Architects and engineers face heightened demand in 2022, with commercial construction starts increasing by 16 percent over the past year. However, not only is there greater demand for construction, but the expectations are loftier than ever. Commercial buildings must be more versatile, sustainable, and provide greater value per-square-foot than ever before.

To help check off all of these boxes, builders are increasingly turning to steel as their preferred building material. Thanks to its improving versatility and elite durability, metal is truly a top-of-the-line construction solution. Read on to find out exactly how steel buildings are breaking limitations in building design and functionality. 

Versatility in Design Options

Steel buildings have traditionally been associated with metal panels as the visible component of the building envelope. While this is an acceptable look for warehouses or auto shops, it does not create ideal aesthetics for structures looking to maximize curb appeal to entice customers, clients, and visitors.

Fast forward to 2022, and advances in structural steel fabrication have made it compatible with a wide array of architectural finishes, such as stone veneer, brick veneer, glass, EIFS, and basically any type of cladding. Due to this versatility, architects are able to use steel to design educational buildings, churches, automotive showrooms, and any other type of structure on the commercial building spectrum.

While this is an exciting trend, the versatility of the exterior is just one way that building with steel offers increased possibilities for architects. Steel is the premier material for creating column-free interiors. 

Columns not only create visual impediments, but they reduce the functional space in a building’s interior. Most importantly in 2022, columns reduce the ways that developers can allot and lease their interior space. 

To help combat the rising cost of rent and real estate, many tenants are looking to share commercial space with other businesses to defray costs. Whether it be multiple restaurants cooking out of a central kitchen or a yoga studio by day that transitions to a dance hall by night, modern commercial buildings need to be flexible enough to accommodate multiple tenants. Data compiled by Emergent Research shows that global coworking spaces increased by more than 111 percent between 2017 and 2022, showing the strength of this trend.

By leveraging the open interiors made possible when building with steel structures, architects can give developers more creative freedom to accomplish this end. 

Provides Clients Tremendous Value Per-Square-Foot

There are numerous factors that can affect the total cost of a steel building:

  • The current market price of of raw steel

  • The amount of work required to prepare the land

  • Transportation costs of getting a metal building kit or prefabricated metal building to the construction site

  • Geographic location, as different types of metal, insulation, and finishes will be required to provide an optimal structure for the local climate

With that said, the general cost of a steel building in an average market is anywhere between $12 and $19 per-square-foot. That would put the cost of a 100X100 metal building between $120,000 and $190,000 dollars. 

While this is a tremendous value in and of itself, the elite durability of steel makes the lifetime cost of ownership extremely low relative to other types of building materials. Owners will spend very little in terms of maintenance, repair, or replacement.

Finally, architects and engineers are increasingly realizing that a structural steel frame is quite easy to add onto and build out. Therefore, developers will save money should the need for more square footage arise in the future. 

Sustainability and Energy Efficiency

It is no secret that sustainability and energy efficiency are two top initiatives in an increasingly conscientious society. However, they are no longer simply altruistic or goodwill movements on the part of business developers--they are quickly becoming a matter of law.

Upon inauguration in January 2021, President Biden made a series of executive orders to help battle the ongoing climate change crisis, with the goal of achieving a net-zero economy by the year 2050. 

To help align with these presidential initiatives, architects are turning to steel.

Steel is arguably the most sustainable building material for a number of reasons:

  • The average metal building life expectancy typically exceeds 100 years. This means that fewer resources will be required and consumed for maintenance and repair

  • Due to the long lifespan of steel, metal buildings make an ideal choice for building rehabilitation. In the event that one business ceases operations, metal buildings are easily repurposed to serve for a second lifetime without creating the waste of demolition and reconstruction

  • Many metal buildings are fabricated using at least a small percentage of recycled steel. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that a metal building ever needed to be demolished, the steel can either be salvaged or recycled for use elsewhere

In addition to its durability features, steel also has a host of energy efficiency qualities. It is a highly reflective material that absorbs few of the sun’s heat waves compared to other products. This can be leveraged even further when the proper paint or finish is chosen. For example, a white metal roof is shown to reflect about 75 percent of the sun’s solar heat

Due to their low thermal mass, steel buildings can quickly be returned to the desired interior temperature. This is in stark contrast to high thermal mass buildings, which absorb heat and continue to release it even after the sun has gone down, causing the HVAC system to work overtime. 

Faster Build Times

Steel buildings can take months off of construction time. Most metal buildings are either fabricated off site and transported to the construction site or broken down into easy-to-manage kits that require relatively few workers and machines to erect.

Not only do the short build times help keep the costs of construction under control, but they allow architects and engineers to complete a higher number of projects annually and allow the developer to start generating revenue faster than similar projects that get bogged down in construction. 

Push Architectural Boundaries by Leveraging Steel Materials

Faced with rapidly evolving consumer demands, architects and engineers are increasingly turning to steel as their preferred material solution. Thanks to its outstanding versatility, tremendous economic value, high ratings for sustainability, and faster build times, steel buildings are truly breaking limitations in design and functionality for commercial buildings.