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Friday | 15 May, 2009 | 6:19 am

Rural renaissance

By Modern Metals' staff

May 2009 - For serious collectors, art is something to behold. But, if there's limited wall space, it becomes some to be held--in a temperature-controlled steel structure nestled in the bucolic fields of New York. Or at least that's the case for one particular gallery's overflow collection.

And that home away from home has created a niche market that SteelMaster Buildings LLC, Virginia Beach, Va., is trying to tap into from any angle.

The art of housing
Last spring, Christophe Mao, director of Chambers Fine Art, New York, was seeking a fabricator that could help him realize a vision that was part storage facility, part abstract art and design. Mao wanted to construct something to house potential additions to his exhibits in Manhattan and Beijing yet remain aesthetically pleasing on its own.

That vision led him to SteelMaster, which constructed a venue to the display the work from custom-made, precision-engineered corrugated steel. HHF Architects Basel, Switzerland, designed the space with artist Ai Weiwei. Their job was essentially to design the structure around the art it would enclose. An important element of accomplishing that was the use of space.

"After discussion with my architects in China and Switzerland, we settled on steel as the most cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing material for the effect we wanted to achieve," said Mao in a press release. "The SteelMaster product was chosen for its lightness, durability and strength--facilitating the creation of open spaces without support."

An idea takes off
What resulted wasn't one but three buildings made of SteelMaster products and interconnected by a continually cascading ramp. That ramp also serves as a walkway from which some of the bigger pieces of art are visible.

But the true architectural challenge lay in the interior design. HHF's people and Weiwei had to devise a layout that complemented the steel structure yet was conducive to the temperatures and settings necessary to maintain an art gallery. According to Simon Frommenwiler of HHF, that meant creating a hermetically sealed, insulated envelope that conserves the indoor climate without detracting from the building's overall skeleton.

"I am very satisfied both with the close relationship between the material used--steel and internal insulation--and the concept of the architects," said Mao. "For people that are considering building a structure, I recommend they give steel a serious consideration as an alternative to more commonly used materials." MM

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