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Steady outlook for steel

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Financial markets have been rocked again recently, raising fears that we might be looking at a new financial crisis. Calmer minds have been advising however that the roller-coaster rides of financial markets usually bear little relation to the real economy.

The latest steel sector forecasts from Construction Markets are probably a far better guide to the likely short-term future of the construction industry, and steel’s share of it, than any stock or bond market related crystal ball gazing. The construction market’s future looks like being one of continued steady progress, which is more preferable to the steel sector and its clients than the ups and downs of the financial markets.

The overall forecast for steel construction for this year is a rise of 5.4%, following last year’s 5.8%. The pace of growth is expected to slow to a more sedate 2.3% next year but it should be over 2% a year up to 2019. Within this, the office sector shows a strong outlook with consumption of structural steelwork in the sector rising above 100,000 tonnes again this year and continuing to grow strongly to 2019 when consumption of over 120,000 tonnes will be achieved.

This success is well deserved. The office sector has been a stand out success story for steel for some 30 years now, and there is no sign of that changing. In this issue of NSC we can see some great examples of why steel is chosen as the framing material for some 70% of office developments, one adjacent to London’s Great Fire memorial at Monument and another blending in with an existing crescent of offices at the City’s Finsbury Circus.

A BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating is being sought for the Grade A office development at Monument, where selecting steel for the frame maximised the number of floors on a site with very tight planning restrictions because of the adjacent Monument. The design was streamlined by using BIM, that steelwork contractors have taken to with enthusiasm, allowing the steel tonnage to be optimised. Despite tight site constraints, the steelwork was erected ahead of schedule.

The Finsbury Circus project team faced some challenges unique to that site in the City, fronting a square where a major tunnel portal for the Crossrail project is being built.  Noise and other disturbance to an adjacent prestige hotel had to be minimised, so offsite fabrication became a major plus point.

The latest RIBA future trends survey confirms this picture for the construction industry, with workload growth in architectural practices of 8% reported, and staffing levels up 6% over the past year. Practices in the north of England were the most optimistic. Commercial workloads are expected to show strong growth of 13%, although that was down from the 16% expected back in June.

Overall then, the future for office building is looking brighter than it did just a few years ago, and steel looks like remaining the structural framing solution of choice for most developers, architects and engineers for the foreseeable future.

Nick Barrett

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