Jan 7, 201402:30 PMPoint of View

Working With Steel: Single Speed Design

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The Living Cities Competition is open for entries until January 10. What follows is a conversation with Single Speed Design Principals Jinhee Park and John Hong on three of the firm's projects, and how each makes innovative use of steel.


Samuel Medina: The house is quite "structural," something not typical of many domestic projects. What ideas of structure or tectonics did you explore with the design?

Jinhee Park and John Hong: The Big Dig House was actually a prototype for the larger idea of using salvaged steel and infrastructural materials. It was a single bay from the larger building we had designed when we won the Metropolis Next-Generation prize. As a prototype, it’s not just a house but a real-world demonstration that steel and concrete can have a second life. The buzzword 'pre-cycling' as opposed to recycling is very applicable to steel. When we build large-scale public works we should think of the second use even when designing for the first use.

There is a lot of embodied energy in forming steel, but once a structural member is created it has incredible longevity. If we can convince municipalities about the benefits of pre-cycling, steel could play a central role in pre-cycling components of public projects: for instance, why couldn't a bridge for a temporary roadway bypass be used for a library 15 years later? Material waste, taxpayer dollars, and embodied energy could be conserved.

SM: In what ways did this concept of "precycling" inform the form of the house?

JP & JH: With the Big Dig project specifically, there was so much material deemed as trash that was stockpiled around the construction site. The material that we thought was most interesting are called inverset panels, which were being used in constructing temporary roadways that surrounded the infrastructural project. These are made out of concrete and steel and they seemed perfect as a kind of prefab system. The central question was: why not reuse these materials for something other than roadways and use the same building techniques as you would in building an elevated highway?

The great thing about using the steel that we did was it's incredible loadbearing strength. (It was once an elevated roadway, after all.) We were able to incorporate full-scale roof gardens and do acrobatic things like hang entire stairways from the salvaged structure. In terms of long spans, we didn't need any interior columns so there was ultimate flexibility in having either large open spaces or placing partitions in any which way we deemed necessary. Going back to the idea of pre-cycling therefore, you could imagine when a layout becomes obsolete you could reconfigure it and any way because of the clear spans made possible with this salvaged material.

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