The Polk Penguin Conservation Centre

Although not literally made out of ice, the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Centre resembles the look of an Antarctic iceberg.

A monolithic tabular iceberg rises inside the Detroit Zoo, sparkling brightly in the sun. Although not literally made out of ice, the exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Centre resembles the look of an Antarctic iceberg. The centre 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 of 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 centre was only half their battle. When it came to building’s exterior, developers had even grander plans in store.

“We wanted the exterior of Polk Penguin Conservation Centre 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 centre reflect this original penguin habitat as closely as possible.”

To achieve his desired look, Hrovat teamed up with Imetco and Sherwin-Williams to create a customised iceberg exterior. Imetco supplied four different types of panels for the Polk Penguin project. The most prominent panels are their Diamond 'D' style from our Legacy Wall Panel Systems. The high-performance, diamond-shaped metal panels are perfectly interlocked on the exterior of the centre to replicate the jutting and jagged edges of Antarctic terrain. Sherwin-Williams was chosen to create a highly customised colour for the metal panelling by using their advanced architectural coatings and colour-matching process to find the perfect shade of white for the building.

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


Project Credits:

“Sherwin-Williams [Valspar's] coating has definitely helped us fulfil our sustainability goals and mission to make this facility the best it can be. Our main objective is supporting the welfare of these beautiful birds, and we have accomplished that with the Polk Penguin Conservation Centre.”

John Hrovat

Director of Architecture & Design, Albert Khan Associates, Inc.

At the onset of the project, Register and the Sherwin-Williams team planned to develop a custom colour with Sherwin-Williams Fluropon Effects Kameleon, due to the advanced coating’s pearlescent and unique colour-shifting finish. Despite the coating’s dynamic and innovative appearance, the sheen swayed yellow, rather than the crisp white the team was looking for. Shifting gears, the Sherwin-Williams team returned to the drawing board and set their sights on using Sherwin-Williams Fluropon Classic II Special SR, in order to capture a shade of white possessing hints of blue that is more visible in Antarctic snow. The finalised samples turned out flawless, emitting a piercing white colour, which now shields the striking exterior of the Polk Penguin Conservation Centre. Specially named for the project, the custom shade of Fluropon Classic II Special SR was anointed “Iceberg White.”

Not only does Sherwin-Williams Fluropon Classic II Special SR provide the penguin centre with a beautiful exterior, the coating also contains 70 percent PVDF resins, resulting in outstanding protection against dirt and staining as well exceptional colour consistency and retention. The custom Iceberg White coating also features Sherwin-Williams 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 centre cool, maintaining an environment as natural as the penguins’ Antarctic habitat.

Now open to the public, the Polk Penguin Conservation Centre 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 Sherwin-Williams, the 83 penguins living in the penguin centre will have a beautiful, durable and memorable place to call home for many years to come.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 16, 2017. Valspar was acquired by The Sherwin-Williams Company on June 1, 2017.

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