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July/August 2011 – Steel’s best keeps getting better

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The Structural Steel Design Awards has been highlighting the best of steel construction for an unbroken run of 43 years, and the best keeps getting better as attendees at this year’s awards event will testify. The judges were able to pay tribute to as exciting a crop of outstandingly high quality, innovative, successful projects as has been seen, despite all the constraints of recession.

There may have been slightly fewer entries for the 2011 awards, unsurprisingly given the fact that recession means there are fewer projects under way, but the 18 shortlisted projects provide as creditable a snapshot of the capabilities of steel construction as has been seen in the awards’ history.  The comments of the judges, all with substantial experience of architecture and engineering on which to base their opinions, on the projects that won awards, commendations and merit awards were as appreciative as ever.

For Chairman of the judges David Lazenby the entries demonstrate steel’s adaptability and economy, and its relevance to a wide range of diverse situations, including commercial buildings, sports stadia, public buildings and bridges. Others included a key railway station, a very large distribution centre and a waste to energy plant. The world of the arts values steel not just for providing iconic housing and staging for works of art, but also for making some ambitious artistic visions realisable at all, as can be seen in the two remarkable sculptures that featured in this year’s awards.

The SSDA consistently provides a wide range of answers to questions about why steel is the material of choice for the overwhelming majority of noteworthy projects.  Annual market share studies consistently show steel having around 70% of the multi storey buildings market, often allowing architects and engineers to realise visions that otherwise would never get beyond the conceptual design stage. As this year’s award winning entries show, steel is appealing to designers in new growth areas like waste to energy plants.

Next year’s event can be relied on to feature a crop of entries at least as strong as this years’ as the industry consolidates during 2011. Beyond this year there are now well-founded expectations that the worst is well behind us and industry demand will start growing again.

At the BCSA’s Annual General Meeting President Jack Sanderson predicted growth of 4% next year followed by 5% in 2013 (see News). This will bring steel construction back to the one million tonnes of output a year level, unimportant as a number in itself, but after what the industry has been through one million tonnes of quality constructional steelwork has a nicer ring to it than the bell tolling of recent years. Expect the SSDA entries to ring the changes and keep getting better and better.

Nick Barrett
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