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Steel ready for new digital challenges

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The Structural Steel Design Awards (SSDA) celebrated 50 years of outstanding steel construction achievements last year. Entering the second half of this first century, some may have wondered whether the Awards’ unrivalled quality could be maintained.

The entries to this year’s Awards have now all been carefully scrutinised, a shortlist has been selected (see News), and the answer to the quality question is an undoubted yes! It was a bumper crop of entries and the judges were demanding as always, but they still selected no fewer than 20 steel projects as potentially worthy award winners.

A look at the shortlist immediately confirms that the SSDA is as relevant as ever, containing shining examples of quality steelwork at the leading edge of modern construction. They are a diverse collection of construction excellence. Among the 20 are a number of footbridges, steel structures on a bypass, and major multi-storey buildings in Birmingham as well as in London. There are some high-profile leisure sector projects and, in what is surely a first for the Awards, a seal hide in Middlesborough. Wimbledon No 1 Court’s new roof makes the shortlist, as does Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium.

As BCSA Director General Sarah McCann-Bartlett said announcing the shortlist, the structural steelwork sector has evolved significantly in the past 50 years, but steel’s ability to deliver the most efficient and cost-effective solution for a building or structure, while also providing practical, flexible and beautiful spaces, has been a constant. Winning projects over the years have demonstrated engineering excellence, innovation and attention to detail; the same could probably be said of all of the shortlisted projects over the years, but the judges do set the bar high for the ultimate accolade of an SSDA prize.

The winning projects will be announced in October.

Looking ahead, changing demands on construction that couldn’t have been envisaged 50 years ago should assure steel’s leading role in the provision of the UK’s built environment. Thanks to steel’s offsite capabilities the drive towards modern methods of construction means steel is better placed than any alternative framing material to meet that growing demand.

The digital landscape is constantly changing and steel is strongly placed to play a full role in new digital innovations. Long association with CNC fabrication means steel is also well placed to respond to more complex levels of design for manufacture and assembly. In short, the quality of the SSDA shortlist could be scaling new heights in years to come.

As Richard Fletcher, Managing Director of SSDA sponsor Trimble Solutions (UK) Ltd, said when welcoming the shortlist, steel is at the forefront of technological advance in construction, delivering projects of high complexity and scale through data driven design, manufacture, assembly and erection. The sector is well prepared for the push towards digitalisation of the construction workflow.

Other challenges will undoubtedly arise for construction as the pace of modernisation picks up across all industries that the steel sector will be expected to play its part in. On the evidence of this year’s SSDA shortlist, the response is already underway.

Nick Barrett

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