Whimsical Metal Façade Evokes a Paper Airplane Theme at Award-Winning Missouri Public Library 

With its unique paper airplane façade design, the community of Lee’s Summit, Mo., is enjoying the architectural creativity and amenities of their new Mid-Continent Public Library (MCPL) Colbern Library Center.

“Normally, you don’t get this kind of elegance in a library,” stated Lee Calisti, principal, lee CALISTI architecture+design, Greensburg, Pa., a 2022 Metal Architecture Awards judge.

An award-winning project in the Metal Composite Panel category, the perforated, folded and geometric metal design on top of the building’s storefront provides shading, enhances daylighting, increases the building’s height and draws attention to the 33,000 square-foot library.

The project is part of a 35-branch capital improvement initiative which included modernizing the library’s aesthetic. Sapp Design Architects chose architectural metal as a means to accomplish this.

“The idea of transferring knowledge at a basic level led us to think about passing notes as children, the idea of folding paper and ultimately the paper airplane,” stated Brad McKenzie, office director and senior project manager at Sapp Design Architects, Kansas City, Mo. in a recent Metal Architecture article.

Multi-colored airplanes hang from the ceiling, providing a playful interior design element and functioning as a wayfinding tool.

As the distinctive design was taking shape, the architects discussed ways to bring the paper airplane theme to the building’s exterior, but didn’t want to be too literal.

“As we were exploring options for abstract airplane shapes in the ACM panel joints, or on the concrete plaza, we decided to explore the idea of incorporating the shape into the screenwall,” he related.

The first iteration involved utilizing the more familiar shape of airplane fins, but ultimately the team decided to focus on folded metal sheets. Here the challenge was keep the folds subtle enough to evoke the airplane theme while also creating multiple stages of fold to add some dynamic to the screen wall.

“The final design was a result of standard material sheet sizes, geometry and groupings of panels rotated 180 degrees,” he said.

To execute their design, McKenzie’s team evaluated metal products based on economy, ease of maintenance, longevity and the enhanced modern aesthetic. For the screening element, the team specified ACM Series 100 metal wall panels and for the custom perforated aluminum sheeting, ALPOLIC Materials–Mitsubishi Chemical America was selected.

The perforated panels are 1/4-inch plate aluminum with a variation of custom perforation patterns and four different folded patterns to create the folded paper airplane design theme.

ACM panels can also be found around the library entrance and café. “The darker portal identifies the main library entrance and the white portal highlights the café,” he stated. “Both portals have Mac Metal Architectural’s Harrywood wood grain metal panel on the inside surface and from the exterior into the interior space of the library.”

Two sides of the building are clad with a blend of Elevate (formerly Firestone Building Products) and Delta panel profiles in Silver Metallic producing a varied rib pattern. The metal panels are finished with Sherwin-Williams Coil Coatings.

Helping to bring the complex design to life, metal installer Standard Sheet Metal was brought in to develop the screening element with standard plate aluminum sizes, available perforation options and a minimum number of different panel shapes.

The new library houses a large children’s area, full-service coffee shop and community rooms, in addition to a supportive co-working section. Benefitting from comfortable workspaces, meeting rooms and Wi-Fi, small business owners and entrepreneurs have access to free assistance with starting a business, branding, economic empowerment and more.

Commenting on the architects’ inventive exterior design, awards judge Rand Elliott, FAIA, principal, Rand Elliot Architects, Oklahoma City, stated, “It gives a connection to what the building does on the inside. What a great thing for the community, students, adults or anyone who goes into this library. It seems like a beautiful gesture.”

The library has received a great response from the community and has been busy from day one.

“They love the new building, the amenities, coffee shop and the small business assistance offered,” reported McKenzie. “We have taken several potential clients to tour the facility and the MCPL has even given tours to other library staff from around the region.”

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