Call going out to re-imagine vinyl siding

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The engineered evolution of vinyl siding has long been underway with all kinds of successes.

Manufacturers boast a growing palate of fade-resistant colors, finishes that better resemble wood, insulated backings that add to a home’s energy efficiency, and strength to stand up to hail and hurricanes.

No doubt America’s most widely used cladding performs better than ever.

Now it’s time for some leading architects and designers who have snubbed the material to lend their expertise. The Vinyl Siding Institute is embarking on an aesthetics overhaul with help from noted urbanist architects Steve Mouzon and Andres Duany.

Surely it’s needed with Mouzon saying that “vinyl siding is easy to trash because it has been heretofore hideous and obvious.”

After a June meeting with the trade association and vinyl siding manufacturers, Mouzon summed up two new design goals for the industry in a Facebook post that generated more than 30 comments and 130 “likes.”

“Andres and I advocated for two diverging paths for the industry. One would be to build a system of components that are so good that they’re indiscernible from wood siding and trim at arm’s length. The other is to build a system of cladding that makes no attempt to fake wood, but rather celebrates the fact that it is vinyl.”

After one comment that these initiatives are a “great way to start the conversation,” some doubters chimed in, starting with a challenge for Mouzon to find a way to celebrate asphalt next. Another sees no desirable features of vinyl siding to emphasize.

“Stone, concrete, wood, metal and glass all have inherent qualities that can be celebrated. What inherent qualities come to mind for vinyl in any of its forms? I’ll remain open minded but skeptical,” posted one of Mouzon’s colleagues.

Another commenter doesn’t think “that we as New Urbanists should be encouraging vinyl as an acceptable siding except perhaps in small, affordable single-family units.”

The comment that drew the most “likes” called vinyl siding “cheap,” said it should have a limited place in the built environment, and took manufacturers to task for advertising it as low maintenance when “it really is non-maintainable.”

Mouzen responded, saying wood has been genetically modified to be nothing like the wood of old, “And one of the several things I’ve asked them to do is to make their products repairable and paintable, which is akin to asking a leopard to change its spots. Will they do it? We will see.”

Well, maybe the engineers’ work is never done when it comes to vinyl siding but the designers’ work has barely started compared to the transformation metal siding has undergone. Designers have taken the material from failed wood wannabe to a contemporary, customizable building element in terms of shapes, textures and façade effects.

Can they do something similar with vinyl siding?

That’s an intriguing prospect to some, including a person who told Mouzon, “It’s not that I like vinyl, but as you propose, I am interested to see what vinyl could look like if it quit pretending to be something else. While I value traditional materials greatly, I also value authenticity…what would authentic vinyl look like. I hope I get to see.”

Fernando Pages Ruiz, a homebuilder and VSI consultant, gets some creative juices flowing in his June article for protradecraft.com. He writes about Duany imagining the possibilities for new vinyl siding lines, such as modern shingle patterns that mimic no other material or siding with waves or interlocking geometric shapes.

Right now the challenges are going both ways from the design industry and the siding industry. It seems a lot of the key players are up to the task of taking the building material to new levels.

“You never know how these things will turn out,” Mouzon said. “I’ve tried to reinvent the window industry and the manufactured housing industry and that hasn’t happened…yet. But I’m really optimistic that the vinyl industry just might be the first to make this happen. Stay tuned!”

We will.

Kavanaugh is a Detroit-based Plastics News staff reporter. Follow her on Twitter @CatherineKav.