Skin or Bones? Iron Frames and Space-Enclosing Steel Envelopes
Steel facades are in vogue; both as cladding and as structural systems. But is the trend really towards structurally load-bearing steel skins and away from the traditional separation of structure and facade? Irrelevant of building form, the immense scope of steel can be used to express the ideas and inspirations of designers. Minimalist Swiss boxes can be clad with steel panels, and then allowed to rust away, demonstrating the sensuousness of decay and decline. While in France highly polished stainless steel sheeting glitters like mirrors, in Spain and Holland stainless steel is being textured and embossed to create new, foamed, frothing surfaces. Many of the world’s most prestigious high-rise constructions today, remarkable for their often transparent, biomorphic envelopes, demonstrate the versatility of steel as a highly flexible material with which to create free forms and filigree connections.
Acceptance of steel in architecture was never as great as it is today. In fact at the close of the 19th century, constructions with exposed steel structures were disdained. Not until high-profile projects like the Eiffel Tower were completed and the progress from brittle cast iron to flexible, malleable steel was achieved, did metal constructions find wide acceptance in areas other than pure structural engineering.