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July/August 2006 – Awards celebrate the diversity of steel

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Diversity could have been the subheading to this year’s Structural Steel Design Awards, the 38th year in which the contribution of structural steelwork has been celebrated in this way.

The industry has had a busy year, capturing an increasing share of key markets and winning new clients, but, as the awards prove, there has been no slowdown in the increasing ability of steelwork designers and contractors to produce innovative, quality structures.

One of the outstanding features of this year’s awards is the wide range of clients that are choosing steelwork for their major investments: among them airports, sports stadia, politics, sports training, the heritage sector, education and catering.

As the chairman of the judges David Lazenby said, the entries were all good, some were very good and a handful were outstanding. These are wonderful accolades for the entire constructional steelwork sector, and especially so for the BCSA in its Centenary Year.

There are common themes underlying the diversity among the award winners, as they all show the strength of steel as a cost effective choice that gives designers the maximum flexibility to realise their visions. During their working lives some of these structures will need to be adapted to support changing uses, which is when the wisdom of selecting steel in the first place will bring further benefits to clients.

This flexibility is extending the useful lives of many structures today, but when the need arises to clear a site to make way for a new generation of structures steel will of course win the sustainability debate as it is 100% recyclable. The argument that the best way to ensure that your design is sustainable is to design it in steel is clearly getting home to increasing numbers in the design community.

Expectations are increasing

The awards are an occasion when the entire steel sector can pause long enough to deliver a well deserved pat on the back to itself. Comments from Roger Bayliss of BAA, who presented the awards, and others at the awards ceremony clearly showed that the quality output of the sector is well appreciated by clients.

But there were also equally clear messages that the world won’t stand still, and that the level of quality represented by SSDA entrants will one day have to be entry level rather than award winning. Roger Bayliss spelled out that steel has the edge for a large part of the ambitious investment programme of one of the industry’s key clients, but would have to work hard to retain that advantage. By the time you read this BAA may be in foreign ownership, which added an edge of its own to his warning that if the domestic industry doesn’t perform to the increasingly high demands then there were overseas competitors prepared to stand up to the mark.

The track record of the constructional steelwork sector suggests that warnings like these will be heeded, and the necessary steps will be taken to ensure steel stays ahead. But nobody viewing the award winners could doubt that the UK constructional steelwork sector is in a very strong and healthy condition as it goes forward to satisfy the increasing expectations of its clients.

Nick Barrett

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