Copper in Modern Architecture, Building and Plumbing

Copper and its alloys are being used on an increasing scale in architecture and building. A large number of post-war houses have been roofed with copper, 2,000 on one site alone, and in thousands of dwellings all over Britain copper plumbing systems have been installed. One of the universal features of post-war domestic building has been the construction of large blocks of flats and offices, and here copper has made a notable contribution not only for ordinary plumbing but also for central heating and air conditioning equipment, roofing, and even, as in Scandinavia, external cladding (Fig. 52).

There is also a demand for copper sheet and strip for dormers, gutters, flashing, canopies and cills; and copper alloys are often used for glazing bars, fascias, frames, the grilles on bank counters, the nameplates on doors, and various other forms of architectural metalwork.

One very special use in building, which is really associated with radio and radar transmission, is in sheathing, or more strictly shielding, so as to ensure wave-free silence and cut out interference. This is one of the reasons for the considerable use of copper in the GPO transmission tower which has just been erected in London. This spectacular addition to London's skyline, 620 ft. high and at present the tallest building in Britain, also contains many miles of copper cabling and wiring to operate the telephone and telegraphic equipment, the lighting system and the mechanism to revolve the remarkable aerial restaurant situated 500 ft. about ground.

Another notable and rather unusual building is the London Planetarium, erected in 1957, which is capped with an impressive dome sheathed in copper.

Other important building which also have copper roofs include the dome of the British Museum (one of the largest in existence), the dome of the Old Bailey, the roofs of the 20th Century cathedrals of Guildford, Liverpool and Coventry, the Festival Hall in London, and the Capitol building at Washington. The continuing use of copper in modern church architecture is demonstrated by its selection for the cathedrals mentioned above and this use extends beyond roofing to a variety of symbolic and decorative metalwork, such as the recently erected cross and orb surmounting Brompton Oratory which are bronze castings covered with gold foil.

Copper inevitably plays a vital part in the lighting, heating, air conditioning and sanitation of the giant skyscrapers of today. The recent Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York, which is sixty stories high and the sixth tallest building in the world, employs about 60,000 ft. of copper tubes for its plumbing services alone.

Modern architecture, particularly the tower block type of building, has been criticized as monotonous, but architects are now beginning to specify wall panelling in copper or copper alloys; this not only protects the structure but gives a very pleasing effect. This practice was first adopted some time ago in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and has since spread across the Atlantic, where the recent Seagram Building in New York is an outstanding example.