Weathering steel (also known by the trademark COR-TEN steel) is a form of high-strength, low alloy steel originally developed in the 1930's by United States Steel. It is a steel alloy, chemically composed to form a stable rust-like appearance that can resist corrosion and abrasion, by forming a protective surface layer, or patina.
The protective layer’s increased resistance is produced by the alloying elements and their particular distribution and concentration. When subjected to the influence of the weather, the protective surface layer continuously develops and regenerates, allowing the rust to form.
Weathering steel is often used in external sculptures, the most iconic of which is the Angel of the North in Gateshead. It can be used in bridges and other large structural applications, such as the New River Gorge Bridge, and it is becoming an increasingly popular design choice for buildings, often used alongside materials such as glass and terracotta. An example of such a building is the distinctive Broadcasting Tower in Leeds (see top image).
The advantages of weathering steel are that because it is already weathered and ‘rusted’, there are very low maintenance costs, it can be installed easily, and the need for a protective paint system is removed. Studies have found that bridges fabricated from unpainted weathering steel can achieve a design life of 120 years with only nominal maintenance, due to the low corrosion rate.
However, there are several challenges to weathering steel. It is unsuitable for use in marine or coastal environments, and in humid subtropical climates the patina may continue to corrode instead of stabilising into a protective layer. In addition, interface details require careful design as run-off water from wet rusted steel may negatively impact on other materials, such as staining glass. This is a particular problem in the first years after installation.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
High quality and high density homes - is it what we need or is it storing up trouble?
Government announces its intention to strengthen planning rules to protect music venues and neighbours.
National Audit Office reports that there is little evidence that PFI offers better value than other forms of contracting.
What is liquidation and how does it apply to contractors in the construction industry?
Scrutiny is placed on Carillion's controversial 2013 decision to extend subcontractor payment terms to 120 days.
RSHP unveil their involvement in a boundary crossing which will provide a new entry point into Hong Kong.
With PFI currently under the spotlight due to Carillion, this introductory article explains what they are.
Estimates suggest that up to 30,000 small firms could be at risk of non-payment as a result of Carillion's collapse.
Sir Oliver Letwin to lead an independent review into the delays in the delivery of housing.
As Carillion collapses, read our article explaining insolvency in the construction industry.
43,000 jobs at risk as Carillion declares insolvency.