibility.

These insights into aluminium are from London-based architect, author and researcher Professor Michael Stacey. As an international aluminium sustainability expert, Stacey led the International Aluminium Institute’s ‘Towards Sustainable Cities’ research program and wrote a series of accompanying publications. He has also developed prefabricated cladding and façade systems, including the one used by architect Philip Cox on the Melbourne Tennis Centre.

According to Stacey, aluminium is a key component of a circular economy with 75 per cent of all the aluminium that has ever been produced still in use today, or available to be used by humankind. He compares this to just 7 per cent of the global polymer production that has ever been recycled.

“Recycled aluminium only requires 5 per cent of the energy input compared to primary production,” he added. When it comes to the future of aluminium use, he said we will see a lot more projects designed for disassembly.

“If we design for disassembly we can do a number of things… the building owner can make changes over the life of the building. If necessary you can disassemble a component and relocate it… and you can reuse the components on a different building. The final outcome is you can recycle the aluminium and a few other materials in the system,” he said. Stacey explained that aluminium is much more durable than people may predict.

“We used to think that if you wanted something to last a long time, build it out of something heavy,” he said. We tended to think lightweight materials were less durable.

“Now we have the engineering skills to design a lightweight structure to stay put and survive something like a hurricane,” he said.

Stacey used the example of Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters which has stood the test of time and extreme weather conditions with its aluminium curtain walling system that includes die-cast aluminium and aluminium rain screen cladding.

“The research suggests aluminium inside a building can be considered to have an infinite life…while outside it can last 120 years,” he said. This lifespan accounts for homeowners and building owners conducting proper maintenance.

Its diversity is another perk, with aluminium having the ability to be turned into anything from curtain railings to bridges. It can also be finished in a myriad of ways, such as DECO Australia’s

DecoWood® sublimation technology which can transform almost any piece of aluminium into a timber-look profile.

In terms of aluminium innovation in Australia, Michael pointed to Capral which has introduced LocAl, a lower-carbon primary aluminium option. LocAl Green with carbon emissions of 8kg CO2e/kg Al and LocAl Super Green at 4kg CO2e/kg Al, are amongst the lowest carbon aluminium available globally.

“Aluminium is affordable, accessible, durable and really is in the hands of the design team how to deploy it and gain the best benefit from its fundamental qualities,” Michael said.

Michael Stacey is visiting Australia in September as a guest speaker at the Aluminium Insights CPD lecture series presented by DECO Australia, Capral Aluminium and Dulux Powder Coatings. 

This podcast was brought to you in association with Deco Australia. Listen to this episode of Talking Architecture & Design here. 

Professor Michael Stacey’s latest publication Aluminium: A Studio Design Guide is now available. Click here for details.