Every once in a while, the wanderlust in us brings us to places far and wide. But for most tourists entering the cosmopolitan capitals of the world from the airport, this journey usually starts upon entering the city, the home of dazzling skyscrapers. Hard to be missed, these wonders of modern architecture found in New York, London, Singapore, and Dubai can immediately leave one awed and truly inspired.
Nowhere in our cultural history have we seen such a great variety of monumental structures built by a few men in so short a time, and more often with technological aplomb. Now is the age when structures of monumental proportions are built in a furious pace and with much ambition.
So, what do Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Disney Concert Hall in California, the Guangzhou Opera House, the Gherkin of London, and Denmark’s The Blue Planet have in common? Apart from their height and variety that can excite the senses and may even exalt the soul, these modern wonders show the dominance of great design done by many Starchitects of the world.
Starchitects And Their Best Medium To Date: Stainless Steel
These imposing masterpieces in the heart of busy business capitals are a showcase of talent, grit and daring of dreamers. They have the objective of serving form and function and should reflect the lives of their upwardly mobile inhabitants.
But for the late Starchitect Zaha Hadid who became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel and the RIBA Gold Medal, Britain’s top architectural award, her audacious works that stand with such authority and seemed to go in endless fluid motion must go beyond what are tangibly seen. They should project to eternity. She was once quoted, “Beauty in all origins is about someone in heaven, how you can create spaces to be like heaven on earth. That’s why there was so much effort to magnification created not only in one single space but through a city or through large public spaces. “
Hadid left behind legacy monuments such as the modern art museum in Rome called Maxxi, a rarity in the eternal city surrounded by historical sites. For her, building such projects can take on a spiritual dimension, both for the designer and for their audience. This means the structures should be contemplating the Other World and must inspire conversion.
Yet all are supported by an alloy that has only been invented in the last hundred years: the stainless steel.
Although bricks and cement still make up the most widely used materials in the construction industry’s 2015 reckoning, stainless steel has increasingly gained prominence among architects and engineers for its wide applications.
In 2015, of the forty-two metric tons of stainless steel produced in the world, 17 percent went to construction.
So, what’s in stainless steel that makes them gravitate toward its use?
More importantly, these properties are being viewed with increasing satisfaction the world over. After all, the architect’s best interest is always to make choices based on life cycle cost analysis.
Through experience and decades of lengthy observation, it is found that the costs of structures that used concrete, wood, and carbon steel substantially increased over time while the cost of stainless steel structure has remained constant.
Do More With Less
Take these two classic examples: the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Chrysler Building in New York City.
The 324-meter Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889 at a time before stainless steel was invented. As the story goes, it was supposed to be a temporary structure but the public loved it. It has remained to be a popular tourist destination to this day. What many people perhaps do not know is that it is made of wrought iron. And to maintain it, restoration happens every seven years. Every painting campaign lasts for about a year and a half (15 months) with 50 to 60 tons of paint, 25 painters, 1,500 brushes, 5,000 sanding disks and 1,500 sets of workclothes.
In the last century, a notable building that incorporated the use of stainless steel is the Chrysler Building (1930) designed by William Van Alen. The roof and entrance of this famous 319-meter Manhattan tower is made of Austenitic stainless steel grade 302. Since its opening, it had only been restored twice in 1951 and checked in 1961 and 1995. And in both occasions, the cleaning solution consisted of a mild detergent, degreaser and abrasive. Nothing fancy. To date, the Chrysler Building sparkles in the Manhattan skyline day and night.
How To Save Big Time On Cleaning & Restoration
Thanks to the advancement in materials engineering, scientists have produced far stronger materials that can endure the pressures of strong wind, intense heat and the oppressive force of the elements.
Great builders of our time have banked on the strength of stainless steel to render their works in their magnificence. For these architectural projects, the right stainless steel can hold up to some of the worst environments, and still retain its beauty over time. More significant is the value that stainless steel has in reducing a lifetime of painting and cleaning expenditures.
A second case is the maintenance of two very well-known bridges: the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and the Stonecutter’s Bridge in Hong Kong.
The annals of Golden Gate Bridge (built in 1937) record, “A rugged group of 13 ironworkers and 3 pusher ironworkers along with and 28 painters, 5 painter laborers, and a chief bridge painter battle wind, sea air and fog, often suspended high above the Gate, to repair the corroding steel. Ironworkers replace corroding steel and rivets with high-strength steel bolts, make small fabrications for use on the Bridge, and assist painters with their rigging. Ironworkers also remove plates and bars to provide access for painters to the interiors of the columns and chords that make up the Bridge. Painters prepare all Bridge surfaces and repaint all corroded areas.”
Whereas the Nickel Institute reports the 1,596 meter-long three-lane high-level cable stayed Stonecutter’s Bridge, designed for 120 years life in a hot and polluted seawater environment, requires no maintenance. Its duplex stainless steel plate with 450 MPa yield stress was used for the towers above 175 meter and for tower’s skin. And of course, it is typhoon and corrosion-resistant.
In terms of aesthetics, stainless steel offers a large selection of surface finishes and available colours. Designers prefer to use it due to its high strength and greater resistance to damage in open, public areas. They found that it’s not only malleable, but it can bear heavy load using thin plates and sheets. Moreover, it contributes to greater design freedom and satisfaction when the steel is profiled into complex shapes that result in strong, stiff structures that use little material. In the process, this can extend a longer span without any extra needed support.
In all these examples, we learn not just the enduring characteristics of stainless steel but also the value of little things in order to attain perfection. Laksmi Mittal, the founder of Arcellormittal, the top stainless steel company in the world and which produced 97 metric tons of steel in 2015 said it best: I built a steel plant from the grassroots, so I learned all the nuts and bolts. When there was a problem, I would be able to guide them.
There’s more to stainless steel than meets the eye. Leading architects and engineers use them for very good reasons. What worked for you? Share your experience below.