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SSDA will reflect digital transformation

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The Structural Steel Design Awards is now into its sixth decade and remains the ultimate recognition for the best achievements in steel construction. Some stunning projects were on show at the 51st awards ceremony in London, all of them worthy of the accolade of National Finalist.

Something that sets the SSDA apart, other than the high quality of the shortlist, is the stringent and methodical judging process.

It starts with an intense ‘desk-top’ scrutiny of the written submissions. At least two judges, all of them highly experienced architects or engineers, visit each shortlisted project – 20 of them this year – which is not universal practice in awards judging. As well as looking at the quality of the design and finished project, the judges ask the project team a range of questions. And they expect detailed answers!

By this stage, the judges are looking for reasons why a project would justify the accolade of an award, and the bar is set very high indeed.

The range of sizes and types of projects chosen for awards is highly varied, as we see again this year with Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium – selected as Project of the Year – at one end of the size scale and a seal hide at the other.

There was great variety among the Award winners. In addition to Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium, they included the slender design of a footbridge over the Thames at Taplow; a major regeneration at Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, London, with a striking ‘kissing roof’; a new headquarters for a software company in Sunderland exhibiting high quality in design and construction; and the retractable roof at Wimbledon’s No 1 Court that was made possible by large, movable trusses installed to exacting tolerances.

All of these projects were made possible by steel; some would not have been possible at all using any other material, others would not have been the vital additions to the built environment that they now are.

These projects are also made possible by the technology that designers and steelwork contractors can use today. And the advance of the digital transformation underway across the construction industry means the prospects for innovation in design and construction have never been more exciting.

The digital transformation means that a new vocabulary of terms like artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, internet of things and digital twins has to be learned, and ways of releasing the potential that they create have to be developed.

As BCSA President Tim Outteridge says in his column this month, the constructional steelwork sector has always been an early adopter in the take up of new technology, and is well placed to take full advantage of the digital advances to come. We can expect to see the benefits of the digital transformation unfold in the entries to the SSDA in future.

Nick Barrett

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