Extreme weather, earthquakes and air pollution: find out why stainless steel could be the perfect metal for future buildings.
Steel is one of the most popular materials adopted in the building industry. It is often used in the form of rebars (short for “reinforcing bar”), which are hidden within concrete, or as structural beams, which can be visible on high-rising steel buildings. No matter how, steel is always part of the game. But what about stainless steel? Is there a convenient use for it in buildings? Find out more here.
What are the advantages of stainless steel?
Stainless steel has two technical advantages compared to common mild steel:
Natural corrosion resistance
Stainless steel is typically used in proximity of the sea to protect structures from corrosion caused by salt spray carried by the wind. Similarly, also buildings in cities or industrial areas are constantly subject to atmospheric corrosion due to air pollution. Here, materials with a high or natural corrosion resistance are advantageous. One can achieve various levels of corrosion resistance depending on the stainless steel grade.
Conventional carbon steel structures often involve coating with rust- and corrosion resistant zinc, as well as, in most cases, paint, to improve the quality of the material. This practice requires regular maintenance due to weathering and, in the occurrence of scratches or other surfaces damages, timely repair in order to avoid further deterioration. All of this can lead to high costs, which could be avoided.
A clean stainless steel surface can provide maximum corrosion resistance plus aesthetic appeal. With the proper choice among stainless steel grades and a fitting surface finish, one can achieve a good performance and a long-lasting service. Furthermore, a simple cleaning schedule can further improve these results.
Theory vs. reality
Can stainless steel replace common steel structures in civil buildings?
From a technical point of view, the answer to this question would be yes. However, will this happen in common civil construction? Most probably not.
Depending on country specific “construction cultures”, architects build civil buildings either with carbon steel sections – generally beams and channels – or with steel reinforced concrete pillars and panels.
In fact, the vast majority of skyscrapers built until the seventies are made of structural steel. Architects erected the frame skeleton of the building using beams and channel bars and did the joints between these steel bars via welding, bolting or riveting. For instance, many major buildings in the skyline of New York and Chicago were made this way (the New York Times Tower, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the John Hancock Building and the Wills Tower – just to name a few).
Conventional carbon steel reinforcing bars have proven to be sufficient for many types of civil buildings. Architects often improve the corrosion resistance of carbon steel rebar by coating the bars with epoxy. Only in extremely seldom cases, as for marine bridges or buildings, which are located right on the seafront or in the sea, do they use stainless steel or duplex stainless steel rebar instead.
So, for the vast majority of civil buildings, where steel composes the whole structure, stainless steel profiles or rebar cannot unfold their technical benefit of natural corrosion resistance, as they are not directly exposed to such a level of corrosion that would justify their implementation.
So where does it make sense to use stainless steel in buildings?
Since stainless steel is more expensive than conventional mild steel, designers and architects decide very carefully when and where to use it. Next to technical advantages, there are also functional and aesthetical reasons, which are much stronger arguments to use stainless steel as it allows following certain design languages, which in return will increase the perception of prestige and the overall value of a building. The real appeal of stainless steel unfolds in exposed and visible parts of buildings rather than in hidden structural parts. High-end civil or residential buildings increase their status with valuable materials and finishes, and stainless steel is definitely a part of it.
The use of exposed stainless steel in buildings
As already mentioned above, from a technical point of view, stainless steel could entirely replace carbon steel. In exposed and aesthetically demanding parts of buildings, both inside and outside of the building, the benefit of corrosion resistance, durability and limited maintenance becomes a nice asset in favor of stainless steel products.
One of the first stainless steel buildings was the Chrysler Building. Built back in 1930, it exposes a 38m tall crown and spire as well as window frames, all entirely made in stainless steel.
Starchitects like Frank Gehry, Norman Forster, Zaha Hadid, Daniel Liebeskind and Moshe Safdie, have challenged the idea of using steel merely to construct a building’s skeleton and have created innovative and prestigious buildings where stainless steel claddings play a fundamental part in the overall architectural effect of the building.
The following are some typical aesthetic application for stainless steel:
Stainless steel cladding
Stainless steel cladding is the most common usage of stainless steel in the building industry. Stainless steel sheets compose the “second skin” of the building. Generally, the surfaces of these decorative panels are brushed, polished, patinated, blackened, chemically colored or boast a special rolled pattern resulting in spectacular visual effects.
Some nice examples of such applications are:
- The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles
- The Zollhof in Duesseldorf
- The 8 Spruce Street skyscraper in New York
- The Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao
- The Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle
Stainless steel curtain walls (facades)
In the case of steel–glass curtain walls, stainless steel can be an eye-catching alternative to steel for loadbearing mullions and transoms for larger glazing panels. In such applications, architects often use T-sections, rectangular hollow sections or free form custom profiles with sharp corners and clear shadow lines.
Some nice examples for such applications are:
- The Amazon Tower in Seattle
- The 3 WTC in New York
- South Ferry/Whitehall Street station in New York
- Hahn + Kolb Headquarters
- Harvard University – Smith Campus
- The European Council HQ
Stainless steel roofing and canopies
Similar to curtain walls, roofing systems made in stainless steel are slim, strong and prestigious, increasing the light-shadow ratio where requested. Furthermore, in order to reduce the thermal impact of the sun and the increased use of air conditioning, stainless steel often serves as sun-shields.
Some examples for such applications are:
- The Crossrail at Paddington Station in London
- The Novartis Consolidation Center in East Hanover NJ.
Stainless steel for interior design
Interior design and stainless steel goes hand in hand. There are plenty of aesthetical and technical applications for stainless steel. For example:
- staircases and handrails
- lifts and escalators
- internal partitioning systems
- windows, doors, and shop showcase
- water drainage systems
- Wall and ceiling paneling
Montanstahl is a skilled manufacturer for architectural exposed steel and stainless steel profiles for buildings, both for structural applications as well as aesthetical purposes. The product portfolio ranges from standard structural stainless sections to tailor-made profiles specifically designed to promote eye-catching applications.
For any query, additional information or request for quotation please feel free to contact us.
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