Tubular steel products are popular with architects, builders and designers – and despite steel prices tripling in a post-pandemic world, demand is soaring.
It is also decorative, practical and a valued material for architects, builders and high-end furniture designers.
“Tube steel is a champion of modern architecture, a very versatile material,” says celebrated Australian architect Charles Wright, whose striking steel channel repertoire includes Far North Queensland Trinity Anglican School Tasmania Science Building – alternately open to visual interpretation as a slinky or a “helix” (a corkscrew-like spiral staircase).
But it doesn’t just look pretty.
As with all good architecture, form must follow function, and the steel channels act as a practical shading device, alternating between throwing light and shadow.
The 2-storey masterpiece is also a sustainability prototype for educational buildings in tropical latitudeswhere the ability to withstand cyclones and tropical flooding is paramount.
“Pipe steel and rolled steel products are also very aesthetically pleasing, and more refined than, say, an open flange,” Wright says.
“You can also make large spans with a minimal amount of material, instead of spanning something in wood, for example.
“The other great thing about steel is that it can be used in countless ways and it is one of the most recyclable materials in the world, making it a great sustainable choice.”
David Brandi, President of Australian Pipe & Tube† Victoria’s trusted independent supplier of tubing and steel products says that despite the price volatility of the market in recent times; (U.S steel prices tripled in the first half of 2021) that the demand for tubular steel products shows no signs of declining.
“The steel industry has generally undergone a lot of changes in recent years due to many factors, including initially an abundance of steel from China; recently followed by a global supply shortage.
“In addition, COVID-19 has seen freight costs for steel and many other products increase by more than 500% on the seasonal average due to the tight supply of ships caused by pandemic logistics issues and COVID-19 outbreaks at export hubs.”
But for all this volatility, he says, steel demand in Australia has grown exponentially, resulting in AP&T’s biggest year yet.
“People need steel. What we do with tubular steel is not rocket science. We take a flat piece of steel and produce high quality tubing, usually for construction and engineering where it can provide excellent mechanical properties and geometric tolerances. It also produces very pleasing aesthetic results in construction.
“We also specialize in hoses for agricultural machinery, trailers and signage that are strong, durable and withstand season after season.
“Across the board, steel faces high demand globally and locally. Even before COVID-19, Australia’s local steel industry has only been able to meet about 75% of the country’s demand.”
Brandi says AP&T is a smaller, boutique player in the tubing industry.
He believes that AP&T’s RTD tubing plant of Italy, which offers the most advanced tubing manufacturing technology in Australia, coupled with the “agility ability” to quickly get tubular products from Victorian distributors, will allow production on year-on-year by 25% in 2020-2021 .
“There is no doubt that the general demand for steel and steel pipe products has grown rapidly over the past two years and will continue to grow.”
From a design perspective, tubular products are back in vogue too – thanks to the rise and rise of retro revival.
Charlotte Perriand, a French furniture maker famous for her Avant Garde tubular canted chaise longue, also inspired this new wave of design; as did the sunken living rooms of the 1950s, which often had tubular chairs and lightweight daybeds.
Interior Architect Conrad Lowry, Project Design Leader at Rothelowman Architecture, Interior and Urban Planningsays the streamlined functionality of tubular steel transcends all previous concepts of furniture design.
“The earliest manifestations of tubular steel were in furniture that, for the first time, could project outwardly and look sleek and elegant, at a time when most furniture was heavy and ornate at best, but cumbersome and inelegant at worst.
“With the advent of steel pipes, arrays of columns suddenly appeared to support a mass that seemed to float over the columns.”
He said that in 2021 a slew of new designers breathed new life into tubular furniture design using opulent fabrics, metallic accents and dramatic use of color.
“The lack of angles in tubular steel gives a feathery, delicate quality to the structural elements that no other material can mimic.
He says that careful detailing and selection of finishes (buildings) and bold colors and sumptuous fabrics (furniture) all complement the structural element that the steel forms form – and this is an integral part of the overall design aesthetic.
“The combination of structural efficiency, bold minimalism and delicate appearance of Tube Steel opens up endless possibilities in the design of both buildings and furniture that simply cannot be imitated.”
Samantha is head of content and political columnist for Best in Australia. Before joining Best in Au, she was a court and crime reporter at SM.