Founder & Principal Architect, Opus Architects & Team
A Steel offers a number of inherent advantages when compared to conventional materials such as cement. It has the highest strength to weight ratio of any building material; it’s fire resistant; it ages much more slowly etc.
Specifically, from an architectural standpoint, I would say that the versatility that it offers in terms of its malleability as well durability are big factors. The other aspect is the sheer beauty of steel. If you look anywhere around the world to find an example of great modern architecture, you’ll find that they’ve used steel quite extensively.
Even if we were to look at it from an environmental or ‘green’ perspective, steel fares better than cement because steel production takes less energy than cement production, and also, steel is far easier to reuse than conventional building materials.
A My design ideology is to ‘celebrate steel.’ Conventionally, steel is used as a structural element and masked with concrete or cladding to make the building look like a conventional concrete structure. My approach is to celebrate steel – making it prominently visible, thereby, becoming the ‘hero’ of the design. Its’ like the ‘Pompidou Centre’ in Paris by Richard Roger and Renzo Piano way back in 1977. They basically turned a conventional building inside out, which creates a beautiful effect. The entire structure and its services are exposed to the outside and become the main character of the building. We’ve tried to achieve the same ‘exo-skeleton’ approach for one of our projects too.
Unlike in other countries, for the longest time it was a common practice in India to fabricate steel on-site, rather than sourcing pre-fabricated steel. But now, we’ve started to move towards using pre-fabricated steel, which not only speeds up construction, but, also provides more versatility.
Structural steel can be economically rolled into a wide variety of shapes and sizes without inherently changing its physical properties. The I, T and C shapes are the most commonly used. With pre-fabricated steel, the finish is also much better, and so is the quality. So, there’s definitely scope for more innovative use of steel in construction.
A The market consists of a mix of established and local brands that offer various sections. But, when it comes to variety, it really is a catch-22 situation. All the manufacturers focus on producing what is most frequently sold, and in turn, people buy what is most easily available. Thanks to this vicious circle, it so happens that the steel industry often tends to stick to basic textbook designs rather than trying to innovate.
There is a ready market waiting for a better, more extensive range of non-standard sections for creative solutions. Any company that recognizes this need gap and caters to it, is sure to become a market leader, and definitely will emerge as a favorite choice among architects.
A In general, we’re seeing an increase in the use of steel in construction – one, because there is more awareness about the benefits that steel offers. Also, as taller buildings and sky scrapers become more commonplace, there is a corresponding increase in the volume of steel being used, because most of these use high-strength steel framing. Commercial establishments, malls etc. that are being built also tend to be very steel-intensive.
Steel is likely to move from the current ‘Engineering’ marketplace to an ‘Architectural’ market place. Even mundane buildings are going to be conceived in steel, thereby making it more visible and acceptable. Architects are going to push the boundaries in terms of applications of steel. As the use of custom profiles as against standard sections becomes more commonplace, there will be greater use of steel for better efficiencies and aesthetics or to achieve specific design intent.
So, although the steel ratio that we see in India is much lower than global averages, it’s definitely on the rise.
A Better tooling is one idea. If working on steel becomes easier with improved tools to cut, weld and rivet and bend, and if field and contour steel are made available in India, more fabricators will be available for specialized works.
Access to specialized ‘steel design’ software will also help. There are plenty of players in the conventional concrete design software. But more software options will definitely help designers.
Making pre-fabricated steel more widely available and also bringing variety in the types of pre-fabricated materials will definitely lead to increased usage because it helps on the convenience, cost and time fronts. Cost is the other big factor, which is a no brainer. More competitive pricing will obviously drive growth.
A One great example is a commercial complex that we have undertaken in Bangalore. For this project, we consciously stepped away from the use of a conventional column and beam structure in favour of a lattice structural system. We conceptualized a triangular framework that forms a veritable ‘exo-skeleton’ for the building. The idea for this actually came from a bit of bio-mimicry. It’s inspired by anthropods – or insects that possess an exo-skeleton. The exo-skeleton gives them better muscle leverage, enabling them to carry weight many times their body weight.
Similarly, the lattice structure we used transfers the slab loads to a web-like structural system built in steel. Not only does this provide great structural ability, but we wanted to leverage the aesthetic appeal as well. Our intent was to use the structural system as the architectural highlight by making it a key design element.