With more than half of its terrain blanketed in gardens and forests, Yalova, Turkey, may seem like a small, bucolic harbor city. But a closer look reveals that its economic engine runs on heavy industry: Many of its 203,741 residents labor in the numerous large-scale manufacturing plants that churn out goods for the country’s larger, wealthier, and more cosmopolitan cities.

Emre Arolat Architects made no pretense to mask this tension when Akkök, a local industrial conglomerate that makes everything from chemicals to textiles, selected the Istanbul-based firm to design a cultural center and public space for Yalova residents. The metal façade around the 7,900-square-foot building makes this immediately apparent. Lacking conventional openings for windows and even a door, the façade comprises little more than 5,600 square meters (60,278 square feet) of perforated and bent Cor-Ten A panels—weathering steel—which have already oxidized to a streaky, rust-colored patina in the months since the center’s opening in May 2011.

Local residents are no stranger to the industrial metal. Cor-Ten commonly appears in the city’s production areas and, in particular, the looming chimney stacks of many factories. Though the metal is a constant reminder of the area’s heavy manufacturing presence, says principal Emre Arolat, using it as cladding “shift[s] the image of oxidized iron in the minds of the inhabitants” from “the form of a machine or industrial plant to a cultural center.”

In an era of tight building envelopes, a metal skin with a 30-percent perforation and no solid backup wall may seem alarming. Program elements, including a multipurpose room, exhibition space, and library, are elevated to a second story and clustered in the center, away from the building perimeter; gardens and stone and concrete components occupy the ground level. By partially blocking wind and rain in the winter, and direct sunlight—but not warm breezes—in the summer, “the perforated panels create a micro-climate inside,” Arolat says. The pattern of façade openings and folds in the surface, created by bent metal panels or two adjacent, angled panels butted together, were determined in part by the building’s ventilation needs.

An Istanbul-based sheet metal manufacturer, Kasso, milled the 2-millimeter-thick Cor-Ten into 2,073-by-1,112-millimeter (81.6-by-43.8-inch) panels and used CNC machines to create the 5-millimeter-diameter perforations. The panels were bent into specified angles and washed to initiate the oxidation process.

Installed using a hoisting system, the panels are hung on U-shaped supports—which are connected to the lightweight, steel-frame substructure—and secured with bolts threaded through pre-punched slots. Custom monoblock bending on the panels’ side edges provide lateral support, while top and bottom edges have Z-shaped bends. A 12-millimeter space between panels, as well as the freedom for bolts to slide along the pre-punched slots, allow panels to shift as a result of thermal, seismic, wind, and acoustical loads. Air movement through the perforated façade also reduces wind loads on the building.

During the day, the panels are nearly imperceptible from inside; the perforations are dense enough to make the panels seem transparent, and to allow views to the outside. “The interior landscape is in touch with the exterior one,” Arolat says. At night the building shell, left unlit, virtually disappears into the darkened sky. Lights on the center’s circulation ramps flicker on as occupants pass by, leaving “the stage for interior life,” Arolat says.

The cultural center’s façade is understated in beauty and significance. In turning a heavy industrial metal prevalent on local factories into a delicate “metal tulle,” Emre Arolat has embodied Yalova, a city that survives on industry and thrives because of its people.