Durham City Hall


A complete exterior and interior renovation was needed for Durham City Hall, which opened in 1975. Looking for a maintenance-free material that would soften the building’s feel while also giving the structure a strong presence, the design team selected metal wall panels from Dri-Design.

“The desire to have a rainscreen system where the water barrier was behind the metal panel with few caulk joints was important to the design team,” says Rhonda Zack, project manager and designer with Roughton-Nickelson-DeLuca Architects, Durham. “In addition, the Dri-Design panel, unlike its competitors, had an interior gutter system that kept rainwater off the face of the panels directing flow through the gutter system to the bottom of the screenwall. The panels interlocked and made for a tight rainscreen that would stand up over time. The competitors’ products did not have the interior gutter and used more fasteners to penetrate the waterproofing, offering more opportunities for leaks.”

The original city hall façade was a cementitious aggregate panel called Arlite. The weight of the panels caused sagging and open surfaces for water to penetrate the building, leading to leaks and water damage. The openings had been caulked many times, but waterfalls reportedly still occurred inside the building.

After the Arlite was removed, general contractor Balfour Beatty US’ Raleigh, NC, team and panel installer SPS, Apex, NC, had to determine how to use the building’s original framing for the metal wall panel installation. Because of 40 years of leaking and sagging, the framing was not straight. In fact, it was out of alignment by as much as 4 inches over three stories in some areas. Additional framing was worked into the existing framing to create a straight panel installation.

Together, Balfour Beatty and SPS installed 23,535 square feet of post-painted aluminum wall panels. The primary wall color is Dorian Gray with Agreeable Gray and Amazing Gray worked into the panel layout. Dark Bronze wall panels were selected as an accent to the gray panels.

“Dri-Design panels were invented because of situations like this at the city hall,” notes Brad Zeeff, president of Dri-Design. “Dri-Design panels do not use sealants or gaskets, eliminating maintenance and dirty streaks, and they are not assembled with caulk or tape. They will never delaminate because Dri-Design panels are not made with laminates or composites—they are 100 percent metal panels, also making them non-combustible.”

The project has been a hit with locals and visitors. It won the People’s Choice Durham Golden Leaf Award and the Adaptive Re-Use Durham Golden Leaf Award.

Zack says: “The design of the new façade has brought new attention to a building that was neglected for far too long. The design team took the opportunity during this re-design to soften up the brutalist language of the original design and add more pedestrian-friendly areas so that the city hall would feel like a building for the people. The metal panels allowed us to bring the look into the 21st century with a durable product that allowed for a variety of design options.”

About Dri-Design

DriDesign_logo_020511Dri-Design is a manufacturer of dry-joint rainscreen metal wall systems available in a wide range of styles and colors. In addition, the company offers graphic wall systems created though sophisticated custom perforating and via imaging technology. To learn more about the company's products, visit

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