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This development was accompanied by an increasing use of aluminium in construction. As early as 1865, Jules Verne devised a rocket in this material in “De la Terre à la Lune” (From the Earth to the Moon). However, its use in construction dates back to the late 1920s. It was used in the Empire State Building (New York, 1930-32), the first building with aluminium structural components, the Aluminaire House (1931) by Albert Frey and Lawrence Kocher, the first all-metal American home – an experiment later repeated in the Frey House 1 (Palm Springs, 1940-43) also in aluminium – as well as the celebrated Dymaxion House (1930) by Buckminster Fuller. However, it was its widespread use during World War II in the aviation and military industries that boosted the application of this material. In North America, this process was handled by Alcoa – Aluminum Company of America and Alcan – Aluminum Company of Canada, followed by other major companies that emerged during the post-war period, notably Reynolds and Kaiser. This period, commonly described as “the aluminium industry in search of a market”³², is marked by huge developments in aluminium due to its suitability for the most varied industries. With good strength but a much lower weight than steel³³ and excellent durability – if properly protected – aluminium isn’t subject to atmospheric corrosion and has simple maintenance. Its alloys are especially suitable for structures, façades and supporting large panes of glass.


Shōji panels at Takamatsu Castle (Kagawa, Japan). Photo: Fg2, 2005.

32. M. Bowley, Innovations in Building Materials; an Economic Study (1960), p. 308; quoted in James Ashby: The Aluminium Legacy: the History of the Metal and its Role in Architecture, Construction History Vol. 15, 1999, p. 85.
33. Even with less tensile strength and hardness than steel (Young’s aluminium modulus is 70,000 N/mm2 versus the 210,000 N/mm2 of steel), aluminium offers an incomparably lower weight (2,700 kg/m3 versus 7,800 kg/m3). Stephanie Van de Voode, Inge Bertels, Ine Wouters, Post-war building materials in Housing in Brussels 1945-1975, Vrije Universiteit Brusel, 2015, p. 266.