Exposed Ductwork: Creating the ‘Industrial’ Look

Air conditioning ductwork increasingly serves a purpose beyond its practical application, often presented as a design element in its own right. In buildings with high ceilings, exposed ductwork can be a particularly impressive, eye-catching feature.

Achieving this effect is, however, more complicated than it seems. Functionality should be the primary consideration when ducting is chosen, but appearance can be factored in if the designer of a mechanical system has a good understanding of the client’s objective.

This understanding is important because the variety of processes involved in the production of ductwork means the final colour, texture and brightness of the product surface can vary greatly.

HVAC metallic ductwork is usually made of sheet steel with an electrogalvanized or electroplated zinc finish. The chemistry involved in the electroplating and steel sheet production results in batch variations.

The cold forming process for components made from the sheet metal has varying effects on the surface, while storage of the finished components also affects the appearance of the newly installed ductwork.

An ‘industrial’ look is achieved by leaving the ductwork untreated, which creates variety in a similar way that an oil painting will show heavy brush strokes, or a wood carving will properly leave the carving tool marks. We took this approach for Cineflix Production’s London offices, where the high, open ceilings of a space originally built in the 19th century suited an industrial feel.

The coating will ultimately weather to a uniform matte grey, but for some projects a high-quality, consistent finish is required for exposed ducting. This is achieved using paint or powder coat finishing over the galvanized/zinc plating. For Paper Mill Studios, this style complements the exposed brickwork, joists and beams of a striking creative space.

As the coating is exposed to natural wet/dry cycles, it will develop a protective zinc patina. The result is a soft grey appearance - evening out any original differences in appearance.

To learn more about exposed ductwork and how it could be used to make a statement in your own space, contact the 361 Degrees team.

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