Looking Back on a Decade of Steel Construction

Photo by Jay Paul

The 2010s are officially over, but the legacies of the steel-framed buildings and structures built from 2010 through 2019 will live on for decades. From One World Trade Center to the Amazon Spheres, we’re reflecting on some of the most memorable projects built with structural steel over the past 10 years. 

2010: Great American Tower at Queen City Square Rooftop Tiara, Cincinnati

The Great American Tower at Queen City Square still reigns as the tallest building in Cincinnati ten years later with the gorgeous steel tiara at its peak. Dramatically changing the skyline in 2010, the steel topper remains the crown jewel of Cincinnati's urban landscape. 

Photo Credit: Rick Mayer 

2011: Centra at Metropark, Iselin, N.J.

Centra at Metropark stands out in the early 2010s as a building that exemplified the sustainability of steel. The project team opted not to tear down the existing building and to reuse the existing steel structure, floor plates, roof deck, and 50 percent of the core elements. A 50 ft. signature tree column accommodated an additional office floor plate of 10,000 sq. ft., allowing light into lower floors. 

Photo Credit: Michael Moran 


2012: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Talk about an instant landmark. The bold design of the 675,000-sq.-ft. Barclays Center features a weathered steel lattice that wraps the structure. During the 2010s, the facility became the centerpiece of more than 200 sporting and cultural events annually. 

Photo Credit: Bess Adler


2013: One World Trade Center, New York

One World Trade Center may be the defining American skyscraper of the decade–and it’s the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the Ground Zero reconstruction, One WTC stands a symbolic 1,776 ft., above the ground with its main roof at 1,368 ft., the same height as the original towers. 

Photo Credit: Yoram Eilon courtesy of WSP


2014: Union Station, Denver  

Historic Denver Union Station gained a new train hall in 2014. The curved structure easily became a Beaux Arts landmark. An ovular steel-and-fabric canopy rises 70 ft. at the head-end platform and descends in a dynamic sweep to 22 ft. at the center and then rises again at the far end over a pedestrian link across the site. Remarkably, all the architectural steel at Denver Union Station was fabricated and detailed no differently than conventional structural steel.

Photo Credit: SOM 


2015: Chinatown Public Library, Chicago

In a list of steel-framed structures of the 2010s, we can’t forget the little guys, and this one packs a punch. Chicago’s Chinatown Public Library is small but stunning, sporting a modern design that both fits in with and enhances its surroundings. The exposed structural steel showcases the beauty of the building while maintaining a pleasing, light-filled environment for library patrons. 

Photo Credit: Jon Miller, Hedrich Blessing


2016: National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington 

In an area densely populated with eye-catching edifices of monumental proportions, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) fits right in. The NMAAHC served as an iconic addition to the National Mall this past decade. It features an inverse truncated pyramid, known as the corona, covered by bronze coated panels and supported by a network of steel trusses. To keep the five-level, 409,000-sq.-ft structure from obstructing views of the Washington Monument and to maintain the sight lines along the mall, 60% of the museum is below ground, going as deep as 70 ft. In addition, the overall height of the building (90 ft. above ground) was reduced to align with key elements of the Commerce Building to the north.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution-Michael Barnes


2017: Amazon Spheres, Seattle

Much like its resident, the Amazon Spheres made a splash in the 2010s. The Spheres consist of three intersecting steel and glass orbs, housing five freestanding floors of unorthodox workspaces for Amazon employees. Deriving from a 60-sided shape, a pentagonal hexecontahedron, the structure’s principal advantage is repetition; each of the 60 sides are the same pentagon, allowing for efficient fabrication.

Photo Credit: Sean Airhart, NBBJ 


2018: 181 Fremont Street, San Francisco

181 Fremont Street added a striking new focal point to the San Francisco skyline in a decade of massive growth for the city by the bay. The steel frame in this 56-story tower is not only a distinctive design element but also functions as part of a pioneering seismic-resistance strategy. After recognizing that the seismic performance objectives in current building codes did not align with its goals, the building’s owner chose to pursue an innovative design to deliver “beyond code” seismic resilience. The architectural design of the building has achieved both LEED Platinum and the world’s first REDi Gold rating. 

Photo Credit: Jay Paul 


2019: Rainier Square Tower, Seattle

As we look toward the next 10 years, Rainier Square Tower stands out as a predictor of future innovations. Rainier Square Tower makes its mark as the first SpeedCore project, reducing erection time by 43%. It took only 10 months from the start to top out for the 850-ft-tall building in Seattle.

Photo Credit: Charles Carter