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Transition Of Metal In Architecture

Around 5,000 years ago, right through the Bronze and Iron Ages, bronze and iron were used to fabricate tools and weapons. Ancient civilizations used their metal discoveries to create strong, hand-held tools. These functional tools were used for hunting, fighting and digging. Through the realms of history, structures made of wood, manure and straw gave way to clay bricks, and metal eventually made an appearance on the building scene. Let’s take a look at the metals that were commonly used and understand why some managed to make a mark while some others simply faded away.

Lead is a pure metal that at one point of time was a definite favourite. It was favoured primarily due to its low melting point and was widely used in the manufacture of roofing and metal pipes. The latter was eventually banned as it was proved to be a health hazard. Lead used in roofing had a tendency to deteriorate in areas that saw an extreme temperature fluctuation. The main disadvantage of lead is its weight which did not really make it a very practical choice for covering larger areas. 

Tin was popularly used for light roofing. Bronze is a tin-copper alloy that has a 10:90 composition. This extremely resilient material lasts a great deal longer than modern asphalt roofing, though it tends to be less cost-effective.

Zinc is another metal that is used to form an alloy. When mixed with copper it forms brass. This light, pollution-resistant, material is non-toxic as well. Galvanizing metals with zinc makes them rust-proof.

Copper is a malleable and durable material that has gained in popularity over the centuries. Even 2000 years ago, temple doors were adorned with it and in the 21st century, architects are still using it as a wall-cladding. Copper roof sheets are corrosion-resistant and it weighs less than tiles or slate do. However, this material needs to be fitted with copper hardware such as copper screws and nails. Using other metals can cause galvanizing reactions and lead to the deterioration of copper. One outstanding example of copper is the Statue of Liberty. Its distinct green hue is attributed to the purity of the material.

One of the most remarkable developments in the use of metal in architecture came when iron was incorporated into the building industry. Wrought iron, sheet iron, cast iron and steel became common. Wrought iron served more of a decorative purpose. In the 18th century it was used to create intricate grill work that was used in gates, fences and balconies. The onset of the 19th century saw cast iron playing a supporting role. It was brittle, yet strong and was used to create a dramatic effect in grills, staircases and verandas. Today, it is used extensively in heritage structure renovation projects and as plumbing fixtures.

Sheet iron has a tendency to erode rapidly and is preferably not used in facades of buildings or in the exterior of any structure. Steel was invented towards the end of the 19th century. This iron-carbon alloy has a high tensile strength and impressive compressive properties as well. It became an ideal material for use in modern architecture and bridges, skyscrapers and railroads were constructed with steel. An insulating coating ensured strength even at high temperatures. However, its strength came under doubt post the 9/11 catastrophe when the massive twin towers buckled under the immense heat that was generated by the explosions.

Post that, the U.S government passed stringent laws around the use of steel in construction. In the 1920’s, aluminium made an appearance. This lightweight and strong material was initially prohibitively expensive and was used to embellish structures. A lot of aluminium was used in the construction of the Empire State Building in the U.S and this material shot to the forefront of the construction industry. Today, a variety of metals are used in reinforcing massive architectural creations and also to add cosmetic value to them. No matter what form they take, metals sure are here to stay. 

This article has been produced on behalf of Cadisch MDA, the sole distributors for the MN range of unique Welltec profiled metal cladding (

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