People have been experimenting with different building materials since the beginning of time. All materials contribute certain characteristics to structures – strength being one of the most critical – and some materials offer more than others. Which materials build the strongest structures?
The (slightly unsatisfying) answer is: It depends.
The overall strength of a material is measured by how well it stands up to stress. A “strong” building in a hurricane-prone region of the world is not the same as a “strong” structure designed to withstand salt air and house 10,000 people. Strength is relative; here are some of the strongest building materials in use today.
In the late 1800s, builders determined that steel offered superior strength to previously-used cast iron. Today’s steel is an alloy made from iron and carbon, and it’s generally regarded as the premiere building material for use in large-scale commercial construction. Steel framing is incredibly strong and resilient which is why it’s the foundation of most skyscrapers as we know them. As a building material, it holds up well to movement (high yield strength) and excels in the properties of toughness, durability, and ductility.
Builders have just scratched the surface of what composites can do. Composites, particularly Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRPs) are highly durable and incredibly cost-effective relative to traditional materials like steel. Can they withstand the weight a steel structure is designed to carry? When designed correctly (i.e., accounting for size, proportional weight, and volume), composites offer both stiffness and strength comparable to that of steel. Composites aren’t yet capable of holding up a 100-story skyscraper, but their strength-to-weight ratio and anti-corrosive properties show great promise for the future.
A relatively new engineered material known colloquially as “mass timber” is giving steel a run for its money. Cross-laminated timber is lighter, greener, and stronger than even concrete, and it’s currently being tested in multi-story building construction across the world. The wood derives its strength from multilayered panels which distribute loads evenly throughout the entire structure without overstressing individual beams. Cross-laminated timber can be pre-fabricated, is incredibly lightweight, and extremely cost-effective.
What gives a structure strength? Is it lightness? Ability to flex? Load handling capabilities? “Strength” means different things in different buildings which is why materials science is always advancing. Today’s structures look nothing like those built in the 1880s, 1920s, or even the 1980s…and that’s a good thing. Stronger materials mean safer, longer-lasting structures.
Shield Engineering is always learning more about cutting-edge building materials. From steel to concrete to engineered composites, our team is invested only in the best material(s) for the job at hand. Would you like to find out more about Shield’s latest building projects? Contact our engineers today.