Designing with Steel

Designing with Steel add

It was a client's love of the good old Kiwi shed that piqued award winning architectural designer Graeme Boucher's interest in designing with steel.

Given New Zealand's long and proud heritage of timber construction, it wasn't that Graeme was averse to steel framing; it was more that he had never questioned reverting from timber.

'This client from Wellington just loved Kiwi sheds. He had a shed up on the Kapiti Coast that he used to occupy at weekends and enjoyed it so much he wanted a "shed house" designed for him.'

From here, Graeme was pleasantly surprised by the advantages of designing and constructing with steel.

'It compares really well, like for like. While steel is slightly more expensive the advantages are you can build all year round as it dries out very quickly. It's also stronger and lighter so construction is quicker.'

Graeme says steel lends itself well to designs which are 'a bit special' for example, large expansive windows, bigger interior spaces, volumes and spans can be accommodated without incurring significant expense.

'Steel is also good for difficult sites which are steep or hard to access. Most of it can be assembled in the factory and because it's light, it's easier to transport to the site. It's these little things that are advantages for designers and builders. Steel framing comes together quickly and strongly and just two or three people are needed for construction. Fixings aren't complicated - they just screw together.'

Asked whether clients prefer to disguise steel or highlight it as a feature, Graeme responds 'it's a bit of both really'.

'About 15 per cent of homes in New Zealand have steel framing but driving past, you'd never guess it.'

While the timber versus steel debate continues within the design and construction sector - Graeme says he's experienced some 'smirkyness' when it comes to the latter. In spite of initial scepticism, the builders he has seen give it a go, were surprised by the benefits.

"It's really about stepping out of the comfort zone. The thing about steel is, it's like one giant Meccano set. There's nothing left over - no sawdust or waste - it's just screws, a screwdriver and an impact driver if you need it.'

Any leftover steel can be taken back to NZ Steel to be melted down and reused.

‘I believe there’s a real future in steel – both in custom design and small house design.’

To coincide with the launch of the new National Association of Steel Framed Housing (NASH) Standards, NASH in conjunction with ADNZ and BOINZ are hosting Designing with Steel, a series of seminars being held throughout New Zealand from 1 March 2017. Visit for more information.