Corten Steel…Love it or Hate it?

Corten Steel…Love it or Hate it?

It’s probably fair to say that not many other materials used within public realm design divide opinion quite as much as Corten Steel. It is for this reason that it has earned the unofficial reputation of being the “Marmite” of landscape architecture.

COR-TEN steel, (to give it its generic trademark form), is a group of steel alloys which were developed to eliminate the need for painting, and form a stable rust-like appearance if exposed to the weather for several years. It is also sometimes referred to as “Weathering Steel”.

And yes, maybe it’s easy to see why this material can be controversial. To the untrained eye of your regular, everyday passer-by, perhaps not au fait with architectural trends in materiality, they might simply see a rusty old bench or sculpture that hasn’t been looked after very well. After all, rust is bad right?

Ask any car mechanic. Or are we unwittingly dumbing down a much more discerning and visually literate public? A pubic who appreciate well designed outdoor spaces and actually, can grasp the intent of using textures and finishes as part of a locations theme?

Well instead of flipping a coin to settle this quandary, we decided to explore the topic further by asking some of the leading professionals within the UK’s built environment and landscape architecture industry their opinion regarding Corten.

Here’s what they had to say…


Paul Reynolds - Chartered Landscape Architect | Artfromurban.co.uk

Paul Reynolds

Chartered Landscape Architect - Urben Studio

What is it that you love / hate about Corten Steel?

I like it. I think it has a good colour that can be appropriate in certain schemes where an ‘autumnal’ palette is desired, and also I think that it works really well in schemes that have an industrial aesthetic.

Love it or hate it - Marmite

How do you think it is perceived by the public?

I think it really is a marmite product – people either love it or hate it – there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground! Some are also concerned about the colour rubbing off, particularly at the scale of street furniture such as benches, as they are used to rust rubbing off and staining. Many don’t realise products can be sealed to prevent this if necessary.

Have you used it on schemes in the past?

I have never specified it, but only because I have not had the opportunity. I have used corten in precedent images & mood boards on many occasions. The new office building at Kings Cross with a Corten structure works very well in my opinion. In fact, Kings Cross is a good location for it, due to the industrial heritage. I have also seen it used as an edging here to some raised sculptural lawns, which works really well too.

Any other comments you would like to share about Corten Steel?

Often you see paving staining at the base of corten structures which can be an issue. You get it with lots of steel products, but I think it is particularly remembered on corten for some reason. I think it works best in moderation. You can have too much of it, and it also suits some contexts better than others.


Hannah Murton - Chartered Landscape Architect | Artfromurban.co.uk

Hannah Murton

Associate Landscape Architect - Exterior Architecture

What is it that you love / hate about Corten Steel?

I love the many different ways it can be used within the landscape, as a large sculpture or piece of artwork. Such as the incredible Richard Serra pieces, right down to the small details of street furniture. It is robust, low maintenance and creates a distinct and eye-catching edge to any visible feature. The characteristic orange hue is also complementary to natural landscape greens. Just a small accent of corten can go a long way in providing a rustic and warm tone in a world which is dominated by steel, glass and concrete.

How do you think it is perceived by the public?

I think Landscape Architects might believe it is a tad overused. Whether the public also believes this I’m not so sure.

Have you used it on schemes in the past?

We have specified it within many schemes, and often use it within bespoke furniture or landscape feature elements. We find that it is a useful material for projects adjacent to large bodies of water including rivers, lakes and harbours. It is also a material which connotes industrial history, which can be useful for celebrating the past in urban brownfield schemes.

Any other comments you would like to share about Corten Steel?

Corten steel, when used incorrectly, can be messy. I went to university in Broadcasting Tower in Leeds (an award winning building – voted ‘best tall building’ by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2010). I absolutely love this building, but the run-off from rainwater has stained the landscape below. This in an unexpected consequence but could certainly be made into a feature!



PDan Martyr - Chartered Landscape Architect| Artfromurban.co.uk

Dan Martyr

Chartered Landscape Architect - Node Urban Design

What is it that you love / hate about Corten Steel?

