This week, Metric Views takes a look at a recent awards ceremony in the construction industry.
Blame the Oscars. Nowadays, it seems not a week goes by without a presentation ceremony, as one group after another publicly recognises the achievements of its members. And this phenomenon is not limited to the entertainment business. Even construction is bidding for attention: the presentation of the British Construction Industry Awards took place on 9 October and then, later in the month, it was the turn of the Consultants of the Decade Awards promoted by the Association of Consultancy and Engineering (ACE).
Examination of the ACE’s six awards shows an interesting pattern:
Award for outstanding achievement.
Winner: Keith Clarke CBE
Citation includes: “But it is his achievements over the last 10 years including the rescue and stabilisation of Atkins which stand out. … Key to this was his drive into the Middle East where key projects included the multi-billion pound Dubai Metro.”
Award for specialist consultant of the decade.
Winner: HR Wallingford (once known as the Hydraulics Research Station)
Citation includes: “Three years ago HR Wallingford branched out into water and floods advice globally, winning work in south Asia, the Americas and Africa and it expanded its maritime and energy business in the Middle East and Australia … HR Wallingford is now a true global specialist with 58% of its revenue last year coming from overseas …”
Award for UK consultant of the decade.
Citation includes: “With over 11 000 staff in offices across the UK and around the globe …”
Award for global consultant of the decade.
Winner: Mott MacDonald
Citation includes: “With over 75% of its staff working on projects overseas, a portfolio of projects in 140 countries and offices in 50 of them, it is truly ‘a global consultant with a UK HQ’ ….”
Award for small and medium sized consultant of the decade.
Winner: Tony Gee
Citation includes: “… working on some of the biggest and most technically demanding projects around the world including … Stonecutters Bridge in Hong Kong … . Business has continued to grow over the decade with income from the UK and overseas, primarily the Middle East and Asia. Last year the company expanded its office in Hong Kong and also opened a new base in Abu Dhabi.”
And the pattern? Yes. You’ve guessed. A theme through the awards is of overseas involvement. Only the citation of the award for young consultant of the decade, won by Sarah Royse of RES Advisory, does not include mention of overseas activity, but there is still plenty of time for this to change.
This pattern not limited to consultancy and engineering. For example, Sir Norman Foster, now Lord Foster, was appointed architect for the reconstruction of the Reichstag or Parliament Building in Berlin after re-unification and for architectural embellishment of Millau Viaduct in France, designed by French Engineer, Michel Virlogeux.
But what has this to do with the UK’s prolonged metric transition?
Older readers may recall that construction was one of the first industries in the UK to make the metric changeover. The decision to go metric was announced in 1968. Metric standards, codes and design tables began to appear in design offices in 1969 and the first metric jobs began construction on site in 1970. The changeover was largely complete by 1975. Without this carefully planned and thorough adoption of the international system of measures (SI) it is difficult to see how construction professionals – engineers, architects and surveyors – could have continued to do business in an increasingly metric world, much less achieved the dramatic expansion of business seen over the past three decades as reflected in the ACE awards.
This is confirmed by the frequent takeovers of UK firms by would-be global consultants in the USA as reported in the past by MV. As recently as September, US consulting giant Jacobs paid £765 million for Australian engineering consultant SKM – SKM has significant operations in Australia, Asia, South America and the UK.
For its presentation ceremony next year, ACE may wish to consider a new award: UK construction innovation of the century. We believe there is already a clear winner: the metric changeover, 1968-75.