The Evolution and Historical Development of Copper: A Sustainable Perspective

Presented by: Atefe Hejri, Suchismita Bhattacharjee

Employment of metals has been closely associated with the development of societies. Specifically, the massive use of metals had significant effects on emergence of economic growth in developed countries. However, the consequence of uncontrolled usage of natural resources among countries has jeopardized the sustainable use of metals for future generations. Copper, as luxury metal in interior design has found firm position among sustainable materials. It is important to explore historical progress in the use of copper as one of the oldest metals in the design industry. Copper, as the most significant metallic material for design purpose, has been utilized for a long time. Copper as one of the oldest metal employed in people's lives as early as 7000BP and was one of the main metal used by 3000BP. As a design component, the application of copper was not prominent until the Pantheon in Rome and was further used as roofing materials during the Renaissance. However, the major applications of copper in building industry happened in the twentieth century. This study examines the evolution of copper and its development through the centuries in architecture especially interior design and looks for its environmental benefits. Since copper has the highest recycling rate of any engineering materials, it needs to be carefully considered in the design industry. Different stages that will be explored in this review are the historical evolution of copper, its unique characteristics applied in interior design, and environmental benefits of implementing this metal in design supported with various case studies. In the current design environment, designers have a new mantra: “Make it efficient. Make it sustainable. Make it green” (Stelmack, Foster, & Hindman, 2014). As part of a new revision of the professional standards adopted by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, interior design education has to encompass an understanding of the concept of sustainable building methods and materials. In this regard, future outlook toward implementation of nonrenewable resources needs to be reviewed for further preservation of the natural resources such as copper. Recyclability and long lifespan are key attributes that can help a structure achieve green building certification (Building & Architecture News, Jan2008). The 2006 Copper Development Association (CDA) market study suggested that at least 70 percent of copper used in US for design purpose is further recycled. Also, copper for design purpose is considered a ‘cradle to cradle' product (Schade, 2007). Not only does this save resources, moreover, it substantially reduces the energy required to drive material production (Georgiou, 2006). Manufacturing with recycled copper scrap saves 58 percent of the energy needed to make the same amount of copper from copper ore (Jones, 2008). Additionally, the 200 years’ lifespan of coppers, and its zero maintenance requirement due to physical properties lasting for decades and sometimes centuries makes it an appealing material choice for buildings design (Georgiou, 2006). There are a variety of copper usage in interior design as cladding skin, ornamental metalwork to building piping system and electricity wire. The poster will demonstrate the major applicative forms of copper in the interior design industry through the help of several case studies. The use of copper in several prominent building designs will be exhibited such as Austin City Hall, designed by Antonie Predock; the Canadian War Museum located in Toronto, Ontario; University of Arizona’s Health Science Education Building etc.


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  • Schade, A. L. (2007, November). Copper in a Sustainable Context. The Construction Specifier.
  • Jones, L. (2008). Environmentally responsible design: green and sustainable design for interior designers. John Wiley & Sons.
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