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Aug 17, 2012

Steel Awards 2012 focus on sustainability

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This year’s Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (Saisc) Steel Awards will focus on sustainability and green living; hence, the decision to make the theme for 2012 ‘Steel Leaves a Legacy’.

The institute feels it is important to recognise steel structures that reflect a responsible approach to the environment.

“‘Steel Leaves a Legacy’ is, to me, a very powerful phrase, as it carries the message of sustainability. If something is well designed and well executed, chances are it’s going to serve mankind for a long time, with a shallower environmental footprint,” says Saisc executive director Dr Hennie de Clercq.

He cites the London’s Tower Bridge, New York’s Empire State Building, and Paris’s Eiffel Tower as examples of steel structures that have left a legacy.

De Clercq points out that steel production consumes a lot of energy and produces a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Once it has been produced, however, steel is inherently recyclable, which will benefit future generations.

De Clercq also points out that the steel recycling process requires only a fraction of the energy consumed during the initial production process, which emphasises the importance of evaluating steel from this perspective.

Judging Criteria

Saisc education director Spencer Erling tells Engineering News that, while the Steel Awards judges always take into account a range of complex and diverse factors when judging a steel structure – including excellence in innovation and aesthetics – this year, sus- tainability has also been considered.

Erling says he is happy about the influx of entries, which reflects a greater environmental awareness than previous entries, as well as an ability to use and manipulate materials to make structures increasingly efficient, sustainable and generally environmentally responsible.

“This involves sustainability,” says Erling, who mentions some of the candidate projects, which are renovations of existing structures, with the oldest original structure dating back to the 1930s. Erling highlights that steel has played a role in both the original structure and in the renovation.

“In judging these entries, we are looking for projects that show how steel construction can make our planet a better place. I believe we have those projects and that they have maintained high standards of design and construction.”

Erling adds that if the Steel Awards 2012 achieve nothing but raise awareness about steel being a significantly green construction material – contrary to what some may believe – then Saisc will have succeeded.

“The truth is that steel [production] has reduced its carbon footprint by more than 40% in the last 50 years and, when taking a holistic approach to energy, it is an extremely environment-friendly, green product – often more so than products like brick and mortar.

“With structural steel, the steel structure can be reused at the end of a project’s life cycle, either where the structure has been erected, or by moving it to another site. And if the steel cannot be reused, virtually every scrap of it can be recycled,” he adds.

“While judging was under way in June, the judges, including Erling, visited project sites across South Africa, including remote areas such as Makapanstad, Lephalale and Sedgefield,” he says.

Stand-Out Contenders

One of the projects, which made the Steel Awards shortlist, is the potentially iconic Soweto Theatre. It features two curving fortress walls, which define the edges of the theatre complex. These walls contain three theatre boxes and all the other ancillary spaces, which a well-known architect describes as “an astonishing feature”.

Prefabrication of facade elements reduced construction timescales, but to achieve a high standard of finish, Erling says, some of the supporting substructures had to be adjusted to ensure they fitted well with the concrete structures.

He describes the steel facade of the theatre as “amazing”, noting that it will encourage building owners, architects, as well as designers and financiers, among others, to consider a “composite index that not only is an economic reflection of the construction cost per square metre, but also takes into account the environmental impact of the structure and its contribution to the social wellbeing of its users”.

“From a functionality perspective, the properties of steel, such as strength and malleability, were not only exploited but also supplemented with multiple layers of cladding that provided heat and sound insulation, which made the structure watertight,” says a project team member, adding that the strength of the steel shingles as a finish ensures that the Soweto Theatre will remain iconic for many generations to come.

Another shortlisted candidate is the Vodacom Altech Shandukani Centre for Specialised Services, which, in its entry brief, promised to be “a happy place with unintimidating materials, finishes and furnishings – more like a living room than a hospital”.

The objective of the project was to create a maternity hospital and research centre from an existing building that was once part of the former Hillbrow Hospital. The task was to reconstruct the old operating theatre and X-ray building into prenatal, delivery and antenatal facilities, as well as a research centre.

The project team’s central challenge was to preserve the facade of the old structure, while adding new extensions. Architect Henry Paine & Partners decided that a comparatively lightweight structure would be needed to form the new accommodation on the existing flat roof after a few old, out-of-date services buildings had been removed.

The structure had to be erected quickly and easily in a precinct where buildings in the area were already occupied. Because of the strong conservation requirements, the team decided to add onto the building in a way that clearly differentiated the new from the old. “Steel was the only structural material that had the requisite characteristics,” the project team reports.

Environmental concerns were paramount in the design of the building. About 80% of the new steel structure can be recycled, while the old structure has been recycled in sustainable ways.

“One of the benefits of this approach is the reinstatement of the magnificent old stair- cases and the balustrading,” says Erling. “All electrical, liquid and gas services are mounted onto the old internals, making it unnecessary to chase into the old walls. Any demolished materials have, wherever possible, been recycled into new steel.

The project team points out that using steel makes it possible to dismantle the structure, if need be, and reuse the steel, while leaving the initial building in its original state.

“Considering the issues of recycling, the limited use of new materials and climate control, it would be difficult to design a building with a smaller carbon footprint than the Shandukani Centre – as it is now known,” they say.

Awaiting the Big Day

Forty companies entered their designs this year, compared with the 70 entries received in 2011.

De Clercq assures Engineering News that this is nothing to worry about, noting that the lower number of entries is a reflection of fewer unusual projects having been implemented in the last year as well as the effects of the state of the global economy.

“We’ve come through an incredible high in recent years in terms of the number of available quality projects that were entered for the Steel Awards,” he says, citing the build-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup as one of the key reasons for higher entry numbers in recent years.

De Clercq believes the number of new and unusual projects being implemented today is standard as far as the steel construction industry is concerned.

“However, despite the slow economy, many interesting and well-executed projects, showing a lot of imagination, have been included in the entries,” he says.

The Steel Awards 2012 will take place in Johannesburg on September 6, with local climatologist and environmental consultant Simon Gear as the master of ceremonies.

Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
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