Setting Our Sights On Steel

From kitchenware to canopies, rings to roofs, surgery to structures, steel is a material present in almost all areas of our lives. Its malleability, strength, inexpensiveness and varied aesthetic allows it to be used across many industries in countless ways. It can be functional, it can be decorative, it can be powerful and it can be delicate.

Despite coming to the forefront of architecture during the Modernist era, steel is a material which has been in existence for more than 4000 years. It came about as an accidental by-product of smelting iron, but it wasn’t until the mid 1800s when a technique to remove impurities was discovered that its adaptability was recognised and its use grew in popularity.

Fast forward 200 years and now we would be at a loss without steel. Its uses have changed and evolved as architects, artists and designers consistently look at new ways in which it can be utilised. Take for example UAP’s collaboration with famed architect Frank Gehry for the staircase of the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, home to University of Technology Sydney’s Business School. Stainless steel was chosen as the material to construct the artwork, so that it resembled a crumpled mirror, which undulates and twists between floors.

UTS Staircase by Gehry Partners, Sydney, Australia. Image by Roger D’Souza

Steel is known for its sturdiness. Multidisciplinary artist and activist Ai Weiwei decided to use the material to reference its use in fencing, for the construction of Arch: Good Fences Make Good Neighbours. This piece features two cage-like structures, one a 40-foot arch with two human silhouettes, which was installed beneath New York’s Washington Square Arch. Different finishes were applied to the steel structures, a mirror-polish and a gilded finish, lending two different aesthetics to the structures.

Arch: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors by Ai Weiwei, New York City, North America. Image by Jason Wyche

Steel has been used for functional purposes like beams and metal sheeting ever since its strength and durability was recognised, but now artists are calling upon its decorative qualities. Lindy Lee used mirror and stainless steel to create The Life of Stars, a six-metre sculpture. Perforated with more than 30,000 holes, it resembles a night sky and represents Earth – the beginning of life, birth and renewal.

The Life of Stars by Lindy Lee, Shanghai, China. Image by Charlie Xia

While being incredibly strong, steel is light and can be used to create intricate, complex designs that remain robust. UAP utilised steel pipes in its installation of Callison RTKL’s design of the Atrium Pod, installed in Melbourne’s Chadstone North shopping centre. A structure measuring 12 metres by 10 metres by 10 metres and hosting the tenancy and information kiosk, the tessellating steel pipes ensure it catches the eye.

Atrium Pod by CallisonRTKL & The Buchan Group, Melbourne, Australia. Image by Roger D’Souza

UAP Project Director Samuel Mayze says

“Steel is a versatile, structural material that allows our collaborators the opportunity to push the limits with what may be possible on a project. This versatility allows us to be creative with how we fabricate, be it an age-old panel beating process or utilising advanced robotics to manipulate the material.”

Steel is an incredibly pervasive material in our society. It is strong and durable at the same time as being flexible and light. Its uses are ever expanding as architects, artists and designers adopt new ways to melt, mould, weld and form the material into new shapes, sculptures and installations.

For more information on how UAP can help you investigate materials for any of your projects, contact anyone from our New Business Team.

Text by Clare Christensen for UAP