Corten

Robust enough to build bridges from, Corten is a dynamic architectural material that has been used to beautiful affect in the Australian landscape such as the Line of Lode visitors centre in Broken Hill.  

10 Nov 2011

Evoking visions of farm machinery left to rust in an open paddock, Corten is weathered steel. A serious grade steel that gets stronger as it ages, Corten oxidizes naturally to develop a rich patina.

Varying in surface colour from bright red ochre to burnt umber, Corten bestows a primordial charm on the buildings it helps construct.

Resembling the fine red dust of Uluru, or the rich textural interest of antique copper, Corten suits vast blistering desert landscapes and can also humanize
a concrete jungle. 

 
 Offering four to six times the corrosion resistance of structural carbon steels, the improved resistance to environment is due to a complex oxide layer on the steel surface, which occurs when exposed to the atmosphere.

Although Corten’s use by engineers has been commonplace for years – it was the inclusion of Corten in avant-garde designs of the early nineties, that fueled interest in the product locally.

‘T-House’ by Simon Ungers and Tom Kinslow, is perhaps the best known. 

 
 
 
Designed in 1989, and built in 1992, the T-shape house is famous throughout the world for its monolithic form. This private residence set into small woodland in upstate New York, comprises an elongated library, canterlivered over its living quarters.

The stark arrangement is beautiful in its simplicity, alien to its surrounds, yet visually compelling. 

 
 Rick Joy from Tucson, in the United States is another master of Corten. An award-winning designer of international acclaim, this rock band drummer turned architect was responsible for designing ‘The Tubac House’ in the Arizona desert.

Harmoniously integrating steel within the barren landscape, Joy invited the sky to become part of the living quarters, with a spatially complex
design that brilliantly utilizes sheet glass, and eastern design methodology. 

 
 
       
 
Distinctively strong and sexy, it’s little wonder a product so superbly suited to both the Australian climate and landscape is gaining in
popularity with our architects.

Exciting projects that use corten include Nonda Katsalidis’s beach house in Melbourne (pictured), The Hyde Park Army Barracks by Bates and Smart Pty. Ltd. and Sean Godsell’s ‘Kew House’ in country Victoria (pictured), an example that actually uses a different grade of oxidised steel to similar effect.

In the case of ‘Kew House’, Sean Godsell constructed an eight metre by nine metre living space, suspended over a five metre high slope, using 350 MPA that was oxidized and sealed with a clear primer. 

 
 
 
The modular dwelling incorporates operable steel shutters at the north and west elevations, and matches oxidised steel with oiled second hand boards and recycled decking.

Hyde Park Barracks and the Miners Centre in Broken Hill are other prominent public buildings that integrate Corten in a exciting way.

The Bates Smart project (pictured above) uses Corten to express the barracks sense of strong purpose and state function. While in the remote location of Broken Hill, the ‘Line of Lode’ visitors centre made the natural choice of Corten, in order to reflect the mining culture of the region. 

 
Finding its way deep into inner city Sydney, Corten has been used to create lavish interiors. Dale Jones Evans made a statement with Corten when they designed Bungalow 8 and the Loft on King Street Wharf for example. This stunning seventies look example won them a commendation for interior at the 2004 RAIA awards last July.

Whether incongruous or epic, the imposing force of Corten steel is cropping up all over the country. From decorative frontages on William Street in East Sydney, to private residences in country settings, eagle eyes will continue to spot this design feature as it slips into modern architecture, reminding us of childhood trips to the country or Dad’s old garden shed.

For more information about Corten, designers can contact Blue Corp Steel manufacturers, (formerly BHP) where Corten is also known as Lyten and Austen.