In Concert with Steel

Art Grey

Throughout the majority of human history, stone, wood, and earth have found their place as the main structural building blocks to our built environment. The common use of steel, and its predecessor iron, as structure are relatively new technologies that have come about in just the last 200 years. In fact, the majority (those of us not clued into the mysteries of wall construction) of the population’s perception of building construction reflects a logic that is inherent to the historical use of these materials. The the astonished gasps of a class who have just found out that brick is most commonly formed as panels and not a solid wall illustrates this phenomenon well.

The introduction of steel into buildings has changed the role of stone, brick, and in a lesser sense, wood as well. Very rarely are they used as a primary, or even secondary structure (residential buildings excluded), and yet they persist as common cladding in part because of a vernacular architectural material language that no longer exists in reality, but does in the minds of society. The manner in which steel and these materials most commonly interact is hidden in such a way as to encourage this way of thinking.

Buildings such as the Dominus Winery designed by Herzog & de Meuron, Stone Creek Camp designed by Andersson Wise Architects, and Chokkura Plaza designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates externalize the relationship between steel and wood/stone, revealing how the materials work together to form an exterior skin. The “honesty” of this type of construction can help calibrate a sense of how building materials work in tandem, and break the nostalgic use of building material to create traditional  looking construction.

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