Steel is an alloy of carbon and iron that contains 98-99% iron, less than 2% carbon, and 1% Manganese and Silicon. It is known for its high tensile strength, ductility, and malleability. In addition to this, its lustrous appearance and resistance to corrosion make it an extremely attractive construction material.


The earliest evidence of steel was found in the pieces of ironware from an archaeological site in Anatolia that dates back to around 1800 B.C. Although steel was also used in different regions of the world in the subsequent years, it was majorly used for weaponry and seldom for construction.

Over the years, several forms of steel developed due to the constant efforts of metal forgers around the world in their quest for the perfect metal. The first true steel known as the “Wootz Steel” was made in India at around 400 B.C. by bonding iron with carbon using a crucible. This Steel was then shipped to all parts of the world and was able to gain much popularity in no time, replacing iron as the primary metal for tools and weaponry.

The history of modern steel making was started in the 17th Century in Europe and soon became the driving force behind Industrialisation. With the invention of blast furnaces, different techniques for making steel were invented over the years. Yet the production of steel remained rather expensive and steel was thus used only when there was no cheaper alternative available. A revolutionary shift towards the production of steel that was cheap came with the introduction of the Bessemer process of steel production in 1885. Since then the construction industry has seen a major “Steel Boon” that has resulted in a ground-breaking impact on Architecture.


With its strong tensile strength and massive mass production, steel was the main characterizing element of modern factories, bridges, railways, and habitats. A new typology of Modern architecture came into being that favored this newly developed material and integrated it with modern aesthetics.

A few examples of these buildings are-

1. Crystal Palace, John Paxton (1851-1936)

An exhibition hall, built to house an international exhibition was an innovation of steel structure in 1851. The structure of prefabricated steel columns was installed in an area of 18 acres to support the roof and walls of clear glass, which went up to a height of 33 meters. The structure was taken down in 1852-54 and rebuilt in Sydenham Hill.

Crystal Palace, John Paxton (1851-1936) - Sheet1
Crystal palace ©
Crystal Palace, John Paxton (1851-1936) - Sheet2
Crystal palace ©

2. Pennsylvania Railway station (1910-1963)

Earlier steel structures were mostly built for large span stations. Pennsylvania Railway station was one example, giving roof to more than 500 people. The Interior of the station followed a monochrome color scheme, for exterior the marble cladding was done with exposed black-painted steel.

Pennsylvania Railway station (1910-1963) - Sheet1
Pennsylvania Railway station ©
Pennsylvania Railway station (1910-1963) - Sheet2
Pennsylvania Railway station ©

3. World Trade Centre- Minoru Yamasaki (1972–1974)

In the modern world, twin towers are a well-known structure of steel by Minoru Yamasaki. The structure was once a prime skyline of Manhattan and a building which added a great value to the economy of Manhattan. In a terrorist attack in 2001, the building was destroyed and printed its name in architectural history.

World Trade Centre- Minoru Yamasaki (1972–1974) - Sheet1
World trade center ©
World Trade Centre- Minoru Yamasaki (1972–1974) - Sheet2
World trade center ©

4. Petronas Towers- Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas tower was considered the world’s longest twin tower from 1998 to 2004. The towers reflected the Islamic architecture of Malaysia with its elements and alignments. The top of the towers was pointed at the center to give structural stability as well as a gesture of elegance to a powerful skyline of Kuala Lumpur.

Petronas Towers- Kuala Lumpur - Sheet1
Petronas Towers- Kuala Lumpur ©
Petronas Towers- Kuala Lumpur - Sheet2
Petronas Towers- Kuala Lumpur ©


Today steel is considered the backbone of human civilization and is extremely crucial for the development of any country. Steel is available with diverse shapes and structural properties. It is not only used in structural elements but is now also used in facades, interiors, roofing, and streetscape. Steel has made the life of architects easier, to go crazy with their designs and ideas. Steel being strong in taking loads and flexible in molding solves many problems like in providing cantilevers and curving the walls and slabs. It is further noticed that steel has been a fundamental material in building construction after it was introduced to the world. From looking at large span stations to high towers & skyscrapers. From looking at frank Gehry’s Walt Disney concert hall to Zaha Hadid’s curved buildings. It has been a boon to the architectural industry which is growing and became a compulsory material to be involved in. With the flexibility of multiple permutation and combination, steel can be used with bricks, stones, glass, aluminum, mud, or what not.



Ankita Agrawal is a 4th-year undergraduate, pursuing her Bachelor's of architecture from MITS, Gwalior MP. She often sees herself as a curious and determined individual, enjoying new experiments in life. She is a keen learner, observer, and implementer. She travels to broaden her mind, experience a new culture and its essence to enrich her creativity.