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An audience with Nick Russell, 2014 President of The Institution of Structural Engineers

13 May 2015 No Comment

Structural Engineers are fundamental to any built project, and an important part of the construction supply chain. Although little is ever said about this important band of professionals, they are a key part of the design and construction team. It is their role to consider all the possible factors in the design of any building. In a nutshell without the engineer the structure simply would not stand.

With this in mind we asked the 2014 President of The Institution of Structural Engineers, and Director of Thomasons Ltd, Nick Russell, for his views on designing with steel.


Q. Steel sections are common place in many buildings, what are the biggest benefits of steel sections for a Structural Engineer?

Steel isn’t the automatic solution for all structures. The Structural Engineer has to consider a number of issues such as durability, dynamic response, fire resistance, relationship between weight and strength and so on. Steel will score where longer economical spans are required or where a building framework can be constructed rapidly and where construction will not then be complicated by complex façades. Steel also has known and constant physical properties that make it well suited to support façades that are less tolerant to long-term movement and deflection.

Q. Tata Steel has just received the BREs responsible sourcing certification BES 6001 for all construction products manufactured in the UK. What is highest on the sustainability agenda for Structural Engineers?

For me it is to re-use materials wherever appropriate and use those with the lowest embodied carbon. Professionals should look at all opportunities to design facilities that have as low an operational carbon footprint as possible. That said, cost and time (often related) are also key considerations as is the need to source materials wherever possible from sustainable sources.

Q. Refurbishment of historic/existing buildings is a particular specialism of yours. What properties of steel do you think are advantageous in projects of this type?

One of the opportunities that steel does offer is to replace structural members quickly. It also provides the opportunity to alter the load paths (removing or relocating columns for example) as unobtrusively as possible. Many older retail buildings that I have worked on have early structural steel frames and there is always an interesting challenge in combining new steel sections with old.

Q. Our dedicated team of construction experts are always looking for more ways to help our supply chain. What can steel manufacturers do to help Structural Engineers in their roles?

Tell them that you are there to help them! Seriously it is surprising how often designers will struggle to find answers to problems and be unaware of the help that is out there. The SCI and the BCSA are well respected for the help that they provide to designers and constructors. However material manufacturers are in a good position to advise professionals on manufacturing, sustainability and cost-effective construction.

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