International magazine of architecture and project design may/june 2019
metals and architecture
As is well known, Area, from its beginnings, differs from the traditional market of magazines, placing itself halfway between the periodical and the book, or rather, over the years, direction and editing have proposed a particular editorial line that has been configured as the publication of a rhythmic sequence of thematic research. Authors, places, types, techniques, topical issues and more rarely materials, although these are the constituent and essential elements of the project. In fact in the experience of the writer, sometimes the choice of a particular material conditions the entire compositional system as a whole, taking on a role that goes beyond simple constructive choices. Metals in particular, in their varied uses and performances in contemporary architecture constitute the constant that in the past was represented by the inevitable wall consistency of every building, in every urban context. Obviously all this has a genesis and a specific raison d‘être in the possibility for the construction world to increasingly access the use of technologies that have accelerated construction processes and methods since the industrial revolution. And if in ancient times building materials had to be closer to the metamorphosis of variously worked natural elements, from stone to wood, from Eiffel onwards, it is proven that steel offers humanity – hastened to Paris to admire the attraction tower of the Universal Expo of 1889 – the possibility of going beyond the boundaries of any constructions known until then. With metals, the project was able to subvert the axiom of gravity and, thanks to its incredible capacity of tensile strength, to hang or suspend whole parts of buildings from above, making them mysteriously light. At the same time the use of weaving and the composition of rods and knots and of welded or bolted junction systems have made it possible to cover spaces that were unimaginable from a dimensional point of view. But it is not only in the field of statics that metals have distorted the art of building – one only has to think of the use of reinforced concrete starting from the early twentieth century – in both the shell and components of the building: from aluminum for doors, windows and façades, to copper for electrical cables, sheet metal and downpipes, to brass and bronze for decorative and finishing elements, with zinc for corrosion protection and so on, in an endless sequence of examples which are quite pertinent, since they are so widespread. However, here we are interested in presenting and therefore understanding those experiences which, starting from the characteristics of a material, have made it possible to fulfill works that otherwise we would not have seen in the form and substance in which they appear to our eyes. A red thread, or rather, a “solid steel cable“ that binds Viollet-le-Duc and Paxton, Mies van der Rohe, Albini, Rogers, Foster, Fuksas, all the way to the delicate wefts of the Sejima, through a scenario that shows no sign of exhausting itself and knows no boundaries.