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“Architecture and Construction in Steel” (ed. Alan Blanc, Michael McEvoy and Roger Plank)

Architecture and Construction in Steel (ed. Alan Blanc, Michael McEvoy and Roger Plank), SCI/SPON 1993
Review by Ian Ritchie, 1994

It is puzzling to know why the subject matter in this book ranged so widely as to be unable to cover its stated subject in depth. Articles (or so they seemed, rather than chapters) on such subjects as built up roofing might have their place in general books on construction, but do not add much to the subject matter in hand. Hard information is spread very thin, given the attempted scope of subject matter, and, at the same time, highly condensed, since it is confined to limited space left over after acres of smudgy black and white photographs. The quality of presentation is astonishingly poor. A lot of the clearer line illustrations and tables appear to be reproduced from the AJ.

Dipping at random, my associates and I expected to add to the depth of our knowledge on matters relevant to current design issues in ongoing projects. We were disappointed. To take a few examples: the pioneering work of Turlough O’Brien and Margaret Law on fire resistance of exposed steelwork is given only a small paragraph in the 11 pages devoted to the chapter on fire protection. The subject of galvanizing and metallic coatings comes under ‘sheet and strip”, but is not discussed very fully here, and given only a brief mention in the chapter on anti-corrosion measures. The subject of paint systems gets very thin coverage in this chapter. The short chapter on the nature of corrosion gives only a very abbreviated list of electrode potentials of metals. Cast steel is absent from the index (also flame spraying, thread rolling, silicon (as in its effect on galvanising), phosphating, powder metallurgy, precipitation hardening, Charpy, passivation, argon (though inert gas is in), Nitronic (though Nirosta is in), ….., though they are not all absent from passing mention in the text).

For hard, technical information on specific subjects, the book bears interesting comparison with the series of RIBA/British Steel professional studies open learning packages, which are more narrowly focussed. The package on Tension Structures (140 pages, including self-assessment exercises) by John Thornton, for example, is very similar to his and Ian Liddell’s contribution (31 pages in Spon’s book with a remarkably condensed coverage of the subject: text so concentrated as to be almost cryptic, and some important points might be missed by the unititiated). Tom Schollar’s chapter on connections is typical also of the densely packed text, although in this chapter the photographs are a little more informative than in some of the others. It is as if each contributor was asked to tell all he or she (just one woman author) knew about a complex subject in no more than 3000 words. The resulting style is often intense rather than relaxed. The presence of chapters on general principles, almost philosophical in nature, sit a little uncomfortably amongst chapters on strictly technical issues. The frequent repetition of much of the content, albeit from the points of view of different contributors, betrays the difficulty of editing such a hefty tome.

One is left wondering at whom the book is aimed. It might serve the needs of students, except that it is singularly unlikely to inspire. It is unlikely to be a serious resource for engineers. The dreary textbook format is exceptionally lacking in ability to communicate the potential excitement and enthusiasm that some of its contributors doubtless feel for their work in steel structures (we know – we have worked with a number of them).

© Ian Ritchie 1994