Understanding a Shed

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I’ve been working with a shed construction company, that dabbles in small commercial projects, for a little over a year now. Prior to that I drew some plans for my brother for his shed, and also drew plans for the Oaklands Mens Shed (a shed my father built). I believe a shed is a great structure to learn for young architecture students, and if you could build one (or assist, or merely watch one) being built that’s even better. The more you understand about, the more you can learn about the bigger (and complex) structures.

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If you take the above shed as an example, it is 13m wide by 37.5m wide, by about 6m high and uses a RHS superstructure. You can see where the load is transferred, and where you’d expect footings to be, along with where the fixing of cladding will occur. If an architecture can not only look at this shed, but understand how it’s built, they can transfer that knowledge to their studio projects. Ever wondered how big your structure would need to be if you wanted a 13m clear span? Of course it varies but for this shed it uses a 200×100 RHS frame, so something like that in a similar design would work, for a studio project. It’s much more believable than using 50×50 SHS, and if your structure looks believable generally your reviewers and tutor won’t bring it up.

Tram Museum in Hawthorn, example of an older shed

Tram Museum in Hawthorn, example of an older shed

A shed is effectively on show all the time, that is look at it from the outside or the inside you can see how it was built. There’s no cornices, there’s no plasterboard, no concealed fixing (typically) or timber floorboards. Without these ‘cover ups’ you can notice small imperfections such as the screws to fix the cladding don’t line up, the concrete finish or the bashing of steel to make it fit. Of course for a typical shed these aren’t an issue as most are used as car garages, storage or workshops. However come across a shed where time and care was taken and it looks a lot better than the rush-job, and it’s all about attention to detail. If you can notice details in sheds (such as screws lining up, how the wall and roof sheets are laid out, the spacings of fixings, concrete edge finishes, etc), when it comes to something like a house or retail fit-out you’ll appreciate and apply similar details. Remember what Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details” and if you can apply the same attention of detail from a retail fit-out to a shed, or vice versus, then the project (and client) will thank you for it.

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Now of course it’s hard to get architecture students, and even architects, excited over sheds. Typically sheds are ugly, boring but highly functional. Over the Christmas period I have 12 days off, which I want to use to explore a shed structure. I understand the structure, limitations and advantages of a shed, so I’d really like to see if I can take this knowledge and apply it to a design (say a backyard work studio) where you aren’t trying to hide the shed from view (we get that a lot at work, people wishing to hide their shed from the lounge view window range). Some people may go “Why not build it out of timber?” which is a fair point, but this is where the understanding of a shed (and in particular the structure) comes into play. A steel shed structure has many advantages over a timber framed house-like structure which includes spans, heights, flexibility, openings and such. If I get around to this I’ll look at doing a blog post of the finished design.

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If I can leave you with some final advice, master the shed. Learn everything you can, from footings to framing, from cladding to electrical (I’m still learning). Learn how they build it, why they build it and cost of building. Understand the small 3x3m garden sheds, to a 6x6m garage to a 15x20m workshop to the huge 40x80m warehouses. If you can graduate from architecture school knowing everything there is to know about sheds, you have a great knowledge base. Yes sheds mainly live in the engineering world with little architecture, but understand the engineering and you can work your architecture with it (not against it). Of course these are my own (perhaps slightly biased) views, and you probably will receive contradictory advice from other people (including architects).

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