Opportunity for architectural expression

Steelwork possesses various advantages for architectural expression, as follows:

• External structures clearly express their function.

• Slender members can be designed efficiently, particularly using tubular sections.

• 'Lightness' can be accentuated by openings in beams and by latticework in the form of trusses.

• Curved members, such as arches, can be formed easily.

• Tension structures are efficient and lightweight, particularly for long-span enclosures.

• Connections can be designed expressively.

• The fire resistance of exposed steelwork can be enhanced by the use of intumescent coatings, or by concrete or water filling (of tubular sections).

• Colours and finishes of painted steelwork can be used to great effect.

In architecture, the decision to express or conceal the structural frame, either externally or internally, is usually decided by aesthetic preference coupled with technical and functional issues. The desire to express the structure of the building is an association extending from the use of iron and early steel in the last century.

Having decided to express the structure, the architect then considers a number of design factors against which he may test his proposals. Such considerations may include architecture and functional, planning or organisational requirements, as follows.

Architectural requirements (Colour Plates 8, 13, 15, 16, 22 and 24):

The required overall visual effect of solidity or transparency; multiplicity of elements or minimalism; individuality or repetition of elements.

Use of bespoke or standardised components.

The nature of the architectural language; i.e. elegance and slenderness; strength and robustness.

The relationship in visual and functional terms between the inside and outside spaces.

Functional requirements (Colour Plates 3, 4, 5, 9 and 27):

• Building form and function.

• Dimensional parameters, i.e. height of building, scale, use of column-free space.

• Stability requirements (particularly for tall buildings).

• Initial cost and life-cycle cost.

• Climate; both internally and externally.

• Services provision and maintenance, and opportunities for services integration.

• Interface details, particularly of the cladding to the frame.

• Durability, including maintenance implications and time to first maintenance.

• Fire-safety considerations.

• Health and safety requirements are now extended to Construction (Design and Maintenance) Regulations 1994 (CDM Regulations)

requirements.

• Protection from impact damage and vandalism.

Planning or organisational requirements (Colour Plates 2, 10, 11 and 23) :

• Local planning and statutory requirements, including building height, and impact of the building on the locality.

• Programme/timescale requirements, not only of the construction project, but also of the resources/demands placed on consultants.

• Agreement on the responsibilities of the architect, structural engineer and constructor.

• Client input and acceptability of the design concept.

• Availability of suitable resources for construction, and opportunities for prefabrication (e.g. on a remote site).

Excellent examples from the 1980s showed what could be achieved in the expressive use of steel. In the Sainsbury Centre, a simple portal-frame structure was proposed initially, but rejected in favour of the deeper and more highly articulated structural frame that was finally adopted (see Figure 1.1).

The highly perforated structural members of the Renault Parts Distribution Centre (Figure 1.2) are an 'architectural' expression of engineering and technological efficiency, yet they do not necessarily represent the most efficient structural solution. These are conceptual

1.1 Portal-frame structure used in the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich (architect: Foster and Partners)

1.2 The Renault Parts Distribution Centre, Swindon, showing mast and tension structure (architect: Foster and Partners)
Renault Distribution Centre Structure

issues in which both the structural engineer and the architect should share a close interest, and which must be resolved jointly at the early stages of design. However, many examples of exposed steel follow a much more straightforward approach (see Colour Plate 26).

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