Colored stainless steel is a superb choice for monumental and durable façades – discover Harlem’s The Smile

Introducing case Harlem's Smile

Harlem’s The Smile has a breath-taking façade that mimics the surface of the moon. Discover how this unique exterior was created with colored stainless steel!

The Smile in Harlem, New York, is an impressive residential development with a spectacular curved design by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group. The façade curves inwards as it rises upwards – like a smile – letting sunlight and air into the street and enlivening the urban landscape of the neighborhood.

The Smile’s monumental façade was created with Outokumpu Supra 316L/4404 stainless steel and its original textured look was accomplished with a refined electrochemical coloring process by Inox-Color.


The challenge: how to recreate the surface of the moon in a sustainable stainless steel façade

BIG architects Beat Schenk and Lucio Santos set out in pursuit of a specific aged and blackened exterior that would mimic the surface of the moon. For this to succeed, the surface needed to be a complex composition of different color patches and sprinkles. The aim was to imitate the organic effects of nature and time in a brand-new stainless steel façade

Stainless steel was chosen as the façade material for its inherent durability, corrosion resistance, and sustainability qualities. Outokumpu’s stainless steel has the lowest carbon footprint in the industry – this helps to reduce environmental impact and gain credit in green building ratings.

Learn more about the sustainability advantages of stainless steel in façade design or take a look at the architectural specifications of the Smile.


800 colored stainless steel façade panels – each a unique individual

Inox-Color GmbH’s Managing Partner Ines Gaede reveals how BIG’s artistic vision was put into practice in The Smile’s façade panels.

First, the stainless steel panels were bead blasted to achieve a more matt surface that would not reflect too much glare onto the street below. After this relatively straightforward mechanical treatment, it was time for a dedicated electrochemical coloring process.  The Smile, NYC

“For The Smile, the big task was to fine-tune how intense the collage of drops and stains on the colored surface should be. This was defined in a lengthy process in close collaboration with Schenk and Santos,” Gaede explains.
“Each panel had to be unique. At the same time, the finished 6 000m2 surface area needed to look consistent from a distance,” she continues.

Altogether 800 panels passed through the hands of Gaede’s expert team and each sheet was approved individually by the architects.

Read about another impressive stainless steel façade in elegant, imaginative colors – Amazon’s Doppler Building in Seattle


Original architectural design is all about the right combination of artistic imagination and technical know-how

Jörn Teipel, Lead Technical Manager in Architecture at Outokumpu, describes the final result:

“The Smile’s colored stainless steel façade consists of a myriad of intricate details. Each individual panel is a work of art worthy of display in a museum.”

A closer look at the irregular dark surface reveals galaxy-like blue and green patches and nebulas of red sprinkles that constitute a surprisingly colorful universe of their own.

“Our work on The Smile was far beyond a regular façade project. It was a wonderful technical challenge to create this illusion of texture and age on perfectly new and smooth stainless steel”, Gaede adds.

Smile Harlem fact box:

  • Design: BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group (Denmark)
  • Grade: Supra 316L/4404
  • Surface finish: 2B
  • Fabrication process: Cold rolled stainless steel
  • Coloring process: INOX-SPECTRAL® by Inox-Color
  • Material thickness: 1.5 mm and 2.5 mm
  • Panel width: 2000 mm and 1500 mm
  • Weight: 90 tonnes
  • Panel manufacturer: POHL Metal Systems GmbH
  • Material supplier: Outokumpu
  • Date of completion: 2020
The Smile's monumental facade was created with Outokumpu Supra 316L/4404 stainless steel. 

Explore the stainless steel façade in detail

Outokumpu's guide for architects

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Are you looking for a durable yet versatile material that can be processed to form architectural structures in a variety of shapes and sizes? Download our Façade Design Guide and discover how to design stunning timeless façades with stainless steel.

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