When I went to visit with the protesters at Occupy Austin a couple of weeks ago, I met Amber, age 24, who complained, “Why are there so many people that don’t have Medicare? They are just on the street dying because they can’t afford the right medications.”When asked about how to pay for increased coverage (which I would love to see happen) She replied, “This beautiful building [Austin City Hall] right here is made out of copper. Seventeen ($17) million dollars of copper just setting there on that roof. I mean, why can’t they just put regular brick or glass on top of the building like all the rest of them? Why is the $17 million just setting there? You know $17 million dollars can feed so many people and help so many people out.”
I was astounded. Was this true? So I began to research it. Yes there is copper on the roof and ceiling of the building., according to multiple sources. One such source, copper.org, notes that when visitors enter the building, they find themselves standing in a canyon-like space that reaches four stories to a reflective bronze ceiling with catwalks spanning the openness at each level.
This is all part of the city of Austin’s green initiative. The copper.org site tells us that there are 66,000 square feet (or more than a football field’s worth) of copper, which is used primarily to wrap the top half of the building. All of the 12-inch-wide copper-clad panels have been treated with a light oil coating to slow their patination.
Due to the low amount of sulfur in Austin’s air, it is expected that the copper will first turn in about 30 years. With the building having so few 90 degree angles it was critical to find a material that could be fitted to almost any shape. Something that copper was thought to be the best choice for.
The copper exterior of the building will last two to three times longer than other exterior materials, resulting in the consumption of from a third to a half less material over the building’s life expectancy.
In the lobby, a bronze ceiling reflects the sun coming in from the skylight into the space below. In the council chamber, 16 corrugated copper clouds dominate the ceiling, acting as both design features and acoustical panels. Finally, the fact that the copper has 82 percent recycled content helped contribute to its award of the LEED prize for using recycled materials.
Further, the only energy needed to make cladding from recycled copper is for the heat to melt it just 15 percent of the total energy that would have been consumed if it had been mined, milled, smelted and refined from ore. This translates into big energy savings, as more than 80 percent of the copper used to make architectural sheet products is derived from recycled copper.
Finally, copper cladding will last two or three times longer than other exterior materials, resulting in the consumption of from a third to a half less material over a building’s lifetime.
But is it really $17 million in copper alone? I mean the city’s own website said the building cost $56 million to build, so would the copper really take that much of the building costs? According to copper.org, “If our Lincoln pennies were still made of copper (they are copper-coated zinc now), more than 12 million Lincoln coins would have been needed to construct this City Hall building in Austin, Texas.”
With its multiple angles and sharp curves, the unique four story 115,000-square-foot building, which opened in late 2004 and cost $56 million to construct, is almost entirely clad in copper.
For the record, 12 million pennies amount to only $120,000, but the copper value is more than that, so the question remains: is it really $17 million in that building? It is a question that I asked the city’s media relations department. Is this fact or just an exaggeration by some overzealous critics? At the time of publication my phone calls and emails have been unanswered. I however, will keep vigilant to find out the answer. I believe you should know the facts, because I want to know. Is the city hiding the truth from us (is that why it has been nearly two weeks since I first asked and there has been no return call?) or is it overzealous protestors misrepresenting the numbers? I want you to know.
Photos courtesy of Antoine Predock via Copper.org