House Doctor

IN DARLINGTON there is a famous new sculpture of a steam engine - built with a million bricks. I suppose if it was made out of steel then it would just look like ... well, a big steam engine. But because it's made of bricks, that makes it a sculpture.

Now, don't get me wrong; it's well worth a look if you can find it, on a bit of waste ground between the supermarket and the ring road. But it's funny that someone should use bricks to make a steam engine; just as funny as the fact that lots of architects think that steel is a good material for the outsides of buildings.

The first serious steel-clad buildings were put up by a French architect called Jean Prouve in the Thirties. One of the main differences between brickwork and steel is that one absorbs water and the other doesn't. So rainwater runs down the face of a steel-clad building, growing in volume the further down it gets, just like a river fed by its tributaries.

This constant flow creates all sorts of problems with staining and erosion, and Prouve soon realised that the only way to cope with it was to adopt the technology of the motor car, with little steel gutters above the windows, and drainage grooves between the panels; the glass was sealed in with rubber gaskets. So his early designs look more like trucks than buildings, and, despite his best efforts, there are lots of grimy stains where the water has run down - just like my car when I haven't washed it for six months.

The other difficulty of making buildings out of steel is corrosion. If you buy a new car, you'll be pleased if the manufacturer offers you a six-year warranty against body corrosion; obviously six years of rust- free motoring is quite an achievement in the British climate. But for a new building, surely you'd expect something a bit longer? House deals do not generally include a life-expectancy clause, but you'd be entitled to think that your new home would still be standing for a few years after you'd paid off the mortgage. And the same should go for factories and offices. Forty years would be a not unreasonable time to expect before any major repairs were needed, and who knows, with a bit of tender loving care and attention, the place should still be serviceable at the turn of the next century. After all, we are supposed to be living in a time of environmental awareness, when sustainability is the name of the game. It should no longer be thought clever to spend a fortune on something that is only going to last five minutes.

But now we hear that the looming and majestic Lloyd's Building in London, our most famous example of steel-cladding, completed only in 1986, is costing millions of pounds annually to maintain. The architects and their insurers have just reached a deal with the owners for compensation for the corrosion and staining that are disfiguring this landmark building.

So perhaps it is time to accept that steel is the best material for making cars, and masonry is the best material for buildings, and if we stick to that then we won't go too far wrong. As for sculptures - now that's a different matter.


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot