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July 2008 – Awards show steel on firm footing

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Anyone needing an answer to the question of why steel construction enjoys such a dominant share of key markets need only have been at the Victoria and Albert Museum earlier this month where the 40th Structural Steel Design Awards took place.

The market consistently votes for steel when quality large or flagship structures are to be provided at minimal cost, in the quickest time, on difficult sites, and with the highest sustainability credentials, and there is plenty of evidence of that from the award winners this year. It is also pleasing to see steel being selected to meet the challenges of smaller scale projects, which are often just as challenging in their own right and have to be provided with the same eye to cost, quality and sustainability.

The shortlist for the awards provides as good a snapshot as there could be of the quality of construction design in the UK. All the shortlisted projects were visited by at least two judges and they confessed to having had a hard job to decide who should not get the final accolade of an award. As the judges Chairman David Lazenby said, the range and quality of the winners is a beacon for the entire construction industry.

Can the quality be maintained? Well the steel construction sector never stands still, which is why it has been so successful over the past 20 years, consistently improving its own productivity and developing knowledge and tools to make designing and building in steel as easy as it can possibly be. Corus, the BCSA and the SCI are equally committed to at least maintaining that effort.

A key reason for confidence in the future though was also on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in the shape of the engineering and architectural students awards. The quality of design was encouragingly high and there seems no doubt that the universities are bringing on the talent that will ensure continuity in the quality of structural design.

As the SSDA goes into its fifth decade – entry forms are carried in this issue of NSC – the construction industry talk is all of credit crunch and imminent recession. The industry has enjoyed some very good years and it looks as if we may soon be facing perhaps a couple of years of reduced workloads. The steel construction sector is however on a very firm footing, and commercially more able to withstand a downturn than at any time in its history. We can confidently look forward to a continuation of the high standards of design, fabrication and erection despite the economic background.

Nick Barrett
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