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The importance of grade selection in architecture

Matjaž Matošec - 14 December 2016

Stainless steel is a truly remarkable architectural material, provided that a suitable grade is selected for each individual project .

About the author

Mr Matjaž Matošec
Matjaž Matošec is Editor of Stainless Steel World News and Manager of the Stainless Steel World Conference.
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Stainless steel was first used in the Architecture, Building and Construction (ABC) sector of the market when the roof of the Chrysler Building was added to what was then the tallest building in the world, in 1930. The first building to be fully clad with stainless steel was the Socony-Mobil Building, also in New York, which was completed in 1956. For both of these buildings the equivalent of what is today known as grade 302 stainless steel was used, yet they have both stood the test of time, with remarkably little evidence of corrosive attack. Both have been successfully cleaned and restored to their original lustre using normal household detergents.

Since then, there has been a surge in the development of some truly inspirational new buildings and street furniture using stainless steel, with the most inspirational ones sending a clear message to the world of architecture that the only limit to what is possible with this versatile material is the limit of the imagination.

However, as John Rowe, Secretary-General of the International Stainless Steel Forum (ISSF), observes in his recent article published in Stainless Steel World News, there has been a shortage of sufficiently informative teaching material about the advantages of using stainless steel. To address this problem, the International Stainless Steel Forum (ISSF) has published a very comprehensive teaching course for use by lecturers to provide an entry point into the world of stainless steel for students of architecture and design. Reviewed in detail by an international panel of teaching specialists, the course is regularly updated and is available, free of charge, on the ISSF website.

The second point raised by John Rowe is that stainless steel is a generic term covering four very distinct grade categories (200 series, 300 series, 400 series and duplex stainless steels) and that each grade category contains many different specifications, with widely differing properties. While the Chrysler and Socony-Mobil Buildings have demonstrated the longevity of stainless steel and the remarkable ease with which it can be kept clean, grade selection is extremely important. There are examples of building facades and street furniture items, such as hand rails and bus shelters, which have discoloured and in some cases shown signs of corrosion. This is not the fault of stainless steel, but rather an indication of incorrect grade selection and sometimes incorrect assembly and cleaning practices. John Rowe maintains that in a market sector where the most significant cost of a building project is the cost of construction, and where such costs demand longer and longer useful lifespans to ensure a return on investment, and particularly where the stainless steel exterior covering is so visible, it is critical that the initial cost of the stainless steel should take second place to the life cycle cost. In other words, this is not a sector for experimenting with cheaper grades.

Led by the International Molybdenum Association (IMOA) and supported by the partners in Team Stainless and by the Iron and Steel Research Institute of China, detailed research has been undertaken of a number of buildings across various regions of China to list the learning points for architects, builders and fabricators on a range of topics from grade selection through material handling, fabrication methods and fastenings, as well as cleaning practices. This valuable work will become an important reference manual.

To read the full article, see the December issue of Stainless Steel World News or contact Editor Matjaž Matošec to receive a complimentary copy of the issue.

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