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Steel goes back to the future

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This year’s Structural Steel Design Awards shortlist has been released – see News – and any fears that the COVID-19 pandemic might have impacted adversely on the quantity or quality of the entries can be laid to rest. This crop of outstanding examples of what can be achieved with steel construction would stand comparison with any shortlist in the history of the Awards, now in their sixth decade.

Having every site visited by a judge has always been a strength of the SSDA judging process, but COVID-19 restrictions meant that was again not possible. Construction teams were constrained by regulations designed to ensure safe working at a time when many other industries ceased working altogether for spells, so were not always able to receive visitors. So, the SSDA Judges took on board the more difficult than usual task of assessing entries using Zoom and other technologies to communicate with the clients, engineers, architects and other construction professionals involved.

The entries more than justified the effort, as you can see from the shortlist. As always, there is an encouragingly wide range of project types, including major City office developments, an airport terminal extension in Manchester, three separate bridges to replace others damaged by Storm Desmond in 2018, including the UK’s first stainless steel road bridge at Pooley in the Lake District. Higher education, healthcare, leisure, sports facilities, film studios, and railway stations are among the other diverse type of structures to have captured the many benefits of steel construction.

Outstanding projects were found as far afield as Glasgow, Manchester, Leicester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds and Winchester. Something shared by all clients for high quality projects like these is a need to be able to prove that they are showing proper respect for the environment in their choice of design and the materials used in construction. As the pace of the global fightback against the climate emergency picks up, clients for structures of all types need to be sure that they are playing their part.

Increasingly, that can only be good news for steel as its sustainability advantages – especially when properly calculated by taking a cradle-to-cradle approach – are undeniable. These sustainability benefits have been promoted by the steel sector for many years, but in the climate emergency fresh attention is being paid to them. And new developments in steel manufacturing and fabrication are adding to the strength of steel’s case.

For example, high strength steels are capturing a place in the market despite being more expensive than standard sections, because they can work out cheaper by reducing the tonnage of steel required for a given structural role. Steel manufacturers constantly seek ways of reducing the environmental impact of their supply chains and have reported successes in a range of developments including reducing emissions and making more efficient use of energy in steelworks.

Steel’s recycling capability is unrivalled by any other construction material, and it can be returned to the production process time and time again. Steel used in any of the SSDA shortlisted projects – or any steel construction project – could have been used originally at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Steel used in any project on this year’s SSDA shortlist will undoubtedly be used again by many generations to come – a genuine material of the future

Nick Barrett

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