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Modern Examples of Structural Art in Metals

TitleModern Examples of Structural Art in Metals
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsArwade SR, Schafer BW, Schafer D.F., Schafer S.T.
Conference NameStructures Congress 2015
Date Published04/2015
PublisherAmerican Society of Civil Engineers
Conference LocationPortland, Oregon
ISBN Number978-0-7844-7911-7

Many of the greatest structural artists—designers practicing at the top of their profession and achieving excellence in efficiency, economy, and elegance of their structures—from Thomas Telford to John Roebling, from Othmar Ammann to Fazlur Khan, practice primarily in the media of iron and steel. During the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st century a handful of designers have carried on this tradition of greatness in structural art in metal. This paper sets the context for modern works of structural art in metal through a brief examination of the history of great design in metal and then examines Jörg Schlaich as an exemplary modern practitioner of the art form through a sequence of bridge and roof structures that cover the period from roughly the 1980s to the present and range in scale from modest pedestrian bridges to long span roofs for major places of public assembly. These structures are examined in terms of their structural efficiency, economy, and elegance. Elegance is interpreted here to entail ways in which the designs spring from creativity constrained by the requirements of good structural engineering; the degree to which the designs are innovative and introduce new techniques or ideas to the discipline of structural engineering; and, whether and how the designs are visually expressive of their structural function. Although impossible to quantify, the aesthetic beauty of the structures is also considered. The works of Santiago Calatrava are compared to those of Schlaich as a coda to the paper to spur greater discussion of the meaning of excellence in structural design.