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April 2012 – Strength and Diversity

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Two items in particular will grab attention in this month’s news section; the amazingly strong and diverse field of entries for the Structural Steel Design Awards and the continuing strength of steel in the key multi storey building frames market.  Neither should come as any surprise as quality, economy and sustainability will always dominate regardless of market conditions, which of course remain challenging.

No fewer than 29 projects from the long list of those eligible have made it past strict scrutiny by the independent SSDA judges. Under the rules of the Awards there is no obligation on the judges to find any project worthy of going forward for an award – in theory all entries could be found wanting and there would be no awards given out. In practice that is highly unlikely ever to happen, but this underscores the independence of the judges who are drawn from the client side as well as from the industry serving them, and includes engineers and architects.

Anyone familiar with any of these projects, most – but by no means all – of which have featured in NSC, will know enough about them to appreciate why they have been shortlisted. But attending the Awards ceremony in July where all the shortlisted projects will be on display will be an even more than usually rewarding exercise even for those familiar with many of the projects.

The shortlist impresses with the diversity of project types and sizes and their geographical spread. Olympic Park projects are becoming eligible for entry and the first of these to be completed, the Velodrome, is up for a possible Award. Growth industries like waste to energy are represented, as is motor manufacture. Buildings serving the media and the arts, education, healthcare, commercial offices, sports, leisure and transport are on the shortlist as well as a wide range of rail, road and footbridges.

London is well represented on the shortlist, and not just with Olympic structures, but shortlist projects come from all over the UK; for example, from the Channel Islands, Belfast, Weston-super-Mare, Cardiff, Norwich, Manchester and Glasgow.

Together they go some way to explaining the continuing dominance of steel in the annual Market Shares survey. The 2011 survey shows steel is still overwhelmingly the preferred choice in the building frames market. The ability of steel to deliver such a wide range of projects, to be as adaptable to different and changing uses as it is, and to make such a contribution to successful project delivery on time and to budget ensures that this trend is only likely to develop as the economy continues to come out of recession, and the hard pressed construction industry starts its recovery.

While we wait for that, the SSDA ceremony should help revive any flagging spirits and remind the wider world of what construction at its best can deliver.

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