Kelly Steel Mobile Logo

Can structural steel be exposed?

Can structural steel be exposed to the elements? Yes it can and it's being done more throughout the world to create architectural statements.

Table of Contents

Find out more below

In the world of construction and design, we often find beauty in the unexpected, the raw, and the industrial. An exposed structural steel frame, once considered less appealing, can now be an architectural statement.

This trend of exposing steel is turning heads and pushing the boundaries of traditional ideas. It’s a world where strength and aesthetics come together in a symphony of design. 

Should structural steel really be left exposed, though? 

In this blog, we’ll explore exposed structural steel, focusing on its possibilities, challenges, and its significant role in modern architecture. We’ll delve into the practical aspects of this material, understanding how it combines form and function to create a distinctive statement in contemporary architecture.

The appeal of exposed structural steel in architecture

While the appeal of exposed structural steel is undergoing something of a renaissance, it’s certainly not new.

Using exposed structural steel began to gain momentum during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This era marked a shift in architectural styles and construction methods as builders and architects started to experiment with new materials and designs. 

Structural steel, with its remarkable strength and versatility, played a significant role in this transformation.

For example, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, architectural movements like Art Nouveau and Art Deco embraced steel as both a structural element and a design feature. Look no further than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Originally hated by many Parisians, it soon became an iconic symbol of the era.

The race to build taller buildings also led to the extensive use of structural steel. Skyscrapers like the Flatiron Building in New York City is an example of a steel-framed building with a prominent external expression of the steel structure.

Fast forward to today, and exposed structural steel is a prominent feature in contemporary architecture. Architects use it to create unique, industrial aesthetics in commercial, residential, and public buildings.

The appeal of exposed structural steel is its strength, flexibility, and aesthetic possibilities. It allows architects to create visually striking designs while maintaining structural integrity, making it a timeless element in the world of construction and design.

Can structural steel be exposed?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise after reading the previous sections… yes, structural steel can be exposed.

Exposing structural steel does pose some challenges, however:

  • The main challenge is ensuring exposed structural steel is protected from corrosion. Exposing steel to the elements without proper protection will eventually lead to rust and corrosion. To mitigate this, steel fabricators like Kelly Steel treat structural steel with anti-corrosion coatings
  • In the case of a fire, exposed steel can lose its structural integrity faster than protected steel. Fire-resistant coatings or the application of drywall and other fire-resistant materials can be used to maintain safety standards.
  • Exposing steel can require additional work for finishing and aesthetic considerations. This can increase construction costs compared to traditional concealed steel structures.
  • Steel is an excellent conductor of heat. In hot climates, exposed steel can become very hot, affecting the indoor environment. Proper insulation or other measures may be necessary to control temperature.
  • Steel surfaces can reflect sound, potentially leading to poor acoustics in a space. Acoustic treatments may be needed to address this issue.
  • Local building codes and regulations must be adhered to when using exposed structural steel. Compliance can vary by location and may require additional measures or engineering.
  • Exposed steel structures require ongoing maintenance. Coatings may need to be reapplied, and regular inspections are necessary to ensure the structure’s integrity.
  • Integrating exposed steel into a building’s design can be complex, requiring coordination between architects, engineers, and contractors. Design changes may also be needed during the construction process.

Bold, striking, exposed structural steel

While there are challenges in using exposed structural steel, they’re not insurmountable. What’s more, the bold, striking statement certainly makes the effort worthwhile.

To give you an idea of the possibilities of using exposed steel in architecture, here are a few well-known examples:

  • We’ve already highlighted the Eiffel Tower, which arguably is the most iconic exposed structural steel piece of architecture in the world. 
  • The exterior of the Shard in London, England, features exposed steel structural elements that add a futuristic and dynamic look to the skyscraper. 
  • The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, features exposed titanium and steel sheets. The use of steel in its unique and sculptural design is a testament to the possibilities of structural steel in contemporary architecture.
  • The Turning Torso skyscraper in Malmo, Sweden, adds drama to the city. Its twisted form, made possible through the use of exposed structural steel, is uniquely striking in appearance.
  • The Atomium in Brussels, Belgium, is made of exposed steel spheres connected by steel tubes. It’s both a museum and an iconic architectural monument.
  • Closer to home, there’s the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Art Centre Melbourne Spire.

These examples showcase how exposed structural steel can create visually captivating and bold architectural statements, pushing the boundaries of design and engineering in contemporary buildings. 

The strength of Kelly Steel

To create your exposed steel statement or a quality steel structure that is built to last, discover the strength and expertise of Kelly Steel. Request a quote today or give us a call on +613 9706 5001.

Will structural steel produced today still be around in 100 years

Subscribers get everything first

Join our newsletter and stay up to date with Kelly Steel.

We won’t email you often but when we do it will be about our latest projects and innovation in the steel industry.