Week Two Research: Evolution and Utility of the Steel I-Beam


Week Two Research Project:

Reading:  Modern Architecture Since 1900


-To read about Modern Architecture since 1900 and understand the development from cast iron to steel I-beams.  The main focus of this research for week two will focus around how steel was implemented into style of buildings and how that changed as America devolved itself into a major economic powerhouse.


1.)    Curtis, William. Modern Architecture since 1900. London: Phaidon, 1996. Print. Gayle, Margot, and Carol Gayle. Cast-iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.

Preface/Reflections of Source:

     -Initially I believed this source would cover the evolution of steel I-beams and how they came to change over time.  Yet, as I read further into the sources I came to understand that it this source cover in large portion to evolution and transformation of the office space to what we perceive today as “work”.  Overall this source did prove to be useful because imbedded within the explanation of the stylistic change of the office space were detailed examples on how generally steel beams were placed and how that reflected the common art view of that time period.   Generally as time passed there was an indirect relationship between time and the amount of effort put into hiding steel I-beams.

Summary/Main points of the Research: 

     -Before 1890 industrialization within cities did not exist.  Materials that seem common in todays cities were simple hard to come by.  Thus cities were not able to grow at the rapid rate they are able to today.  In addition to this factor there wasn’t the need or want to live within a city for many social and economic reasons.  Yet this all changed after the 1890’s, when both urbanization started to occur and cities become more sanitary and covenant to live within.  This meant that cities had to keep up with the influx of population that was migrating and need a place to work and live.  Old construction material such as cast iron had been implemented but had its drawbacks including a low melting point (compared to steel) and was more expensive to produce.  With these major flaws many engineers and architects turned to a new material that was both fairly easy to produce and could hold a significant amount of weight.  Steel I-beams were created,  but this idea of a an I-beam was not the first way steel was produced.  After several prototypes engineers found that they could decrease the weight and still produce the same load bearing capabilities.  Thus the I-beam was formed.

-Originally many architects frowned upon the I-beam because it was removing the art and the style away from buildings and replacing it with a false sense of style.  This “lack of realism” soon dissipated when architects realized that the I-beams didn’t take away the venustas of buildings, they allowed for more style, especially in skyscrapers; which were the new genre of buildings of that time.  I-beams proved a skeleton for the buildings to be built upon and didn’t need massive bottoms of brick or stone to dead lift and hold the entire building (show in image three).  The I-beams ability to support the buildings and allow for construction material to be used, thus less mass overall on the building, allowed the architects more freedom of both design and shape of buildings.  No longer did buildings have to conform to a standard rectangular boxes, rather they could now fit the utilitas of the owner while also achieving a high degree of venustas within the city.  Yet, this movement was not always so direct towards the way we perceive skyscrapers and the use of I-beams today.  During the First World War many of these material (ie steel) were used up in battle for different items, and soon after the First World War the production of these type buildings halted.  This pushed a movement back towards to the old style of architecture.  This trend continued on for some years until production levels and the economy were able to bounce back and provide a boom to stimulate this steel I-beam use.

-In generally as the years progressed steel I-beam use has as well.  Although in early cases it may have been hidden, steel I-beams play an important role as the skeleton of buildings allowing them to stand with venustas and ulilitas.  Another trend is the shift between the steel beams being hidden within buildings to the buildings projecting steel beams out from their shape, where the beams become a part of the venustas, where before they had just supported the venustas.

-As the years progressed different adaptations have beenadded on the steel beam, but its role as a supporter has never changed, only the way it has been displayed has changed with time.

Image 3.) pg 46

-This building does not use I-beams and thus the massive base of building (composed of bricks)



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