The Importance Of An Architecturally Exposed Steel System

When considering the architecturally exposed steel (A.E.S.) system, there are several factors, including the visual impact, cost, and standardization. 


Architecturally exposed steel is a growing trend in building construction. It improves aesthetics and can add significant value to a building. However, until recently, specifications were vague and left a lot to the imagination of design teams. The goal of an architecturally exposed steel system aims to expose the structural steel to the public without sacrificing structural integrity.

This structural steel is a critical element of a building, requiring a high degree of coordination. The entire team must be on the same page for the project to proceed smoothly. There are five architecturally exposed structural steel categories, and all five must be evaluated rigorously. AISC’s Code of Standard Practice provides guidelines for building buildings utilizing structural steel, including AESS.

Visual impact

An architecturally exposed structural steel system (AESS) can provide an impressive visual impact on a building. It can also communicate a meaningful message in architecture and help the building establish its identity and recognition. However, to create an AESS, coordination between all project stakeholders is essential. The AISC Code of Standard Practice includes a section on AESS, which outlines five categories that require a high degree of coordination and evaluation.

Architects and structural engineers should consider an architecturally exposed steel system when designing a building. This can result in an impressive visual impact while facilitating structural load transfer. However, exposing structural steel can also present challenges and lead to cost overruns and complications. Therefore, collaborating with a fabricator and structural engineer is essential to understand the possibilities and avoid unforeseen snags.


The form and importance of an Architecturally Exposed Steel System (AESS) system should be carefully thought out during the design phase. AESS systems can differ significantly in form and function, and the right material choice is crucial to achieving the intended architectural intent. For example, a museum or an airport can require high-profile exposed steel. Similarly, the design of a large art installation will often call for steel. In some cases, artists may want to give their work a plastic appearance, while others may wish to show steel’s raw, industrial appearance.

Architecturally exposed steel systems are more complex than regular structural steel. Their forms may differ significantly from traditional framing, and the materials and shapes may incorporate unusual angles, curves, and three-dimensional elements. These features increase the design and aesthetic impact of an architecturally exposed steel system.


Fitting an architecturally exposed steel system is integral to the overall construction process. In recent years, this type of steel framing has become a popular choice in building design worldwide. Fortunately, advances in fire safety technology have made it possible to use exposed steel in the construction process. However, some design considerations must be considered to ensure a seamless and safe fit.

First, choosing an architecturally exposed steel system according to its category is essential. AESS Categories 3 and 4 require mock-ups, while Categories 1 and 2 can use them. This allows the steel team to understand the type of steel needed and the design team to provide realistic bids.


The finish of an architecturally exposed steel system is an important design consideration. It can make a difference between an exposed and concealed steel system. The level of finish that a system receives should be appropriate for the end use. For example, high-profile exposed steel is inappropriate for airports or museums. Similarly, an architect may want fully-ground connections, while a fabricator might prefer bolted connections.

Choosing the finish for an AESS should begin early in the design process. The various options for finishing depend on the aesthetic intent of the building, issues related to the interior or exterior exposure, and the desired weathering characteristics of the materials. For example, a high-gloss finish may reveal imperfections, while a thicker intumescent coating will conceal them. Galvanizing is another option, but there are problems with consistency, and less polished details may show through after galvanizing.

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