Construction/architecture: my 2017 retrospective




The Domino Sugar Refinery in New York: clad in zinc and copper

The historic site of this mythical factory underwent spectacular redevelopment with a view to transforming it into a high-end residential neighbourhood. One of the first buildings is expertly clad in copper cassettes on the lower part, reminiscent of the old brick base, and in natural perforated zinc cassettes on the upper part. The result is magnificent. We are more than a little proud that our material is highly visible on the banks of the Hudson River from the famous Brooklyn Bridge. A great start to the year.



Customised colour: make it yours!

Because we internalised production of our coloured preweathered Pigmento zinc in 2015, in 2016 we were able to test production of colours on request. Pigmento has enjoyed great success and is a groundbreaking material in our sector. We maintained a very distinct lead by launching our worldwide campaign “Make it Yours” at the start of the year, aiming to provide made-to-order colours as well as the initial range comprising four shades (Blue, Green, Red and Brown).



Prix Pritzker 2017: won for the first time ever by a trio!

Architects are now working in groups. The 39th edition of the prestigious Pritzker prize - the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architects - was awarded on 1st March to RCR arquitectes: Rafael Aranda, Carme Pigem and Ramon Vilalta, Spanish artisan architects who have been working together since 1988! To our immense satisfaction, the prize recognises, in equal measures and for the first time ever, a trio including a female architect. It was the first time since the Zaha Hadid exception that a woman received the prize ! Does this mark the end of star architects? Without a doubt it is a strong signal sent out by this prize, which, up to now, tended to celebrate architectural superstars.



The zinc roofer community

We made the announcement and we kept our promise! The VMZINC user community was successfully launched. We had to be the first to create an exchange forum on the internet for zinc professionals, because our 180 years of history in the sector gave us the legitimacy to do so!

So it was on Facebook, the world’s largest social network, that we opened the VMZINGUEURS page, providing a showcase for modest and grandiose projects, simple and less simple, on roofs and facades, demonstrating the reality of work on site, providing a forum to discuss details, tools, safety, recruitment, tricks of the trade and tricky situations. A space where mutual respect reigns but where people can let off steam!

We update this page with examples of users’ finest work using VMZINC, and we raise greater awareness of the beauty of roofs. It has been a huge success. At the end of November, over 1,800 zinc workers had joined the community and are now talking to each other on internet. With more than fifty professionals joining every week, we hope to increase the number of members by the end of 2018.




180 years to the day!

The 24 May 2017 was a special day for us last year. It is the day we celebrated the one hundred and eightieth anniversary of the creation of the “Société des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne”, the fine company of which we are the proud heirs. We had some great experiences where we came together and shared moments, all filmed in moving videos where the women and men working at VMZINC form spectacular, fun human logos at all the Company’s French sites. A must-see, as are the making-of videos on our dedicated website, which brings together dozens of messages of friendship and support from partners, customers and company staff.



Increasing zinc quotations, enough is enough!

It was at the start of summer 2016 that zinc quotations started to rise to a level that recurs every seven or eight years. Increased consumption on emerging markets, mine closures and political instability; repetitive alarming messages on this subject began almost a year ago. Over a period of eighteen months, metal prices rose by almost 40%. Normally, this phenomenon rarely lasts more than one year. This time round, it seems that this preoccupying trend for the sector will last until at least summer 2018…. The entire sector is affected. We are all digging our heels in until things get better.



A wave rippling over the Bund in Shanghai

If there is one well-known urban landscape in China, it is the landscape located along the curves of the Huangpu River (the river of the yellow banks!), which flows through the city of Shanghai. One of its banks in the historic section, called the Bund (“the foreigners’ shore”) is dotted with old stone buildings that housed Western representations that were present in this country in the early 20th century. At the beginning of the year, opposite this highly frequented location, on the other bank, a long zinc roof was installed. This immense zinc wave houses the administrative departments of Wharf 16. It also features retail and restaurant units surrounded by greenery. Our zinc has made a place for itself at the heart of this Asian megacity associated with a decidedly sustainable architecture!



Our Lady of Saigon, 1896-2018: 122 years of loyal service!

We did it! We convinced the diocese of Saigon that we were the most competent and legitimate company to renew the roofing on the two spires of the Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. After several months of historic research (national archives in France and Vietnam) and detailed studies by our technical teams of the state of the roofing and its superb metal frame, in 2018 we will be replacing the original Vieille Montagne zinc panels with identical models. It is reassuring to see that our material is so durable in the exotic climate and context of Asian countries.

A great human adventure and beautiful images ahead!



Welcome Fedrus

We had made the announcement in May: the exclusive negotiation phase preceding the transfer of the Umicore Building Products division was to take place throughout the summer. On 29 September at 5 pm, Belgian group Fedrus International became the new owner of VMZINC. From the outset, the latter announced it would be keeping the brand name and its history, proposing that its new activities be conducted under a new joint name preceded by our legendary initials: VM BUILDING SOLUTIONS. In addition to its unstoppable growth in the area of high-end EPDM watertight membranes, Fedrus also brings with it the communicative energy of its teams, entirely geared towards the end user: installers. The matrix is reloaded!



VIP evening: zinc at the Paris Opera House

We have always invited our clients and partners from all over the world to Paris, because this city is the finest possible showcase our products could wish for. From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Bateaux Mouches to the Théâtre du Chatelet, we have always received our guests in symbolic settings.

This year, we chose the Paris Opera House neighbourhood. Our 200 visitors of 18 different nationalities began with a drink on the roof terrace - happily bathed in sunlight - of the Galeries Lafayette department store, which was privatised for our event. They then visited the famous Paris Opera House, before being welcomed to the recently renovated great ceremonial hall in the Intercontinental Hotel. Large numbers were in attendance to celebrate VMZINC’s 180th anniversary and change of shareholder in style. The transfer of power between the former and the new CEO took place live and with the greatest of ease.



WAF Berlin: under the benevolent care of “starchitects”!

We again attended the World Architecture Festival, which for the last 2 years has been organised in Berlin. It was an exceptional edition. An international fountain of youth. Meetings with benevolent stars (De Meuron (at our stand), Norman Foster, Jean Paul Viguier, Terry Farrell, Will Alsop and many more). An occasion for us to understand trends and meet in person with young architects after presentation of their projects, which we imagine with them in zinc. We will be attending next year’s edition in Amsterdam!



Special edition: “Les 101 mots de la Zinguerie” (101 Zinc roofing words)

It is on the ground, when zinc roofers use the right words of their profession, that we realise the roofing culture is above all oral.

So to me, the obvious thing to do was to write “Les 101 mots de la zinguerie”, because zinc roofing is an outstanding skill that is associated with a key profession that has its own universe, a unique language made up of images, metaphors, borrowed and invented expressions. Because zinc roofers use strong, poetic, invigorating and often pagan words…

But zinc is also part of our daily life. Numerous expressions in this book take us from a chat at a bar to the cockpit of a plane. Zinc is everywhere, even inside us.

So we thought it would be useful to contribute abundantly and actively to the writing of this collective publication, available since last December in French and published by archiSTORM.


  Roger Baltus column