Steel: The Ultimate Australian Building Material / by rebekah barnett

With Slavin Architects’ recent win of the COLORBOND® steel Award in W.A. for the MSC building, we look back through the archives at our favourite projects with steel.

Ever since Ned Kelly crafted his bullet proof armour from farmers’ mould boards, steel has been a foundational aspect of the Australian aesthetic. The quintessential outback material, and one of W.A.'s primary exports, steel snakes across the country in the form of sheds, roofing and fences, sheltering remote communities and business districts alike. Steel is still an important part of the urban landscape today, most likely because it remains one of the most economical, functional and malleable materials available.  Furthermore, steel can be recycled over and over, making it a great choice for sustainable design.

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Mediterranean Shipping Company
In a nod to ship building materials and techniques, steel takes centre stage in the facade of the new infill Annex building in Fremantle’s West End. The radial steel curves function to break up the mismatched string lines of the two adjacent buildings, turning a potential problem into an aesthetic statement (this would be difficult with a less flexible structural material such as aluminium). Sunlight streams into the workspace through the glazed glass sheeting, which is structurally supported by the lyrical steel lines; the combined effect of which is minimal and iconic.

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Inside the building, a freestanding lift shaft shoots up through an open courtyard - also constructed from mild steel and energy efficient glass, this internal atrium allows another way of entry for the abundant natural light. The malleable nature of steel and its tensile strength also made it the ideal choice of material for the suspended staircase (featuring steel stringers and balustrades) which curves its way through the upper floors.

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Mediterranean Shipping Company, Fremantle

Steel vs. Aluminium
Steel window frames has become something of a signature on Slavin Architects' projects. Due to its high tensile strength, steel frames can be much thinner than aluminium frames, resulting in a more sleek, elegant aesthetic. An undercover area for St John Paul II Catholic Primary School features steel and Danpalon in a tiled pattern, referencing traditional stained glass, yet much more cost effective and thermally efficient. The thinness possible with steel framing means it has better thermal properties than aluminium, so it is our preferred choice for reducing energy transfer through building perimeters.

St John Paul II Catholic Primary School, Banksia Grove

St John Paul II Catholic Primary School, Banksia Grove

St John Paul II Catholic Primary School, Banksia Grove

St John Paul II Catholic Primary School, Banksia Grove

Floor to Ceiling
When used floor to ceiling with glazed glass, steel structural elements create visually lightweight, permeable walls. The effect is lots of natural light and a 'soft' barrier between the exterior and interior of the building. We used this approach with our own purpose-built offices in North Fremantle, as well as the Mercy College Chapel and the Computronics building, all pictured below.

Slavin Architects, North Fremantle 

Slavin Architects, North Fremantle 

Chapel of St Brigid, Mercy College, Koondoola

Chapel of St Brigid, Mercy College, Koondoola

Chapel of St Brigid, Mercy College, Koondoola

Chapel of St Brigid, Mercy College, Koondoola

Sustainability
Sustainability is at the heart of all projects we undertake at Slavin Architects. We favour materials that are recyclable and energy efficient, and steel ticks both of these boxes. Fully recyclable and thermally stable, steel makes an excellent structural material in sustainable design. 

Read more about our approach to sustainable design here.

Computronics, Bentley

Computronics, Bentley