Framed views of a production tower and creative uses of
steel give office building character
In an industrial area on the Gulf Coast, a long
shadow stretches across the land under the hot Texas sun. The
shadow belongs to a giant, 500-foot-tall processing tower, which
dominates the site. It is used by Portland, Texas-based Voestalpine
Texas LLC to produce hot briquetted iron (HBI). Leading up to the
tower, a plant administration building lines right up with it. The
coupling of the two structures is the work of Corpus Christi,
Texas-based Richter Associate Architects Inc.
David Richter, FAIA, principal at Richter
Architects, says his firm turned the building a few degrees askew
to the rest of the plant to frame views of the tower from inside.
"Just a simple gesture of rotating the building a few degrees, and
then configuring the spaces in such a way that they have these
framed views, you can create a very explicit relationship between
the tower and the administration building," he says. "And that
explicit relationship tells the story about why they're there, that
we're making steel, and that's how it's made, with the huge
Richter says his firm designed the building to be connected to
its surroundings and with an outward-looking mindset, something
similar facilities may not have unless they house control rooms. "A
lot of times administration buildings are inwardly focused,
especially in industrial facilities. There wasn't a functional
necessity to look out, but we felt like it was a design opportunity
to make the tower and the plant a part of the experience of the
The tower is on the east side of the administration building.
Richter Architects widened views of it by stepping the building out
on its north side. Each of the three steps has windows framing the
tower. "That's basically how we brought the tower into the building
strategically in several key positions," Richter says.
The main conference room has a view to the tower, as does the
main passageway from the first to second floor. "As you enter and
go up the trajectory of the stair, you're looking straight out a
window and straight up the tower," Richter says. "The center of the
tower is on axis with the center of the stair, so it's quite
The outward-looking design also has a sense of
openness in the building's floor plan. Richter says, "The other
part of the design that's important is the human element. And that
is the openness, the quality of light from the orientation, and the
openness for people to work together in sort of a team
A lobby and large meeting room are on the first floor. The
second floor has a big, open space with a few private offices at
"There aren't a lot of private offices," Richter says. "There's
a lot of open space, there's a lot of daylight, a lot of views out
to the outdoors. It also opens to the main foyer, which is a
two-story space where that stair has its orientation to the tower;
so it's all a big, open space."
One issue the design needed to address was the building's
west-facing entrance. Richter Architects countered the sunlight
with a large, box-like mass on the second floor. "The big, metal,
corrugated-clad element cantilevers out over the front door and
creates shading to the entrance, main lobby and foyer," Richter
says. "The main foyer, which is just behind that, turns and opens
to the north, which is very beneficial. We were able to essentially
tune the orientations to the appropriate solar exposure, even
though we had an adverse west condition."
Tons of Steel
To underscore the owner's role in steel production, Richter
Architects incorporated numerous applications of steel. Steel
windows, ceilings, stairs and exposed, painted structural steel are
a few of the most noticeable ones. "There's a whole array of steel
products that are used," Richter says.
Richter says his firm developed creative ways to use common
building products. "They're all used in ways that you wouldn't use
them normally. And the result is that the interior is quite
expressive of the process of making steel. It shows all the
different ways steel can come out and be used on the other end,
some of which are normally hidden and covered up. But in this
building, they're not."
For the windows, Richter Architects developed a
system with cold-formed steel studs, the type found in drywall
partitions, and vinyl sashes. The exposed metal studs, supplied by
West Chester, Ohio-based ClarkDietrich Building Systems LLC, were
installed back to back to create tube framing.
"The windows become a hybrid of steel and vinyl en lieu of an
aluminum window system, which is the conventional way to provide
that type of a window system," Richter says. "As you come in you
see steel used in a manner that is not commonly used."
Richter says it was designed that way not just for the
expressiveness of it, but it actually made practical sense. "It was
better from a thermal point of view, better from a corrosion point
of view, equal from a cost point of view, and it's expressive," he
says. "Performance wise, it worked better. So it wasn't just to
show more steel, it was a good solution."
The ceilings were built with a combination of galvanized metal
studs and expanded metal lath, both supplied by ClarkDietrich
Building Systems. The C-shaped studs create valances for industrial
strip lighting. The metal studs were installed parallel to the
lights and direct light downward. They also dress the fixtures.
The lath ceiling is supported by the studs and screens
mechanical that above it. Additionally, the galvanized metal lath
is reflective. "It kind of sparkles because the light bounces off
of it, and it creates a metallic look in the ceiling," Richter
Metal lath is commonly used to reinforce plaster and concrete.
"It's almost never used in a finished product," Richter says.
"Neither of those materials, the studs or the lath, are commonly
used in ceilings. And so that is more steel."
Richter says the combination of a relationship with the
high-rise tower, outward-looking mindset, openness, and expression
of the owner's industry and operation give the building its
distinct character. "They're connected to the outdoors, and all of
that is part of the building as well as the creative use of steel
and the connection to the plant," Richter says. "Nature's a part of
it, the humanity is part of it and then the technical,
manufacturing side is a part of it."
Voestalpine Texas LLC, Portland, Texas
Completed: February 2016
Square feet: 18,500
General contractor: B.E. Beecroft Construction
Co. Inc., Corpus Christi, Texas, beecroftconstruction.com
Architect: Richter Associate Architects Inc.,
Corpus Christi, www.richterarchitects.com
Installer: AAyon Construction Co. LLC, Adkins,
Castellated beams: New Millennium Building
Systems LLC, Fort Wayne, Ind., www.newmill.com
Metal wall panels: MBCI, Houston, Texas, www.mbci.com
Steel mesh: Carl Stahl Decorcable LLC, Burr
Ridge, Ill., www.decorcable.com
Steel studs/lath: ClarkDietrich Building Systems
LLC, West Chester, Ohio, www.clarkdietrich.com
Sunshades: Stainless Steel Products, Deer Park,
Photos: David Richter, FAIA