28 in 28 #22: Post-Ductility

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

Post-Ductility: Metals in Architecture and Engineering edited by Michael Bell and Craig Buckley, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2012. Hardcover, 272 pages. (Amazon)

One of Columbia University GSAPP's "flagship projects" is the Materials Project, which consists of conferences and subsequent publications on concrete, glass, metals, and plastics, with light supposedly forthcoming. When I reviewed Engineering Transparency, the book on the glass conference, I noted that "the symposium and book are equal parts architecture and engineering, theory and practice, eye candy and data." The same can be said for Post-Ductility, keeping with conference chair Michael Bell's organization of the conferences into a symbiotic mix of the theoretical and the technical. (This extends to the plastics conference, Permanent Change, as my notes from both days attest.)

The book is structured in five sections: History and Theory, Projects (five of them), Structural Engineering, Energy and Sustainability, and Experimental Fabrications. While one of the projects, Rafael Moneo's Northwest Corner Building at Columbia (gracing the cover), embodies metal's use both as structure and decoration, the book also delves into the hidden realm of metals—reinforcing, wiring, even ducts. These other areas are in the minority in the book, but they illustrate the post in post-ductility; "the elastic capacities of materials are inextricably lost as determining values," as Bell puts it in his introduction. In other words, a host of other considerations are explored besides, for example, how steel is shaped into complex structures: the production and reuse of metals, the developments of materials scientists, and the implications of metals' pervasiveness.

Even with this broad approach to metals, the chapter on structural engineering is a highlight, as are projects like the Northwest Corner Building that are complex structures requiring the use of steel. OMA's CCTV, the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and a bunch of other bridges are part of what make up the structural engineering chapter; these give a strong indication of the link between structure and formal creativity. The energy and sustainability chapter is also a highlight. Perhaps this is because the technical/engineering aspect of these chapters is a nice foil to the history and theory elsewhere in the book. A solid and concerted balance between the technical and the theoretical grounds the various ideas in practice, where thinking about materials really comes into fruition.