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Judges overcome pandemic challenges

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The UK’s steel construction industry can justifiably take pride in its long track record of being willing and able to be early adopters of the latest technology, and are now at the forefront of the digital transformation in how buildings and other structures are designed and built.

The evidence is clear in all the projects that made the shortlist for the 52nd Structural Steel Design Awards, which the judges had the hard task of whittling down to the Award winners that feature in this issue of NSC. This year’s SSDA judges can also take a pat on the back – self-administered for obvious reasons – for their willingness to take up new technology in the judging process itself, after COVID-19 restrictions meant their traditional visits to shortlisted projects to meet construction teams were not possible.

Visiting projects is an almost unique feature of the SSDA judging process in normal times, but as Chairman of the judges Chris Nash explains in his introduction to our special coverage of the Awards, this was the first time that the judges had to use Zoom and MS Teams to interact with construction teams, who, like the judges, rose to the challenge with enthusiasm.

Continuity in the judging panel helped a lot, as did the fact that they and construction teams have obviously become used to holding online meetings this year. Chris Nash is confident that despite the lack of face-to-face meetings the Award winners fully reflect the world-leading quality in constructional steelwork that our industry is so widely acknowledged for.

As is the case every year, the Award winners comprise a highly varied range of project sizes and types. The winners do not represent a curated group designed to show off steel; the judges are dauntingly severe in their view of what is worthy of an Award and in theory there could be no awards granted.

Buildability and speed of construction were key benefits of steel on the large commercial development known as the Scalpel at 52 Lime Street in London, which is inclined so as not to interfere with views of St Paul’s Cathedral dome. Three bridges on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme, including a 750m long viaduct over the River Great Ouse, all illustrate the benefits of steel’s offsite capabilities.

Retaining the existing Grade II-listed steel-framed structure and extending it with additional steelwork at Bath Schools of Art and Design chimes well with the carbon reduction policies which the steel sector has thrown its weight fully behind. The Award-winning Brunel Building in London’s Paddington – adjacent to Brunel’s iron-framed station shed – fittingly makes a feature of exposing its exoskeleton.

The Curragh Racecourse Development in County Kildare, Ireland, includes an Award-winning aerofoil roof, a bold architectural statement forming a dramatic centrepiece to a world-famous sporting venue. Steel’s offsite benefits are again displayed at Cornwall’s elegantly designed Tintagel Footbridge, linking both halves of the landmark castle for the first time in 500 years.

The other Commended projects, and in fact all of the SSDA Finalists, also provide compelling examples of the outstanding achievements of the UK and Ireland’s steel construction designers and contractors. Even with a pandemic currently still raging, we can confidently look forward to next year’s crop of outstanding structural steel achievements.

Nick Barrett

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