Sunday, March 20, 2016

Reflecting on stainless steel

click photo to enlarge
No buildings last forever, though some such as Stonehenge, the Sumerian ziggurats, the Pyramids, and the temples of ancient Greece are probably enduring for longer than their builders imagined. There are a number of features that help to make a building last a long time including peace, reverence for the past, and the materials of which it is constructed. War destroys buildings more effectively than anything else, though in Britain the cultural vandalism of national and local politicians in the name of "improvement" runs it a close second. Understanding the importance of the past results in selected old buildings having a long life, though which are chosen for life-support is somewhat arbitrary, and varies with the period in time.

Building materials used to be more important than they are today when buildings are often expected to stand for less than a century, and sometimes only a few decades. Consequently the materials chosen are frequently transient, and where they have the capacity to be long-lived they frequently don't fulfil their potential. In recent years I have despaired of the fashion in Britain for hardwood cladding, a finish that stains badly and warps in our damp climate, that will rot and rarely looks well on a city building. Stainless steel, a material that should last a long time, is one that I have increasing doubts about. It initially looks sleek but requires cleaning because, despite its name it does mark and stain, and isn't always cleaned as often as is required. The Lloyds building in the City of London was completed thirty years ago and still looks fine due to regular maintenance, but it gets much of its force from its complex shape. Will 5 Broadgate (above), a new London building that gets a lot of its power from its contrast of flawless surface with sharply drawn lines, as well as its silky sheen, disappoint in thirty, forty or fifty years when it is dull and stained?

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo Title: 5 Broadgate, London
Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.) crop
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On