EU : The New Eurocode Regulations - Effects on Construction

For all companies involved in the construction and infrastructure sectors, the new Eurocode regulations will have decisive importance. Haig Gulvanessian is one of the experts who was involved in developing the Eurocodes.

Professor Haig Gulvanessian has a medal on a unique ribbon that many people desire. In 2007, he received one of Britain’s top honors when, together with a famous travel writer, a jazz pianist and a former head of British Intelligence, he was awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth for his “services to the construction industry.” He also has the Czech Technical University’s prestigious “Gold Medal First Class,” an honor he shares with former US President George Bush Sr. Both decorations, proudly placed on his mantelpiece, recognize his achievements in the fields of civil and structural engineering, particularly in the field of Eurocodes.

Eurocodes are reference documents for major construction projects and are also essential for some construction products to obtain CE marks. Gulvanessian salutes the spirit of positive collaboration between European engineers.

“They have different views but they are always amicable, which is remarkable. These are professionals who may disagree, but never argue. We have the same focus and I value that greatly.”

The EU encourages countries worldwide to adopt Eurocodes. Many countries in Asia, Africa and Australasia have historical links with European countries and one challenge is to encourage these countries to switch to Eurocodes. But Gulvanessian is optimistic. “China and Japan are looking at their own codes to see if they are workable,” he explains, with the voice of a man who has spent many years on committees, tactfully smoothing over differences.

Having a father who had been a British civil service architect, there was never much doubt that Gulvanessian would do something similar. Born in cyprus, the Gulvanessian family left there and arrived in the UK in 1960. Gulvanessian worked for Consulting Engineers and the Departments of Environment and Transport and, although he recently retired from the Building Research Establishment (BRE), he is now visiting Professor at Imperial College, London. He lives in an area of northwest London normally considered a green suburbia. The houses are not architecturally noteworthy, but behind this front door, at least, the quality of thought remains outstanding.

Gulvanessian, who is 66, writes regularly for Eurocodes News, a newsletter published by the Eurocodes Expert institution, still attends about 15 meetings abroad each year and lectures regularly in the UK and Cyprus.

Supporters of Eurocodes look forward to a Europe without borders, which is an attractive prospect for the construction and design industries. Will there be resistance to change? Of course, says Gulvanessian, but not as much as one might think.

At BRE’s Innovation park, a wall is made of recycled tires. PHOTO: Olof Hedtjärn / Trelleborg

“Scandinavia and the Nordic countries are more open to change than other countries, but as new engineers who have grown up with Eurocodes come onto the market, even smaller companies will begin to see and reap the benefits. If they can get through the tough transition period needed to fulfill these codes, they will emerge successful.” However, he acknowledges, “Smaller, standard, non-specialist companies may experience financial and logistical problems in adjusting to the new requirements.”

The eurocodes comprise a head code, “Basis of Structural Design.” This focuses on foundations and minimization of earthquake damage. Further codes cover such traditional materials as concrete, steel, timber, masonry and aluminum. And it won’t be long before newer construction materials, including glass and fiberreinforced polymers (FRP), are added.

Another big change involves transport loads. “Trucks will become longer and bigger over the next ten years. We need to work with manufacturers so that our bridges are able to cope with these extreme loads.”

Thus speaks a man whose favorite construction is the Clifton Suspension Bridge in southwest England, and whose proudest project is the otherwise unremarkable Western Avenue Extension that takes traffic west out of central London. “I spent three years on it,” he says fondly. “It’s been there since the 1960s but it has never had to close for repairs. It’s that functionality I like.”

Gotham City in Cardington

As well as being heavily involved with the development of Eurocodes EN1990 Basis of Structural Design and EN1991 Actions on Structures, Haig Gulvanessian was responsible for the large-scale “whole building testing” projects at the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Cardington in 1994. The company took over one of the huge hangars that had originally been built for the ill-fated R101 luxury airship that crashed in France on October 5, 1930.

“We built three full-size buildings: one eight-story steel, one seven-story concrete, and one six-story timber. We carried out all sorts of tests on them, starting fires and doing some very valuable research.” Eventually the project had to be phased out due to lack of UK government funding, but luckily the hangar did not fall into disrepair. It was leased by Warner Brothers, and so began its third incarnation, as the set for the Batman films. “Whenever I watch a Batman movie,” says Gulvanessian, “I’m sure I can recognize a part of Gotham City that is actually Cardington in Bedfordshire, just north of London.”

Gulvanessian writes regularly for Eurocodes News, attends about 15 meetings abroad each year and lectures regularly on Eurocodes.

"Whenever I watch a Batman movie,” says Gulvanessian, “I’m sure I can recognize a part of Gotham City that is actually Cardington in Bedfordshire, just north of London.” PHOTO: Olof Hedtjärn / Trelleborg

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