Case Study Steel House

Steel-house construction persists in the dictum of steel constructions as skeleton constructions. In the long line from the Chicago Frame to the steel-frame construction of the Weissenhof housing estate and the buildings of the Solothurn School, the basic design principles have always been based on rolled steel profiles, while all other requirements – separation, protection, insulation, etc. – had to be met by other building materials. In particular in residential construction, synergetic profiles – based on the interplay of sometimes contradictory requirements as to wall construction – remain a prerequisite of constructive assertiveness.

All efforts in this study focus on the co-operation of linear and flat bearing structures made of steel profiles and cold-rolled steel sheets, a semi-finished industrial product that had already inspired Fritz Leonhardt and Jean Prouvé to design lightweight structures. In fact, our team of technicians is focussing all experiments on this new synergy, despite being aware of the efforts made by technology, in which – according to Nietzsche's principle in the explanation of the entire history of mankind – “the efforts (are) infinitely greater than the yield”.


Its outstanding mechanical properties have meant that steel is mainly used in rod and skeleton structures for wide-span constructions and high static requirements. While organic building materials are increasingly competing with mineral wall-building materials in multi-storey residential construction, steel is only used – if at all – as a space-enclosing sheet structure in secondary constructions. Although some attempts were already made in the 1920s and into the 1950s to develop load-bearing wall elements from rolled sheet metal, this method of construction has completely disappeared from view given the dominance of skeleton construction.

But what prospects does steel have in the small-scale cell structures of residential typologies? Can walls made of thin, cold-formed sheet metal be used as a supporting structure in residential construction – and what possibilities as to form may thus emerge?

Here, a dialogic interaction of considerations on the efficiency of form with qualitative studies on the liberation of space is used to develop a grammar of curved sheet-metal walls. It benefits equally from the wealth of knowledge and experience of both engineers and architects. The supporting structure uses the principle of the double-skin sheet, in which corrugated sheet-metal walls in combination with reinforced concrete ceilings form a spatial static system. Thus, a commercially used ground floor can, e.g., be freely spanned without supports and beams. Sheet thicknesses of two to five millimetres at building depths of 12 to 15 metres are sufficient. The requirements of building physics and building services are met by additive components. Due to the principle of redundancy, structural components can “help out” each other in case of fire. In the event of fire, the unclad corrugated sheet-metal walls of a storey can fail without loss of stability. On the first and the top floor, “hot” measured interior pillars are arranged for this very purpose.

Thanks to the spatial load-bearing effect, there is great freedom in the spatial design of the living floors, which results in a completely new morphology of the spatial structure.  



OWNER: IKE Institut konstruktives Entwerfen der ZHAW, SZS and werk, bauen + wohnen




Markus Peter, Patrick Rinderknecht, Alice Hucker

Roman Pfister, Raphael Jans, Andreas Haupolter, Michal Michalowski

CIVIL ENGINEER: Drewes+Speth, Hannover

BUILDING PHYSICS / ACOUSTIC: Amstein+Walthert, Zurich

FIRE PROTECTION: Makiol Wiederkehr, Beinwil am See


«Wohnen in Stahl - Zwei Fragen, sechs Thesen»

Werk, Bauen + Wohnen 9 - 2017

20th century steel construction synopsis

structural Steel sheet framework

Steel sheet thickness' and amplitude's influence on structural framework


Fire Protection

axonometric view of construction detail

Wall construction

floor plans

floor plan option

Paul Nelson, Maison suspendue

sketch floor plan

execution plan detail

Josep Antoni Coderch, edificio girasol

Antoni Gaudi, Casa Mila

execution plan