Sol Harris Day Architecture

Anatomy of a Green Building - Lesson 5 - Steel

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
By Matt Sutter, Chief Executive Officer
In Sustainability

It was a dark but certainly not a stormy night. Driving through the middle of the night heading on vacation gives one time to think of many things. As we traveled north of Pittsburgh, I thought about the steel that will be erected this week for our new office building. Pittsburgh is the "steel city", the birthplace and center of the steel industry in the last century and still home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Steel making was revolutionized by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant who decided to risk everything and build a large scale steel production facility with no guaranteed demand in this country. Steel was difficult to produce, expensive and considered a luxury in the 1800s. In the 1870s, Carnegie determined that a Bessemer blast furnace set up on a large scale could bring the cost down. He was correct. Production costs were slashed by 90 percent and steel became inexpensive and therefore the building material of choice. This revolutionized the construction industry. He was now associated with names like J.D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan and became one of the richest men in the world.

In its early days, steel could hardly be considered green. For every ton of steel produced, 2.5 - 3 tons of iron ore was needed from the mines. Coal was burned to produce the steel and towns like Pittsburgh, where steel was made, had day turned into night with sooty smoke so thick that the streetlights had to be turned on even in the middle of summer days.

Now, there is so much steel in circulation that can be recycled, that there is much less need to produce new first use steel. In fact if the steel manufacturer is using an electric arc furnace to melt the steel, as the Timken Company in Canton does, the steel can be made with 100 percent recycled scrap material. Yes - 100 percent. In other words, scrap steel beams, cans and car parts can simply be melted down to produce new steel beams, cans and car parts. That sounds a little more green than Pittsburgh from 100 years ago.

Steel is a "cradle to cradle" material. This means that it can be used for its purpose, then be recycled and used for the same purpose again. No waste to the landfill. Steel beams and columns are almost entirely prefabricated at a plant, producing very little waste. What waste there is, is sold as scrap and recycled. As society continues to move forward, steel has a significant part to play both now and for generations to come. Steel truly is a green material.

Matt Sutter
SōL Harris/Day Architecture

Anatomy of Our Team

Steel DesignHammontree & Associates - Dan Grinstead330.499.8817 -

Steel Fabricators Inc.Christman Fabrication

Steel ErectionStructural Erecting & Assembly Inc.330.524.4745

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