Steel gives wings to an architect’s dream & works to design path-breaking structures in order to take India a step closer to the gold standard of out-of-the-box design, says, Rahul Jain, Principal Architect, RJDL
Q. What are the major advantages of using steel vis-à-vis conventional materials?
A. Steel has almost become a conventional material today. We cannot imagine modern architecture without steel. As compared to RCC, structural steel has many advantages because it is a lightweight product as compared to the immense strength it provides. Steel adds the lesser amount of weight to a building as well as gives a minimalistic look aesthetically. It provides a good amount of structural integrity and strength.
Another, advantage of steel is that it is very modular in its usage which leads to new possibilities. For example, in some projects undertaken by our company, we get an entire building structure prefabricated in a warehouse and then transport it to the site for final touches. This kind of project saves a lot in terms of labour and time, increases efficiency, and diminishes the chances of error since in a lot of cities across India there is a shortage of skilled labour.
Steel gives freedom and feasibility to construct the entire building off-site in segments and put them together onsite later. In terms of sustainability, steel is 100 per cent recyclable product.
Q. How structural steel can be innovatively used in construction to provide design aesthetics and at the same time offer an economical solution?
A. Steel opens up huge opportunities for infrastructural projects like long-span bridges and skyscrapers because the possibility of erecting and maintaining the structural integrity is only possible with steel. It has a vast advantage over conventional building construction due to the possibility of new innovative and sustainable designs and it has been a game-changer ever since it was introduced in architecture.
Another point worth mentioning about steel is that structures that are not possible to build via conventional construction methods can be easily achieved through steel since it has high tensile and a high load-bearing capacity. Steel can be used innovatively to build anything; take for example shipping containers. We have reused shipping containers to build something out of the box. These shipping containers can be reused to build any kind of building structure, when taken care of properly, it is practically indestructible. Such structures are timeless pieces and are sustainable, efficient, and economic.
Q. What is your take on the variety of sections/grades provided by our steel producers for various demands of creativity?
A. I have not worked with a lot of steel producers till now but one of our clients was one. We reused the shipping container as I have already mentioned that our contractor provided, and our client procured the requirement we had for steel. Steel is a material that is used across various industries. Availability of steel is not an issue as a variety of grades, types, sizes etc. is easily available across our country. Steel also makes maintenance and redevelopment or restructuring or up-gradation of a building an easy task.
Q. What trend are we going to witness in the next 5-7 years, as far as designing structures with steel is concerned?
A. Currently we are witnessing issues with the availability of labour and the increasing cost of procuring skilled labour for the construction industry. I think prefabricated building and modular structures is the future. As we move more and more towards sustainable and eco-friendly designs, steel will continue to be the pioneer as it opens up new possibilities in terms of prefabricated designs.
I think steel will take over RCC in future since conventional concrete and RCC buildings are not recyclable and are just mere waste material that can be only discarded or at the most used for landfilling cannot be reused like steel to build a structure. As we move towards a more sustainable society, the cost of manual labour increases, steel will definitely take precedence over conventional building structures.
Q. What should be the strategy of industry in promoting structural steel construction in India?
A. Currently, not everyone considers steel when building sustainable and eco-friendly. I believe steel is one of the few materials that is 100 per cent recyclable, readily available and has great flexibility in terms of design implementation and usage. If the industry wants to promote structural steel, then it has to promote it as a green alternative material.
As we evolve more and more towards a sustainable lifestyle, steel has to be the forerunner. Today we are seeing an increase in the number of high-rises and huge apartment complexes which have become a possibility only due to structural steel. Due to its properties, steel by itself is a material that has a great future, and I do not see any other material that has all these advantages and highlighting these will be the best strategy to promote steel.
Q. Which are the iconic steel-specific projects executed by you?
A. Calling it iconic will be a bit of a stretch but there is a new project that I have already mentioned, that has got some really good traction- Café Infinity. It is built out of nine shipping containers made of weathered steel. The brief was to come up with a design that was unconventional that would stand out in the campus and its surroundings but at the same time be sustainable along with creating a positive impact on the surroundings.
The word ‘infinity’ represents the infinite possibility the shipping containers have to offer as a build-form. Designing a livable structure is a fairly new concept in India but in countries like New Zealand and Australia, it is a very common trend right now. Though not mainstream, but this concept will, very soon, become a thing of the future in our country. Through, this project we wanted to highlight the potential and uses of a steel structure and steel gave us the opportunity and flexibility to design a very unconventional structure and the cost of the entire project was three-fourths of what a traditional concrete and RCC structure would have cost.