Steel Yourself For More Delays

OK, that’s a terrible pun, but it’s true. I’m having to prepare myself daily for the delays that are happening with the steel construction on site. This is such an unusual project, I’m told. Nothing is standard about it, I’m told. We’re reinventing as we go, I’m told. And that all takes time, I’m told.

It sure does. Here’s an update on what’s been happening over the last month: We have poured the concrete walls and the slab roof for the garage. And that’s about it. It’s a very nice garage. There still is no slab floor, but the bottom half of the site is now secured by a very solid looking concrete volume. Now, if we can only just get something that looks vaguely like a house to appear above that, I’ll be much happier.

The concrete garage roof slab is poured.

The concrete garage roof slab is poured.

Actually, I’m being a bit offhand. The thing with this house is it’s not as easy as just building it on-site the way most houses in Australia are built on site. Most Aussie houses are built using a timber frame. Timber is a very easy material to work with. You can cut it to size, bang it around and make it fit. My Minimalist Monument to Moi has virtually no structural timber to it. It’s mostly steel and concrete and glass, with just timber cabinetry and door frames. So this house is effectively being “built”, piece by piece in the steel shop.

Getting on a roll with the steel.

Getting on a roll with the steel at Watkins.

There’s 11 tonnes of steel in this house, actually, and to prevent it from corroding, every piece has to be hot-dipped to achieve a galvanised zinc finish. Every beam, every bearer, every bolt, every nut, every stringer, every flange, every collar, every little thing.

Every piece cut and numbered to size.

Every piece cut and numbered to size.

A lot of this shiny galvanised finish will be on show, but the galvanised finish is not just an aesthetic thing. It is mostly a barrier that prevents the bare steel from coming into direct contact with the air or moisture. It needs to be impervious. So you can’t cut any of the steel once the surface of it has been galvanised. You can’t take a piece to site, find it doesn’t fit and then cut it shorter or weld an extension onto it. Because that edge will become a corrosion point and that will compromise the structural integrity of the building.

What that means of course is that every piece that is brought to site must be the exact right dimension before it leaves the steel shop and before it is hot dipped. No mistakes. No miscalculations.

No mistakes, no miscalculations.

No mistakes, no miscalculations.

So it goes without saying that the drawings provided to the steel manufacturer must be perfect or all the steel will be wrong. They have to be checked and rechecked, by the architects, by the steel manufacturer and by the engineer especially if a question is raised about the design of the steel. For example, Yo Shimada was hoping for a balustrade design that was thinner and finer than the normal standard for a galvanised steel balustrade. But the Australian standard called for no flex in the balustrade (a flex would allow a child’s head to slip through and we’ve all done that in our childhood so we know it can happen). To test our balustrade, we produced a mockup, put it through the galvanising process and then flexed it.

Paul Hotson testing the flex in the balustrade mockup.

Paul Hotson testing the flex in the balustrade mockup.

The thinner balustrade design failed the test, so we’ve had to opt for the thicker design, but it had to be attempted and we had to know. In the name of design, we had to push it.

Meanwhile, the computerisation of the steel manufacturer’s processes were also given a challenge by the design of the steel structure in my project. In response to the architect’s plans, Watkins Steel modelled the entire structure in 3-D, mapping out the dimensions of every piece involved taking into account any tolerances that needed to be built in for the manufacturing processes. These were then fed to a computer-operated robot that cut and welded them to size. Accurately, I’m told. For ease of assembly, I’m told. Every piece has been etched with a code that corresponds with the code of the piece it is meant to be assembled with, I’m told.

That’s why all of this is taking its own sweet time, I’m told. So I steel myself and await the outcome. The first sections of the steel structure will be delivered on site in the next two weeks. Until then I wait.