Steel in Architecture

The advent of the use of steel in architecture dramatically changed the way designers and builders viewed and ultimately created their projects. Steel is a practical building resource and is used in industrial plants, offices, government buildings, stadiums, skyscrapers and homes all over the world.

Steel frames were integrated into the industry in the late 1700s, and since then, many diverse and reliable structures have been built. Steel has an aesthetic appeal and is very strong. And, it goes without saying that you don’t have to look too far to see the brilliance of steel in action. Corrugated iron rooftops aside, in Sydney alone you have the Sydney Harbour Bridge (1932), the Sydney Opera House (1959), the Deutsche Bank Place 39-storey skyscraper (2005), and the AWA Tower (1939), which was until the 1960s, the tallest building in Sydney.

With the increase of steel use due to the construction of railways and manufacturing plants, Australia’s first modern blast furnace opened at Lithgow, NSW, in 1907. In 1915, BHP followed with a steelworks in Newcastle with others opening around the state.

After WWII, pre-fabricated steel houses rose in popularity. This was mainly due to the issue of lack of labour and raw materials. The Beaufort House was a standardised Australian home, particularly in the ACT, designed and developed by the Beaufort Division of the Commonwealth Department of Aircraft Production (DAP). Despite the use of what was termed ‘econo-steel’, it was still far more expensive to use than timber.

As modernism crept into the Australian culture, buildings such as the Rose Seidler House in the suburb of Wahroonga in Sydney were constructed (1950). It was made using steel and concrete featuring large windows and a flat roof, a change from the pre-war and other post-war buildings being developed at the time.

In the 1960s, another steel boom ensued, and steel-framed houses using thick galvanised steel frames became commonplace. Mining of iron ore from the 1960s until the mid-70s saw an increase in production from 10 million tonnes to 100 million tonnes per year. And, as technology developed in the 1980s, high-tensile zinc-aluminium alloy coated steel became more the mainstream, providing the basis for our more modern structures. This ‘new’ steel was a durable and lightweight alternative, and offered excellent resistance to rust and corrosion. By early 2003, the mining of iron ore rose to around 200 million tonnes per year.

The use of steel frames, and steel in architecture in general, is used for numerous practical and aesthetic reasons. It is not unusual in today’s architectural landscape to see steel incorporated into homes and workplaces. Steel paved the way for many great ideas and can save a lot of time and money in the overall construction process.

Steel in architecture has many positive qualities such as:

·         High tensile strength

·         Functionality

·         Resilience

·         Durability

·         Cost-effectiveness

·         Low maintenance

Of course, as with any building material, steel does have its negatives. Steel has high heat conductivity, although this can be reduced through the use of steel coating and fire resistant plaster. Steel can also corrode due to faulty design or construction. However, these negatives are far outweighed by the positives as is shown by the number of steel-based creations all over the world such as the Phoenix Television Studio in Beijing, the Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Empire State Building in New York.

With the latest in technological advances, steel has become a viable building option, particularly when paired with the amazing strides in steel cutting and prefabrication. As steel can be recycled, it has also become an increasingly sought after, environmentally sustainable construction alternative. And as researchers strive to make steel even more applicable through the use of cold-formed steel, particularly for larger apartment blocks and high-rises, the advantages will be even more significant.

Steel in architecture has seen much change and development in the last 60 years alone, and with new ideas being put into practice, it has the potential to change the way buildings are constructed in the future.