Project Wales ~ Welsh Steel Inspiration

This month we look at Welsh Steel as a source of inspiration for Project Wales. Why are we not using a material that we have available in Wales? A material that can save our contemporary industrial heritage that has successfully traded steel for decades. We could really show off with this material, make it ours and develop a signature design identity.

The steel industry in Wales has hung in the balance for quite a while. While the sterling is low on the exchange, our steel is selling really well abroad. However, the design and architecture community can help this industry by using it in a visible and proud way. Bring Welsh steel to front of house. Let people see it, own it and make it a staple ingredient in architecture and design in Wales.

Weathered or corten steel is bold, brawny and charismatic. It possesses honest and robust qualities that make it a highly reliable substrate. One that needs minimal, if any, maintenance. Welsh weathered steel is a terrific choice for exterior design. It’s Triassic, sienna colour palette is an echo of our mines and quarries, a characteristic, that could be a new vernacular if used through the welsh landscape.

As well as oxidising steel, it can be electroplated, chemically coated or laser cut to become a choice of new finishes.

Own it

One thing I think Welsh Steel could benefit from is a Hallmark. A single panel or section where a ‘Welsh Steel’ monogram proclaims ownership. It makes the metal feel bespoke and custom. More importantly it connects people to its provenance, a visual distinction that it was made in Wales.

The following images are for inspiration. It is easy to imagine the application of steel in contemporary Wales, as it would fit in with our design heritage extremely well.

I love the brutal geometry of this structure. The entrance is almost like a chasm between two rock faces. It reminds me of  growing up near to the Barry docks.
Picture Unknown.

There are many derelict buildings in Wales, some are remnants of our industrial past. This weathered steel space honours the dovecote ruin by using its structure to grow from, like a root. The steel is sympathetic to the colour of the red brick, with its ‘A’ frame silhouette further enhancing the areas past.
London architects Haworth Tompkins.

The rust-like appearance of the weathered Cor-Ten steel cladding is a striking feature of the cutting-edge design of this private dwelling in West London. The structural design provides an economical method of construction by using the Cor-Ten panels with a steel backing frame as the primary structure for the building. Sheets of Cor-Ten were prefabricated into wall panels and a structural steel frame welded to the rear. This allowed the panels to be simply bolted into place on site and then welded together to form a weatherproof envelope.
Eldridge Smerin Architects. Elliot Wood Engineering

Located in Lexington, Massachusetts, Grow Box is a residence surrounded by over 40 varieties of Japanese maple trees that the homeowners lovingly maintain. The exterior is clad in a weathered steel that closely matches the bark on the surrounding trees.
Merge Architects.

Here, Corten steel has been used to rejuvenate and modernise. The steel is so well tailored into this shop facade it seamlessly and effortlessly looks like it has always existed. It is exquisite with its millimetre precision that looks finely crafted. Humble but a statement.
Wiel Arets architects.

It was this image that made me think about writing a blog about Welsh Steel. The environment could be Wales, either a ruin or a harbour. These solid and definite steps are in Portugal. I really like how they mirror the proportions of the ancient steps. Again we see Corten steel being used almost as a symbiote enhancing its host.
Visitors’ Centre at Pombal Castle, Portugal, by Comoco Arquitectos.

Public spaces in Wales are less than memorable. Steel as a form of protection is illustrated here as well as creating privacy and a sanctuary.
Peninsula Residence by Andrea Cochran landscape design.

Another picture from visitors’ centre at Pombal Castle illustrating how steel can be tailored into spaces and looks incredible juxtaposed against stone.
Comoco Arquitectos.

In this house in the suburbs of Antwerp, weathering steel lamellae are in command. Inside as well as outside they define the spaces, they mark out the boundaries where needed and open again when suited. They glow in the rusty evening sun and give a twinkling show of shadows. They embrace and protect the environment of the residents of this extraordinary house. The concept of this house is based on the use of the Corten steel lamellae. It’s not only used to design the building, but it also shapes the landscape and defines the interior.
DMOA Architecten.

People need bus stops. This design is lined with glass, offering  protection from the Welsh weather. I would really like to see better design in this area. It is the perfect vehicle for Welsh steel: hardwearing, protective yet signature.
Hild und K Architekten.

Th Wales Millennium Centre’s main feature, the bronze coloured dome which covers the Donald Gordon Theatre, is clad in steel that was treated with copper oxide. It was designed to withstand the weather conditions on the Cardiff Bay waterfront and will look increasingly better with age. The architect, Jonathan Adams, decided not to use copper and aluminium as they would both change colour with age and weather conditions.

In response to the area’s existing architecture, the original 19th century red brick building – previously hosting stables that were later converted into garages – was kept intact and further complemented by the placement of corten steel shells over the façade. The weathered steel sheeting gives the house a tactile and natural aesthetic, with perforated holes creating dappled light throughout the day, drawing on the leafy trees of the nearby Kew Gardens.
Kew House by Piercy & Company, London.

This is a small court yard where laser cut steel creates textured layers offering glimpses out and dappled light in. The pattern that is a lace of rusted-through metal is really interesting exciting.
Caixa Forum, Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron

These Corten steel monoliths are decorative statements in a city park. They are laser cut with a fragile leaf structure. I cant help but feel the designers missed an opportunity to play with how the leaf changes and decays, perhaps the design could illustrate that by evolving through the height. A fresh solid leaf becoming fragile.
Eastside City Park, Birmingham, Patel Taylor Architects.

An excellent example of laser cut steel. Very difficult to see the repeat as the filigree has great movement and spirit. It could be very easy to reference the leek or the daffodil in this format.
Grace & Webb.

Changing the coating of steel by oxidising it with copper (TECU Bond) has a dramatic effect on the surface that I really like. This extension in Switzerland is perforated with small, clustered holes. The result is golden and precious and in this silhouette is like iron pyrites.
Janus Museum, MLZD Archtects.

This fantastically intricate facade is actually jet-cut aluminium. I include it for inspiration. The façade developed by studio 505 is a strategic solution to the varied requirements of this massive building. The interlocking and multi layered tiles seamlessly repeat. An excellent example of decorating with metal.
Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Centre. Paul Andreu, Paris.

The Birmingham City Library is a fine example of how a metal facade can make a huge, long-lasting statement that people can be proud of. This incredible exterior is made from silver and black rings in homage to the city’s jewellery quarter. Using steel is a fresh and memorable way.
Exterior by Mecanoo.

White steel sheeting is laser cut with intricate patterns to create dappled interior light and peep holes to the exterior. The effect is craft-like. Delicate and precious.
The Megalithic Museum, Portugal. CVDB ARQUITECTOS.

This fine exterior filigree made from jet cut metal is like a shimmering crown of jewels. The clever thing about this kind of exterior is that it could be applied, retrospectively to many types of buildings. This design is refined and elegant but could easily be adapted into being a motif of Welsh reference.

Finally. this incredible exterior mosaic reminds me of a golden dragon. Now isn’t that a beautiful idea?