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Steel sustainability grows as judges praise value of visits

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Among the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was a halt to the long-established practice of Structural Steel Design Awards being judged on the basis of visits to site by the judges. The 2020 and 2021 judgings were the only occasions in the 54-year history of the Awards that this almost unique feature of the SSDA couldn’t happen.

Fortunately, the steel sector and those construction professionals who judge the SSDA entrants were early uptakers of digital technology like Zoom and MS Teams, so they were able to forego the benefits of site visits without missing a step. That way of operating could have been maintained indefinitely if the pandemic had lasted, but the judges were in no doubt that there is no substitute for actually planting feet on the ground and seeing for themselves the quality of the shortlisted projects, so ‘normal service’ was resumed for the 2022 judging.

Digital technologies have a great role to play in construction, and this will only grow, but the days of visits are far from over. The photography of the Awards’ projects in this issue of NSC shows why judges would be pleased to visit these sites. Judges were impressed by the variety of project scale and type, including large City commercial developments and aesthetically pleasing footbridges. As Steven Insley of SSDA sponsors Trimble pointed out at the Awards ceremony, enthusiastic adoption of digitalisation across the structural steelwork industry has contributed significantly to the design, detail, manufacture, and construction of the shortlisted projects.

As in recent years, the judges noted that they are seeing a focus on sustainability issues in the design as well as the construction of projects, illustrating that the steel construction sector is strongly committed to the drive to net-zero carbon. The Award winning 1 Triton Square for example demonstrates that designing with sustainability in mind can also give rise to cost-effective projects. The sustainability focus meant that savings were made in cost and time as well as on carbon measurements.

Biggin Hill’s new aircraft hangar shows a range of sustainability benefits being achieved after the design team looked for them, including ‘remarkably good’ embodied carbon results. Carbon savings of 20% were achieved at the Esperance Bridge over the Regent’s Canal, partly by reusing existing sub-structures, while producing a strikingly elegant sculptural solution.

Two new three tier stands were created at Lord’s Cricket Ground, where studies at the design stage proved that steel would be the best solution for the iconic stands rather than the originally envisaged concrete. Traditional advantages of steel construction were displayed at Lord’s, including offsite fabrication, speed, cost-effectiveness and ability to overcome challenging site conditions.

Providing low carbon energy to Manchester’s Civic Quarter gave designers an opportunity to show how high aesthetics could be combined with functionality for the tower of a Combined Heat and Power scheme while reducing embodied carbon when compared to a traditional flue stack.

All the shortlisted projects also show sustainable steel at its finest, and justify the comment of Chairman of the Judges Chris Nash (see News): “There is no better way to assess a project than to see it, touch it and to hear what it is all about from the team that created it.” The SSDA is back to its up-close-and-personal best.

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