Steel has long been appreciated as the pinnacle of strength in construction throughout all of history. Widely used across the world in various infrastructure, appliances, pre-engineered buildings, railways, and roads. The plasticity of steel to create functional and awe-inspiring structures is inexhaustible.
Five examples of steel structures across the world that combine practicality and strength with aesthetic appeal.
- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania
- The PV14 House in Dallas, Texas
- The Maiden Tower in Vorarlberg, Austria
- Best-Jodlowa House, Krakow
- Solar Canopy, Chicago, Illinois
Inspirational Steel Architecture Gallery
Steel is strong, agile, and flexible. Can there be a more fitting perception for a material that played such an important role in the development of America?
In the late 19th century, Andrew Carnegie led the expansion of the steel industry in the United States but even he may not have grasped the far-reaching implications of his efforts. Today, steel is a common element in architectural wonders on a smaller scale in America and across the world.
If America’s most famous architect was willing to consider steel for home construction, builders should have paid attention. Frank Lloyd Wright, who designed over 1,000 structures in his career, used a hybrid of steel, wood, and stone in 1935 to complete what Time magazine called his “most beautiful” job.
Fallingwater was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann as a weekend home in southwestern Pennsylvania. Even Kaufmann was dubious when Wright announced his intention to create a steel hybrid. At one point the owner questioned the legendary architect about his choices and hired an independent consulting firm to review Wright’s design.
When the consultants questioned the cantilever and other elements, Wright promptly demanded the return of his design and withdrew from the project. Kaufmann gave in and allowed Wright to proceed at his discretion and the consulting engineer’s report was subsequently buried within a stone wall of the completed Fallingwater.
This story serves to illustrate a hesitancy to consider steel in projects that demand artistic flair.
Wright’s innovation demonstrates that steel can be considered beyond its strength and durability as a material that offers a wide swath of design possibilities that are both durable and visually appealing.
The PV14 House
Many people envision steel structures as box-like with wide open spaces.
Architects Matt Mooney and Michael Gooden took aim at this perception when designing the PV14 house in Dallas, Texas. Their intention was to create a structure that had its own individual character by using materials that are not typically considered for home construction. The result shows what can happen when individuals are willing to put aside standard perceptions about steel buildings.
Built one hundred feet above the surface of White Rock Lake on one of the highest elevations in Dallas, PV14 is fashioned in part from 14 steel shipping containers. This is nothing less than a direct statement about how steel can be purposed and reimagined.
It is hard to envision a more uninspired enclosure than a steel shipping crate, but steel also happens to be one of the most recyclable materials in existence. Architects for PV14 embraced this aspect of steel and even creatively used the shipping container doors as bedroom doors. The end result is what appears to be a very contemporary home with floor-to-ceiling windows, three floors of living space, and exposed ceilings.
Steel modules were also incorporated in the design. These modules have expanded the creative possibilities of design in a way that continues to evolve as builders become more willing to consider bold choices with custom steel structures.
The Solar Canopy
Steel, of course, is not limited to residential construction. Indeed, steel is a more prominent feature in other building projects that serve practical concerns such as steel carports & solar structures. One design firm in Chicago has taken the step of showing how steel can also be used in the promotion of green energy and to address environmental concerns.
The Solar Canopy is an 11-foot tall, 6000-pound steel structure that was created to harvest solar energy for the purpose of powering electric/hybrid vehicles. It is an impressive testimony to how the use of steel evolves with the times and is not subject to the environmental drawbacks as using wood or other materials.
Designers wanted to be cost-efficient while at the same time creating a structure that retained aesthetic appeal. It was also necessary to limit the size of the Solar Canopy so that it would not encroach on needed parking space. While using a very minimalist concept that favored welds over bolted connections, architects were able to take the entire project from conception to completion in 25 days.
This highlights one of the strongest arguments for building with steel. The availability of modules and components make it possible for a builder to erect a steel building quickly, and a shortened construction time can mean an overall lower cost for the project.
The Maiden Tower
Using steel to build a structure like a garage or workshop that stands apart from the primary home is common, but designer Stefan Marte took this concept to new heights with the construction of the Maiden Tower in Vorarlberg, Austria.
The homeowner wanted to construct a four-story residence alongside the existing family home as a living space for his daughters. The result is a spectacular example of how steel can be used in contrast with existing structures pleasing to the eye way.
The Maiden Tower was envisioned to give each daughter her own floor of living space and was inspired by the fairytale story of Rapunzel. Among other features the Maiden Tower includes a small library and separate kitchens and dining areas for each daughter. This is a child’s playhouse taken to the extreme.
Steel panels were used to form three sides of the structure while the fourth side incorporates beautiful floor-to-ceiling views of the property and adjoining family home. There are additional windows throughout which can be concealed with steel shutters. Inside the tower the wood surfaces and warm selection of colors open up the space in a way that one would not expect from the interior a steel building.
While most people that add a steel building to their existing homestead will not go to such extremes, the Maiden Tower is a high-end example of what detached steel buildings can be when conceptualized by a talented architect.
Combining steel with glass, wood, and other elements of traditional construction can produce some beautiful structures.
The Best-Jodlowa house in Krakow, Poland is one of the most visually appealing examples of hybrid construction to be found in the world today. It also serves to demonstrate how designers can embrace the openness of steel without sacrificing privacy.
The Best-Jodlowa house is a glazed steel-frame structure that uses glass to provide unrestricted views of the surrounding Tatra mountains. The living space is vast—140 square meters—and open in a way that is warm and welcoming while two main bedrooms, guest rooms, and an office are more secluded. The Best-Jodlowa house proves that homeowners can have the best of both worlds with steel construction, enjoying both complex interior design and sweeping panoramic views.
Conclusion – Inspirational Steel Architecture
Architectural wonders great and small have been fashioned with steel. The strength and versatility of steel has long been valued by designers. In many cases similar to that of Fallingwater the construction could not have been accomplished in any other way.
You don’t have to be Frank Lloyd Wright to design a custom steel building that meets your specific needs and reflects your taste in architecture. What kind of steel building will you create?
Tell us in the comments!