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How to ensure you do not win a steel award!

By Spencer Erling,
Education Director, SAISC

Steel Awards really is a big annual issue for the Institute. We have just come out of phases I, II and III of the 2010 process, namely to get the entries submitted, processed into our system and adjudicated.

And before you ask, yes I do know the results, but I won’t pass them on to you, do not try bribery either!

The judging process starts with a review of each of the entries. We really do have some very tardy people who submit the entries. At the time of writing, some nine weeks after entries closed there are still two hopefuls that have not submitted their motivations or entry forms. You can guess what has happened to those entries. At least we do sort and recycle our scrap paper, thanks for your contribution!

The judging team, many of whom have been doing the job for a good few years (and in one case probably decades), all agree we learn new and useful bits of knowledge each year during the process. These might be structural, clever design, contractual and sometimes just plain interesting facts!

What we tend to do in the process is highlight (after all that’s what the awards are about) excellence in the use of steel. Those projects that stand out above the rest – the really excellent ones. We also tend to minimise the exposure of the ‘not so excellent’ and some cases downright poor entries. But we do have the good grace not criticize those poor projects publicly and stick to our promise that we do give every entry some mileage.

Let’s talk about some of the features of entries that ‘turn our judges off’.
For starters, remember it is that first impression that’s going to catch the judges’ eye. It is those pictures you submit that usually decide which projects will make the short lists. And don’t think that we have not already worked out years ago that it is those pictures that can be and often are the most misleading parts of an entry.

By way of example, how can you capture and do justice to a project the size of, say, the Moses Mabhida Stadium (last year’s overall winner) on just a few pictures. Mission impossible! But then, of course, high profile projects of that nature are so well known and covered in daily, weekly, monthly press and TV that they just automatically move themselves onto the short lists.

We also know that strategically selected photos can (and do) avoid the bad parts of some projects. Do you remember that old ‘nice from far, but far from nice’ expression?

So, knowing that photographs do not do justice to the project either in a positive or negative way, we always make our best effort to get to see the short listed projects. Sometimes this is logistically impossible like the Marion Island project of some years ago and even then Hennie got to see it during construction and could give us good feedback.

We also make an effort to go and look at projects that did not make the short list. I can think of at least two projects that we visited this year just because we were round the corner from the project while visiting other sites. We try not to do an injustice to any entry by not having someone from the judging team or institute staff member from making a draai to see the site.

On many an occasion we have had one of our Institute members from those faraway places to go and be our eyes just to make sure we have not read it wrong. From time to time our judges have been involved in one or more projects and have been heard to say “that’s one of ours, I will keep quiet… but really it’s not great…” kind of thing.

However, I have a theory: For the experienced judges, after the first viewing of all the entries, they are very close to the end result right away. This year we ran a small competition to test the theory. We made the team of judges each select their overall
winner based on the first viewing of all the entries. We kept their selections till after the final adjudication. The theory was proven to be pretty accurate, they all chose either the overall winner or a category winner that ran a close second!

There is no doubt that the special projects jump out at you and raise claim for recognition on their own.

Back to bad things that turn our judges off.
Bad workmanship is an absolute no-no! This includes;
Steel designed and/or detailed with obvious structural errors. We have seen many a project where clearly the strong axis of the steel is facing the wrong way or where there is obviously no overall torsional stability for a building or has not been properly braced with an obvious load path for all forces. Inadequate connections fall into this category!
Cantilevers made out of ‘T’ bars with no compression flange! We have even seen buckled weld in this situation. We usually raise such short comings with the design engineer in question. Sometimes they are very grateful for our comments (they should be after all he has received, free of charge, a very high powered inspection team go over his job!) Only once in my eight years of awards judging involvement has the engineer been able to prove he was right – and of course received our apology for stirring the hornets nest.
We have had at least two projects where the main portion of the job is excellent. Then we get to see the ‘secondary’ units. These units have been found to be in various stages of structural failure (fortunately not yet collapsing!). Needless to say we saved them from becoming terminal in a ‘human deadly way’! But they were terminal as far as a steel award was concerned.
Steel that obviously did not fit (this could either be fitted up in the works or on site), or has been erected in the wrong place, causing misalignment and/or poorly executed repair work are terminal. Unintentionally bowed steel is only too often present.
Projects that have been presented warts and all – such as damaged flanges with no attempt to repair same, bent angles and the like. They just cannot rate being called ‘excellence in the use of steel’.
Poorly executed or presented welds (even though they might have been done on site) is a definite no-no!
Poorly executed or presented painting (even if it is for corrosion purposes only and not for decorative purposes) is almost terminal but a project with rust sticking through paint work is crossed off the list. You might remember we visited some very special houses on the Garden Route last year. At least one of these houses fell by the wayside because it fell into that category.
Whilst it is not strictly our concern, poor concrete always detracts from the overall nature of the project. And boy, have we seen some bad concrete, honeycombed, shutters kicked, misaligned, bolts in the wrong place to name but a few eyesores.

So a hint to the project teams working on projects to enter into next year’s awards. Learn from others mistakes!
Plan your entry photos and,
Make sure your final presented project meets acceptable standards (that does not necessarily mean lots of spit and polish finish).
Make an effort to tidy up shoddy workmanship.

Your chances of success will only get better and better.