There are vital questions new-age architects are asking themselves even as they welcome the structural strength of new building materials made possible by the latest technology: How relevant is the use of each of these innovations, especially in the context of the climate? What would be the consequences of using them?
What could be the alternatives to not using them? When we decided to focus our attention on structural steel, it was not surprising to encounter a fair amount of ambiguity about the metal that is becoming popular thanks to its versatility, reliability, longevity and economic viability.
While companies manufacturing steel would naturally highlight the plus points – and there are many, as we reinforce in our feature on pg28 – we should take claims about the ‘environment-friendly’ nature of this metal with a generous pinch of salt.
The process of manufacturing steel is hazardous to the environment due to the smelting and iron ore digging involved, not to mention the energy-guzzling factories; and we do not have any conclusive evidence to prove that saving a tree each time we use a steel frame outweighs these major drawbacks.
Both Manjunath Raghavelu of Arcelor Mittal and DK Das of Tata Steel Long Products frankly admit that the making of steel cannot be called green. And architect Kamal Malik, who created the superstructure of Pune’s Ishanya Mall in steel, refrains from embracing the material whole-heartedly.
He believes that steel cannot be the answer to India’s construction needs for at least the next two decades if not more, and recommends restraint and reflection about its relevance.
So, the debate goes on: Steel, or no steel?
As the green movement continues to conquer hearts and minds, that is the question architects, designers and builders have to address after weighing the pros and cons of each case in their purview. The answer depends as much on the needs of the design as it does on the designer.
If after due deliberation you choose to use the material, steel yourself for the outcome. On another note, our case study on the new avatar of the Pali Hotel at Bandra in Mumbai, turns the spotlight on the synergy between art and design. Le Sutra may not be the ultimate Indian art hotel, but we appreciate their steely attempt to get there.