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Building a Habitat with Paint: The Polk Penguin Conservation Center

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Building a Habitat with Paint: The Polk Penguin Conservation Center

With Valspar’s expertly color-matched Fluropon coating, the Polk Penguin Conservation Center was able to capture the look and feel of the Antarctic landscape. 

By Valspar | April 28, 2016
Building a Habitat with Paint – the Polk Penguin Conservation Center

Valspar's elite color matching process helped the Polk Penguin Conservation Center perfectly replicate a tabular iceberg in Antarctica. Click here to enlarge.

A monolithic tabular iceberg rises inside the Detroit Zoo, sparkling brightly in the sun. Although not literally made of ice, the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center resembles the look of an Antarctic iceberg. The center is designed to not only house penguins, but also reflect their natural habitat, drawing inspiration from Antarctica’s icy landscape. Set to open in April 2016, the state-of-the-art facility is the largest of its kind in the world and houses 83 of the aquatic birds.

Home to more than 2,400 animals of 255 species, the 125-acre Detroit Zoo is one of the premier animal caretaking sites in the country. Adding on to the impressive campus was not an easy undertaking for architects from Albert Kahn Associates. Accounting for more than 326,000 gallons of water and 33,000 square-feet of space, designing the interior of the center was only half their battle. When it came to the building’s exterior, developers had even grander plans in store.

“We wanted the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center to capture the essence of Antarctica, the most otherworldly place on Earth,” said John Hrovat, director of architecture & design for Albert Kahn Associates, Inc. “Antarctica has an ever-changing landscape due to the ice and light, and we were determined to have the center reflect this original penguin habitat as closely as possible.”

To achieve his desired look, Hrovat teamed up with Imetco and Valspar to create a customized iceberg exterior. Imetco supplied four different types of panels for the Polk Penguin project, with the most prominent being the Diamond 'D' style from its Legacy Wall Panel Systems. The high-performing, diamond-shaped metal panels are perfectly interlocked on the exterior of the center to replicate the jutting and jagged edges of Antarctic terrain. Valspar was chosen to supply its architectural coatings for the exterior of the building due to its advanced color-matching abilities and strength and durability features.

“Color-matching is often a challenging process, but one Valspar truly prides itself on accomplishing,” said Jay Register, group project leader, Valspar. “For the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, we went through several different types of coatings and color variations until we found the perfect white that fit the Antarctic vision.”

At the onset of the project, Register and the Valspar team planned to develop a custom color utilizing Valspar’s Fluropon® Effects Kameleon coating due to the unique pearlescent, color-shifting finish. Despite the coating’s dynamic appearance, the sheen swayed yellow, rather than the crisp white the team was looking to achieve. Shifting gears, the Valspar team returned to the drawing board and set their sights on using Fluropon Classic II Special SR coating, in order to capture a shade of white possessing a hint of blue that is more visible in Antarctic snow. The final samples turned out flawless. After coil coating the paneling, the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conversation Center now emits a piercing white color. Suitably, Valspar anointed the custom color Iceberg White.

Not only does Valspar’s Fluropon Classic II Special SR provide the penguin center with a beautiful exterior, but the coating also contains 70 percent PVDF resins, resulting in outstanding protection against dirt and staining as well exceptional color consistency and retention. The custom Iceberg White coating also features Valspar’s solar reflective technology, which offers high resistance to harmful UV rays. The solar reflective coating will help reduce overall energy consumption and keep the interior of the penguin center cool, maintaining an environment as natural as the penguins’ original Antarctic habitat.

“Valspar’s coating has definitely helped us fulfill our sustainability goals and mission to make this facility the best it can be,” said Hrovat. “Our main objective is supporting the welfare of these beautiful birds, and we have accomplished that with the Polk Penguin Conservation Center.”

Now open to the public, the Polk Penguin Conservation Center will welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year as part of the Detroit Zoo. Thanks to the combined efforts of Albert Khan Associates, Imetco and Valspar, the 83 penguins living in the penguin center will have a beautiful, durable and memorable place to call home for many years to come.

Project Overview

Project: Polk Penguin Conservation Center; Detroit, MI

Date completed: 2016

Coatings provider: The Valspar Corporation; Minneapolis, MN

General contractor: DeMaria; Detroit, MI; Wharton Smith; Sanford, FL

Architect: Albert Kahn Associates, Inc.; Detroit, MI

Metal panels

Manufacturer: Imetco; Norcross, GA

Panel installer: C.L. Rieckhoff; Taylor, MI


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