Can a Steel Building Be Beautiful (and Functional, Durable, Cost Effective and Energy Efficient)?

Published September 15, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

beautiful steel building

Metal buildings can be attractive. We would even go so far as to say metal buildings can be beautiful! When you have a structure that will last for decades, it had better look good, don’t you think?

Metal buildings are no longer those rusty, falling down, corrugated tin sheds you can still find along America’s highways. In truth, they haven’t been for a long time, but the impression remains anytime you say that you are constructing a steel building.

This post goes into the many reasons a steel building can be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, durable, cost effective, and energy efficient.


Design opportunities

From the early 20th Century charm of the Empire State Building to the latest skyscraper in Dubai, steel has made structures possible that would be impossible with wood and concrete. The low strength-to-weight ratio of steel combined with its durability allows building designers the latitude to create buildings in almost any shape or height.

Steel buildings are not limited to rectangular box shapes either. Some very eccentric structures have been erected that incorporate curves, spheres, and angles that set those buildings off from their neighbors.

walt disney concert hall

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is an excellent example of the design flexibility of steel. With its soaring, off-kilter slabs of steel, it gives the impression of sound floating up from the hall itself. The architect and engineer took full advantage of steel’s strength and versatility to create a one-of-a-kind object in an area prone to earthquakes.

Another stunning example of a metal building is the Lotus Temple in Delhi, India. The structure took ten years to design, engineer, and build. If any other material but metal had been used, the giant lotus flower would never have bloomed.

On a more modest note, any structural design that can be rendered in wood frame or concrete can be built with metal, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Residential building is using more steel frame for its durability in harsh conditions. A housing development in Florida created in steel will look exactly like its wood-framed counterpart in Kansas.

Nearly every building you see, from offices and hotels to business campuses, is built with a steel frame at its heart.

Detailing for walls and fascia

Steel members and panels can be gussied up with conventional wall and fascia materials to create whatever look you need. If you have a business brand or need to change the appearance of your building, steel is easily covered, hung, or surrounded by the same sort of design details you would place on any other building.

If you have interior or exterior columns, they can be covered with fascia to look like stone or marble. You also have the option of fastening fabric, wood, plastic, or other decorative items to your columns. There is no reason to leave the steel visible unless that is the look you want.

Other details you can add to your metal building include:

  • Clearstory roofs and daylight elements to create an environment that feels open and airy
  • A variety of colors for your wall and roof panels to match or contrast with each other or the neighboring buildings
  • Different options for defining space, mass, proportion, and symmetry
  • Roof lines from high peaks to flat

Metal buildings can be clad in steel siding, wood, glass, aluminum, concrete, and masonry. Panels can be embossed with lines in varying depths, angles, and smoothness. Roof panels can be fabricated to look like shingles or tiles, or you can leave the metal smooth and opt for a standing seam roof.

Colors and textures and designs

While all structural steel is either painted with primer or to prevent rust and oxidation, steel panels can also be factory coated with Galvalume or various types of finishes. The finishes can be matte to high gloss in a variety of hues and shades.

A manufacturer may only keep a certain number of popular colors in stock, but they can usually special order other colors. Colors from different manufacturers may look identical yet carry different names: coral rose vs. peachy pink, for example. You can see the variety used in commercial steel buildings.

Some of the brighter hues are used in retail and food industry structures, such as the bright orange of the Texas hamburger chain Whataburger. More muted colors are often selected for office parks and medical buildings.

One special element of roof color is used to create a “cool roof.” A low gloss white finish applied to your steel roof panels will reflect sunlight and re-emit the heat generated by the sun away from your roof, keeping the building cooler and more energy efficient. The white coating may contain special additives to increase its reflectance.

Texturing can also be added to finishes and coating to create designs or add roughness to the surface of the wall or roof. Embossing and texturing can create a look of depth or can scatter light to make the surface appear to be coated in glitter.

metal building skylights

Metal building accessories

Accessories for metal buildings include skylights, windows, and doors. Depending on the use you plan for your building you may want wide roll-up doors or a personnel door in a color that contrasts with the wall. You can choose window frames that are the same color as the walls, or you can select a brighter or darker color to make your windows pop.

Windows and skylights let in natural light to decrease reliance on electric lighting and also to lift the mood of the occupants. Sitting under fluorescent lights all day can be tiring and hard on the eyes. Natural light brings out colors and shadow that make a space more attractive and comfortable.

Your steel building can look like a steel building. Or it can look like a brick, stone, concrete, wood, or marble building. Your walls and roof can be any color in the rainbow and then some.

We hope we have disabused you of any notion that a metal building is always dull or industrial looking. The next time you drive around town, take note of the colors and textures on all the buildings and houses you see.

Many of those structures are made of steel, and they are beautiful.

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