Applying steel to cutting-edge curved building design
EU-funded researchers have successfully demonstrated that a special kind of steel can be combined with glass to produce high-performance and eye-catchingly beautiful curved surfaces. The novel technology opens up new opportunities for both European steel producers and creative architects looking to be at the cutting edge.
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The EU-funded S+G project has developed innovative new steel and glass cells for the construction of high value building façades, targeted in particular at potential clients interested in communicating innovation through building design. What makes this project especially innovative is that glass has been combined with ferritic stainless steel a material low in nickel that is often used for biomedical applications to deliver a cost-effective means of creating curved surfaces.
We discovered that combining these two materials allows you to build load-sustaining, energy-efficient façade cells that can be shaped on site via a process called cold bending, says project coordinator Gianni Royer Carfagni of the University of Parma in Italy. This involves forcing the flat glass and steel cell into shape during installation rather than bringing cells onto the site already bent.
Royer Carfagni notes that this technique can be seen in recently completed projects such as the new Frank Gehry-designed building in Paris Bois de Boulogne.
The more traditional way of curving glass into shape is hot bending, which involves heating up a glass panel to about 500 degrees and then wrapping it around a mould beforehand, he says. This is far more expensive and impractical.
New market opportunities
The success of the project, supported by the European Commissions Research Fund for Coal and Steel (RFCS), has the potential to provide a much-needed boost to Europes steel sector. The industry currently faces global price drops and increased competition from East Asia. Royer Carfagni also notes that the building industry is only now beginning to recover from the global financial meltdown and that investing in cutting edge R&D will enable the industry to better position itself for the future.
Steel producers do not often communicate with the building sector, which means that any potential new architecture or design possibilities remain largely unknown, he says. I think that if Europes steel industry could commercialise steel of this type within the building sector, as weve been able to demonstrate in this project, then there are definitely profits to be made.
Building on success
Royer Carfagni is clear about the next steps that are needed for this new façade technology to be taken up.
First of all, we need to disseminate the results, he says. The technology is more or less ready for use but what we really need are architects and industry experts to advocate for this technique.
One idea Royer Carfagni has is to run a promotional dissemination project that might involve construction of a full-scale mock-up of a curved façade or roof, using the glass and steel cells. Clients and builders often rely on the advice of architects, so making them aware of this technology is crucial.
This would help to really show off the technologys potential, he says. The technology would benefit enormously from the patronage of a high-profile architect.
Another important step forward would be achieving industry standardisation and codification of the technology at the European level through the European Committee for Standardisation. This would enable an architect in Italy, say, to easily design a building to be constructed in Belgium using this façade technology.
One possibility might to include this technology in the new Eurocode for structural glass, which is currently being developed, says Royer Carfagni.