Reflections on Metal

Reflections on Metal

On September 30, The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University held its third annual materials conference on metals in architecture and engineering. Much was debated concerning the sustainability and viability of steel as expensive or artistic resource, and the fragility of architecture (or was it architects?) versus the pragmatism of engineering (or perhaps engineers). AN asked a scholar, an architect, and an engineer to describe the metal project that most impressed them with metal’s continuing capacity to surprise.

The Markel Building, 1962
Haig Jamgochian
Richmond, Virginia

“While I am generally suspicious of invoking the vernacular sideshow as a way of deflating the ambitions of academic conferences—not the way the Markel Building was used in this case but still a well-known and over-used gambit—I am a great fan of the novelty item. I had never seen the Markel Building before and was amused by the miscegenating notion of baking Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim in Andy Warhol’s tinfoil. More pertinent to the conference, however, was the way the crumpled aluminum surface suggested an experiment in the behavior of a particular metal, which struck me at the time as a radical departure from the tendency in the conference to focus on the engineering of steel to a thinness bordering on the immaterial. In this sense, the Markel Building served for me as a surprising intellectual opening in the conversation.”

Sylvia Lavin, director, Critical Studies Program,
Department of Architecture, UCLA

Maelstrom, 2009
Roxy Paine
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York

“Roxy Paine’s new sculpture on the roof terrace of the Met, Maelstrom, is an inspiring and very ambitious work of structure in stainless steel. Form and structure are united to shape space without any additional elements. And the enthusiasm and movement of the visitors around and through it seem to present an emotional link: Sculpture to Architecture.”

Steven Holl,
Steven Holl Architects

The Apolinarska Project, 2008
Aleksandra Anna Apolinarska
Institute for Lightbuilding and Construction
Stuttgart, Germany

“Basically, this is just an endless piece of hammered aluminum. It can be a huge metal sponge, very thin and laser-welded at the edges. The prototype shown here is very light at 40 feet long and ten feet high. It could be used as a facade element that provides shading and directed light, or slow down the wind to allow windows behind to be opened. Or it can be loadbearing for whatever. The big trick is that the modified honeycomb shapes focus on certain exposures, so when you look through, you only see certain things. There are at least 2,000 different shapes and I think this is some very interesting research for potential structures.”

Werner Sobek,
Werner Sobek Engineering & Design

A version of this article appeared in AN 17_10.21.2009.