I love the organic colour and texture, and the way it works so well with timber and concrete. It’s the most organic looking hard material, and looks special.

How do you think it is perceived by the public?

Rusty metal. I think it’s how it’s used that is the key.

Have you used it on schemes in the past?

I have specified it, but haven’t got to the built stage yet.

Any other comments you would like to share about Corten Steel?

At a previous practice I worked, they had a client that took one look at the installed corten bollards on site, and asked them to be painted with Hamerite! I’m not kidding.


Melanie Schwartz - Chartered Landscape Architect | Artfromurban.co.uk

Melanie Schwartz

Senior Landscape Architect - GILLESPIES LLP

What is it that you love / hate about Corten Steel?

I personally really like Corten Steel. It is a modern interesting material with a nice colour and texture. My only fear was when I first encountered Corten (during my university time in Germany) that it would be a trend just for a few years comparable with exposed aggregate concrete of the 1980’s.

How do you think it is perceived by the public?

I have a feeling people either love it or hate it. I noticed that even my clients have really strong opinions about it. In one of my projects we proposed quite a lot of Corten elements whereas in another one our client made it quite clear that he doesn’t want us to propose any Corten elements.

Have you used it on schemes in the past?

In one of my projects we proposed Corten steel metal edges to elevated planting beds, litter bins and cycle stands


Tim Hartley - Principal Planning Officer - Urban Vision Partnership Ltd | Artfromurban.co.uk

Tim Hartley

Principal Planning Officer - Urban Vision Partnership Ltd

What is it that you love / hate about Corten Steel?

I think there is a lovely naturalness and honesty to it as a material. It has a great patina and its earthy tones work great in Salford where red brick is our traditional building material.

How do you think it is perceived by the public?

Mixed feelings. It needs to be used in the right circumstances and isn’t particularly easy to use I think, in that the weathering has to be done correctly. There is the possibility that the public just see it as rust in certain circumstances

Have you used it on schemes in the past?

We persuaded Salford Royal NHS Trust to use it as a small detail on a front boundary wall and we were part of a small team who persuaded Network Rail to use it on a far larger scale on the new Ordsall Chord (new railway linking Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria train stations)


Tim Hartley - Associate
Gustafson Porter + Bowman | Artfromurban.co.uk

Ana Abram

Associate - Gustafson Porter + Bowman

Love it or hate it - Marmite

What is it that you love / hate about Corten Steel?

In my opinion it is not about love / hate, but a critical judgment, as to when it is appropriate to use this material. I don’t think it works well when used for public seating, not only because it is a metal, and as such is cold, but also during the weathering process, it can cause staining of clothes. Also if not used correctly with adjacent paving, it can stain the paving quite severely.

Have you used it on schemes in the past?

I’ve never used the material before myself, but in my opinion it is quite often used incorrectly; for instance when a lack of sophisticated design is replaced with corten, which has a very strong character.

Any other comments you would like to share about Corten Steel?

I don’t personally think it works in cold climate, since the rustiness can exaggerate the feeling of a cold, abandoned and old environment. On the contrary, I think corten works well in post-industrial revitalisation projects, as you can see in some of the good examples here. I think it works better when used as a statement piece, artwork, and structure or similar.


So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth!

It’s all about context and correct application. Corten is a material that is fondly regarded within the landscape industry and widely appreciated for the effect its warm & natural tones can imbue.

However, when it comes to the public perception of Corten Steel, it seems opinion is still very much divided.

Also, people are afraid of staining! Staining the pavement…staining their clothes…staining the dog!? It was very interesting to hear that not everyone is aware corten can easily be sealed to avoid staining. In fact the team here at Artform Urban Furniture are always keen to explain to clients that we offer a sealed option on all our external furniture made using Corten Steel.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Corten Steel and your experiences of using it within landscape design.

Thanks for reading :)

Time for a cuppa now and a round of toast… (Hmmm I wonder what spread should I have on it?)

Paul Garratt - Marketing Director - Artform Urban Furniture | Artfromurban.co.uk

Paul Garratt

Marketing Director - Artform Urban Furniture


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