Matt Schmid / SSEF Competition

The Steel Structures Education Foundation organized a competition designed for students to fuse their conceptual ideas with the reality of physical structure. With the program and scale left to the discretion of the designer, the proposal had to emphasize the “essential relationship” between the exploration of form and material, with regards to surfaces, members and connections. As an academic project, students also had to use their details to communicate with the steel fabrication industry as a way to expose ”the opportunities and restraints inherent in realizing conceptual design.” “It is important for students of architecture to grasp the fact that structural design lies not just in the realm of the engineer, but can be a means for architects of arriving at a meaningful realization of architectural ideas,” explained the SSEF. The winner, student Matt Schmid from the University of Waterloo, designed a bird sanctuary in Niagara Gorge in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

More about the winning entry after the break.

The winning aviary educates visitors on the varying species of birds in the area, establishes a breeding place for the animals, and provides research areas.  Since the form extends down over the edge of the cliff, viewers can observe cliff dwelling birds in their natural habitat.  

Structurally, the aviary achieves its light feeling through “a complex interdependence between tension and compression members in its structural system.” Hollow steel sections span large distances since the tension cables  provide a high degree of lateral stability and stiffness.  The loads acting on the structure are reduced to their essential lines and picked up with a minimal use of the material.

“The steel sections are curved as if they were once straight masts projecting into the sky that have been pulled down to earth with extreme force and held tightly in place by the cables. Its form embodies tension as would a loaded spring or a bird perched on the edge of a cliff ready to burst into flight,” explained the designer.

Although the form incorporates a sweeping curved surface which initially seemed difficult to build, by communicating with those in the steel industry, the potential of steel was quickly realized. ”It is actually created through the use of standard structural components that can be easily manufactured and assembled. The hollow steel sections are simple planar curves that can be easily shaped. The surfaces themselves are created by tightly spaced cables that tie into the sections with simple standard connections,” explained Schmid.

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Cite: Karen Cilento. "Matt Schmid / SSEF Competition " 12 Aug 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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