Design with Steel


Steel is a viable alternative, when offered as a part of a holistic solution. When steel is used in the form of space frames, and the structure is analysed as a three-dimensional form, it results incredibly light and spectacular forms. The use of steel as space frames, trusses and Vierendeel girders allows a designer to create unique languages for buildings and, the structural properties of steel, allow for it to be economical, states,
Ar. Amin Nayar, CEO, ANA Design Studio Pvt Ltd

What are the major advantages of using steel vis-à-vis conventional materials?
To begin with, from the standpoint of buildings, steel really cannot be qualified as a “non-conventional material”. Not just globally, but in India as well, steel has been used as a building material for a long time. The iconic Howrah bridge is an example, as are so many other buildings, structures and building elements across the country. In fact, to add a “feel” of technology and contemporary imagery, architects turn to steel.

All the development around aviation, has also seen steel as a major component of buildings, whether it is for terminals or for logistics support centers. Terminal building design especially, has added a slew of interesting results using steel tubular structures, lighting, and acoustic finishes.

Compared to the usage of masonry and concrete, steel will have several advantages.

It can (and rather needs to be) completely pre-planned and pre-designed/engineered. As a material, it is not forgiving of errors and careless work, and by its very nature, increases the care, professionalism, and foresight that buildings and structures need.

It lends itself to engineered, geometric solutions and therefore, optimization of material. The physical planning and geometry of the buildings has largely been adapted to the design of formwork, and ease of pouring concrete. Steel allows of the usage of structural material in complex biomimicry, and therefore, potentially a large drop in the material consumption itself. In the long term, if manufacturers can invest in the technical skills and machining technology for welding and fabricating natural forms, we can see a substantial drop in steel consumption, reduction in not just the overall monetary cost, but also environmental cost, and an increase in value chain.

This also extends as an overall project saving, from the standpoint of foundation costs. Since the overall superstructure is lighter, the reactions on the foundation are reduced, and, will provide a consequent reduction in foundation/ piling costs.
Since steel can be formed/fabricated as space frames and trusses, the space between beams can be used for accommodating building services, therefore, optimizing floor to floor heights. It has a collateral saving of energy by using less of it for movement from floor to floor. Vierendeel girders can be another important contributor to creating more flexibility in multi-storey buildings.

A building designed in steel, will also allow for other engineering services to be prefabricated, since tolerances will be known. In high service buildings, often attic or plenum spaces are left in the entire volume of the building, to cater to services, being installed “later”. The truth is, building services and their general location and approximate sizing is known early during the design process. By considering the actual attic or plenum spaces required, the building services can be neatly tucked away, much like the inside of the bonnet of a car. And overall, save spatial volume of the building, provide more usable real estate in the same built up area, and reduce the sizing of building services through optimization. It has a huge ability to be salvaged and re-used after its active life in the building.

How structural steel can be innovatively used in construction to provide design aesthetics and at the same time offer economical solution?
I believe steel has a very defined and universal language of design. It allows for very thin members and the quality of making a building feel weightless. When steel is used in the form of space frames, and the structure is analysed as a three-dimensional form, it results in incredibly light and spectacular forms. The use of steel as space frames, trusses and Vierendeel girders allows a designer to create unique languages for buildings and, the structural properties of steel, allow for it to be economical.

What is your take on the variety of sections/grades provided by our steel producers for various demands of creativity?
In India, we seem to have a bit of chicken and egg situation on the proliferation of steel as a structural member. There is no doubt, that designers and the industry will benefit from the availability of a larger range of tubes and sections, I do feel that there is also a lack of eco-system for their widespread usage.

On the top of the pile, in terms of the need for change/ innovation are:
• Standardization and widespread training for welders and building fitters.
• Domestically produced and economical intumescent/ fire safe coatings.
• Updating the IS Codes for industrial production of buildings, beyond rolled steel sections.

What trend are we going to witness in next 5-7 years, as far as designing structures with steel is concerned?
I believe there will be three large sections of development that will emerge and take a centre stage as far as steel buildings are concerned:

The proliferation of steel as a structural member and commodity in medium size and medium rise buildings. This will probably be the single largest “revolution” in terms of the breadth of usage as well as overall improvement in the stock/ quality of our buildings. The way RCC is being used (largely un-designed) in the smaller markets is a disaster waiting to happen, especially from the standpoint of seismic safety. Steel structural elements as a commodity offer a cheap, industrial, and quickly proliferating alternative. It will provide a massive impetus not just to small and medium steel fabrication industries but also associated industries such as bolts/ fastener manufacturing and engineered panels for walls/ roofing etc. In the urban infrastructure segment, especially for light rail and mass transit applications. In industry, for high performance buildings, as production and technology mature, and the need is felt for “building performance” rather than sheds.

What should be the strategy of industry in promoting structural steel construction in India?
Before we look at a strategy for wider acceptance of steel, let us look at what “works” for RCC/ Brick today:
– Its conspired a “solid” material; robust and long lasting.
– Its “easy” and “low skill” workmen can use it.
– Mistakes are easy to rectify.

I believe a strong narrative need to be created along the following lines: Performance / efficiency and strength/longevity of steel in architecture, especially from the standpoint of seismic performance, speed, and economy. Pride in high performance/ skilled work. It will need the design and implementation of skill development and certification courses, and up-skilling of workforce. The unfortunate migration of labour force doe to the COVID lockdown has exposed the risk and dependence of the construction industry on “unskilled manpower”. It is a vicious cycle, and we cannot go back to it. Getting people skilled and efficient is the only way forward.

Indian engineering and detailing tools that allow a largely “plug and play” model of drafting and detailing for steel members. It will take away the “steel detailing phobia” from the design industry and allow design teams to adopt this material more easily. Steel is a viable alternative, when offered as a part of a holistic solution. So long as we have people trying to make a steel frame, with brick infill, we will not move forward.

The steel industry needs to join hands with building component and panel-based solutions providers, as well as integrate elements such as commoditised hollow cored slabs etc. When the solution is offered as a complete set (structure-slabs-walls-doors and windows) it will make much more sense for people to switch and brings down the overall cost of building construction.

Which are the iconic steel-specific projects executed by you?
Kashmir University in Srinagar is one of the oldest and most respected institutions of higher learning in the valley. The University has grown in size and stature over the years, and a need was felt to create an administrative hub, which could accommodate the office of the Vice Chancellor, the Registrar and Deans, apart from the administrative heads such as Finance and Accounts, Estates and Development and various other administrative functions.