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Stainless steel is an ideal construction material in many ways, strong and resistant to corrosion. It has been used as a building material since the 1920s, which attests to its longevity and its enduring popularity. Some of the world’s most recognisable buildings (and other landmarks such as bridges, statues and monuments) have used stainless steel in their construction.

The first stainless steel building in the world was the Chrysler Building, completed in 1930 and at that time, the tallest building in the world. It still holds the title for the world’s tallest brick building with a steel framework. It is, in fact, the stainless steel framework that forms the load-bearing parts of the Chrysler Building, not the external brickwork. The decorative external steel features are formed from an alloy called Nirosta, a version of stainless steel that has a reputation for remaining permanently shiny, and this is well-deserved, as the structure has only been industrially cleaned twice. As the use of stainless steel in skyscrapers was pioneering at the time, it was subject to tests every five years, until they were deemed unnecessary in 1960, due to lack of deterioration.


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A more modern skyscraper construction that incorporates stainless steel are the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However, in contrast to the Art Deco style of the Chrysler building, the steel here is used to form the exterior facade, rather than the load-bearing framework, which is instead made from high strength reinforced concrete. These towers have also held the title of World’s Tallest Building, from 1998 to 2004. In 1999, the world record for BASE jumping was set from the Towers by Felix Baumgartner, who would later gain recognition for his skydive “from the edge of space”.


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Stainless steel is not only suitable for use in skyscrapers, but also for a wide range of other construction purposes. The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California, is only a fraction of the height of the previously mentioned towers, but still uses stainless steel to produce its highly recognisable sail-like exterior shape. Resistant to corrosion and other pollution damage, the stainless steel is highly suited to the busy, urban location of this building, and has the advantage of requiring little maintenance. In contrast to the shiny alloy on the Chrysler Building’s exterior, Frank Gehry’s design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall has a matte finish, although still retains its reflective quality.


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Drawing comparisons to the Walt Disney Hall, the unpredictable shapes of the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health building in Las Vegas are another Frank Gehry design. Stainless steel sheets form the exterior structure again here, although this required each connection between them to be individually designed, manufactured, and tracked with barcodes to ensure the placement of each unique piece was correct. Any errors in connecting the pieces would have required the entire building to be taken down and started again.


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The Art Gallery of Alberta, in Canada, was originally designed in 1968, using a style known as Brutalist. However, as the collection in this public art gallery grew to contain thousands of works, a larger building was required, and it would undergo a complete redesign and rebuild in 2007. Parts of the original design were used, in combination with an unusual shape formed from both glass and stainless steel. The steel has both functional and decorative purposes.


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There are many different grades of stainless steel, each suitable for a variety of purposes in construction. However, one thing that they all have in common is that they are all completely recyclable, so should any stainless steel building undergo demolition and rebuilding, the steel itself is not wasted, and could even be reused on the same site.

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