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July/August 2005 – The best of British…

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Some awards have become debased currency in recent years, with every magazine seeming to have its own idea of what were the best construction projects of the year. They wax and wane. In the Structural Steel Design Awards however we have an acknowledged major annual event, creating a track record of 37 years of uninterrupted recognition of the strengths of the UK’s constructional steelwork capabilities, in design and fabrication.

The awards exist to celebrate excellence in the steel industry, and as usual there is plenty of that on display; there was much that was excellent even among those entries that did not make the final award stage. There is a very wide spread of winner in this year’s Awards, with three very different bridges capturing Awards alongside a prestige corporate headquarters building and sensitively designed pavilion structures at the Tower of London World Heritage site. What they have in common is that they ably demonstrate the advantages of building with steel.

The independent panel of judges obviously agreed. Their citations make pleasing reading for all involved in these projects: “a classic of its type”; “an impressive achievement”; “it is a delight”; “symbolises the best in British engineering … Its elegance belies the 200m span.”;  “steel framing … enables these objectives to be achieved beautifully”.

They also have in common that they show steel as a low cost, strong and durable material to build in. Steel gives designers maximum flexibility and the structures are highly adaptable to changing uses. At the end of the structure’s useful life the steel can be fully recycled, even to the extent of easily extracting steel piles from the ground.

The only thing missing from the Awards is an Award for steel itself.

…and the best of British to you too

Publicising the achievements of architects, engineers and contractors when they achieve excellence is a main part of the constructional steelwork industry’s promotional effort.  It clearly works, as the increasing market share of steel in key sectors over 20 years shows. A more misguided approach, which is doomed to failure, could hardly be imagined than the tiresome flow of misleading anti-steel spin that has been emanating from the Concrete Centre recently.

The concrete lobby seems to have been misadvised that the best way to promote the use of concrete is to attack steel, even when the attacks are based on nonsense. The latest attacks have come over a fire in a Madrid tower that it seems was built without fire protection. The Concrete Centre website has produced some ridiculous spin designed to suggest that steel has been shown to perform poorly in fire as a result. The article was used on their website, and withdrawn for a spell when it blew up in their faces, after one of the construction magazines led with a damning response from Corus rather than simply regurgitate their smears.

The steel industry has stood back in silence during most of this onslaught, aghast that the concrete lobby dares even mention fire when it has still not carried out promises to conclude fire tests started at Cardington. Concrete frames were not performing too well there, you will recall.

The research on which concrete bases its own claims to superior fire performance was carried out many, many years ago. Why do they not focus on research rather than smear and spin? Is there nothing positive to say about concrete? I am sure there must be; so let the Concrete Centre find it, pay for the research they have promised to, and tell us the results. Good luck.

Nick Barrett

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