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November/December 2011 – 35 years of highlights

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The retirement of the BCSA’s Director General Derek Tordoff at the end of this year after 27 years in the job has already been announced. In this issue you can read about some of the details of his 35 years with the association, a career that has spanned the metamorphosis of the use of steel in construction from a material preferred by only a relative few, into the preferred framing material of most structural engineers and architects in the UK. During his tenure the UK’s steel construction sector has become the envy of construction worldwide.

It has been quite a period, and not all plain sailing, as Dr Tordoff admits. There have been booms to contend with as well as bad recessions. There have been barriers to overcome in educating the market to lift steel from being viewed as difficult to design in, into its current enviable position. Overall however, it has been a story of steady development with many highlights.

Everything that can be thought of to make steel as easy to use as possible is now provided by the steel sector. No other material has this depth and breadth of back up advice and guidance freely available.

Highlights of the past 35 years that Dr Tordoff singles out include the development of fabricators to become key members of modern construction teams, able to offer advice on economy and buildability and offering complete design, fabricate and erect packages. Standard connections can now be easily selected by a couple of clicks on a mousepad, rather than each steelwork contractor and consulting engineer using his own preferred solutions.

Few of the iconic structures that have been built in the past 35 years would have been possible without steel which has allowed architects to realise many of their visions in a way that no other material could. Market developments have advanced the case for steel, with London’s growth as an international financial centre going hand-in-hand with growth in demand for the City’s favoured column free spaces, made possible by steel’s long span capabilities. Safe erection, flexibility, adaptability, sustainability and economy are all attributes of steel that are well appreciated by the construction industry today, but which were almost unknown 35 years ago.

Dr Tordoff leaves behind a steel construction sector that is valued by construction clients as well as the rest of the supply chain. It is also generally in better financial shape than in previous recessions, thanks to the more widespread adoption of sound business practices by BCSA members.

Dr Tordoff will be able to look back in the first year of his retirement at what will stand as one of the greatest achievements of steel in construction, the contribution that the sector has made to the 2012 London Olympics. His last year in office saw the successful completion of construction on all the main Olympics structures, a collection of often challenging designs successfully build on time and on budget, or better. It would not have been possible but for the hard work and investment made by the steel sector over the past 30 years or so, which Dr Tordoff has played such a key role in overseeing. I am sure all our readers will want to join with NSC in wishing him all the best for a long and well deserved retirement.

Nick Barrett

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