SAH Newsletter

SAHARA Highlights: Stainless Steel

by Jacqueline Spafford and Mark Hinchman, SAHARA Co-Editors | Jan 24, 2022

This month we’re featuring another building material and showcasing its practical and decorative use. Stainless steel has been in use for barely 100 years. In the very late 19th and early 20th centuries various alloys were developed primarily for industrial purposes, such as furnaces. It was later implemented for surgical instruments and similar uses, as well as in industries requiring a high level of sanitation, such as dairies and breweries. Appreciated for its non-porous and easy-to-clean surface properties, as well as its new aesthetic, architects began to integrate it in both decorative and functional ways. The examples here show early use in Art Deco entrances and details and gradual incorporation in facades and external walls, culminating in the wholesale celebration of stainless steel by Frank Gehry and many of his contemporaries.

If you would like to learn more about the history of stainless steel, click here. As always, thank you to our contributors.

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the top of the Chrysler Building against a blue sky

William Van Alen, Chrysler Building, New York, NY, 1928–1930. Detail of spire and upper stories. Photograph by Allan Kohl, 1993.


a diner car with a sign on top that reads Joann's Silver Top, asphalt foreground

Kullman Diner Co., Joann’s Silver Top Diner, Providence, RI, 1937. Photograph by Patrick Malone, ca 1980.


stainless steel and glass double doors flanked by curved walls with movie posters

James McKissack and J.W. Anderson, Cosmo Cinema, Glasgow, Scotland, 1939. Photograph by Mark Hinchman, 2017.


highrise building with stainless steel lattice work facade

Curtis and Davis, the United Steelworkers Building (aka the IBM Building), Pittsburgh, PA, 1961–1963. Photograph by Richard Longstreth, ca 2000.


industrial kitchen with stainless steel cabinets, countertops, ovens, and stovetops

Eero Saarinen and Glen Paulson and Associates, Christ Church Lutheran Education Building, Minneapolis, MN, 1962. View of kitchen. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2016.


view from street of stainless steel curvilinear building with people in foreground

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1992–1998. View of entrance. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2014.


stainless steel outdoor concert venue with curved bars over grass field

Frank Gehry, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago, IL, 2004. Photograph by Hannah Loftus, 2012.


view down corridor of glass and steel walls

Yoshio Taniguchi, Naka Incineration Plant, Hiroshima, Japan, 2004. View down Ecorium corridor looking south. Photograph by Sarah Rovang, 2018.


steel free-standing structure with vents, in parking lot

Madden Fabrications, The Portland Loo, Portland, OR, 2006–2008. The steel wall panels are nearly indestructible and easily cleaned. Photographed by Dell Upton, 2012.


semi-transparent multi-story glass and steel building

Thom Mayne and Morphosis, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, NY, 2006–2009. View of rear façade. Photograph by Peter Clericuzio, 2012.


gas station with vaulted canopy of steel triangles

Office dA and Johnston Marklee, Helios House service station, Los Angeles, CA, 2007-8. Photograph by Dell Upton, 2011.

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