The year in pictures: 2011

15 December 2011

It's been a rocky twelve months, but the world's made it through earthquakes, political struggles and economic meltdown. Here Jan-Carlos Kucharek looks at the events, UK buildings and construction stories that made the headlines of the year.


World headline: Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian university graduate working as a fruit seller, sets himself alight when police confiscate his cart and dies from his burns on January 5th 2011. His death causes a massive popular movement leading to the ousting of President Ben Ali on January 14th- the start of the ‘Arab Spring’. Protests spread to Egypt and less than a month later Hosni Mubarak steps down. After this, an uprising in Libya’s second city of Benghazi will end with the ousting of 40 years of rule by dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his gruesome killing in his hometown of Sirte in October 2011.

Construction headline: The Construction Industry braced itself for another tough year, with the Construction Products Association saying that the sector will face another double-dip recession, despite economists in the FT saying that it should avoid one.  With the Bank of England's desired inflation rate of  2%, 3% at the beginning of the year seemed high- it would rise to 5% in November 2011 before dropping 0.2% in December- but the double-dip remains a spectre.

JANUARY: Haiti's Iron Market, restored by UK architect John McAslan and Partners, opens one year after the devastating earthquake that killed 230,000 people and left over a million homeless. It stands as the city's symbol of reconstruction


World headline: 65 people were killed on New Zealand’s South Island when a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck 10km southeast of its second city of Christchurch. The tremor sent the spire of the city’s cathedral collapsing into the square below and scores of other buildings collapsed in the city of 400,000. New Zealand prime minister John Key called it the country’s ‘darkest day’.

Construction headline: The severe weather experienced by the UK at the end of 2010 becomes a factor in the end-of-year figures released by the Office for National Statistics, which gave negative growth rates in Construction output in the fourth quarter of the year. The figures however were still up 8% on the same time in 2009. The Civil Engineering Contractors Association also said that higher costs and lower tender prices had severely reduced profit margins over the same period.

FEBRUARY: The £94m, 6,000-seat Olympic Velodrome, built on time and on budget by contractor ISG is the first major venue to be completed on the Lea Valley site to glowing reviews. Later in the year it will be nominated for the prestigious Stirling Prize


World headline: At 14.46 Japan time on Friday March 11th, a magnitude 9 earthquake occurred 70km east of the Tohoku coast on the eastern edge of Japan’s main island Honshu. The quake caused a tsunami with waves up to 10m high to hit the coastline a few minutes later that moved up to 10km inland. Coastal villages were wiped off the map, over 15,000 people died and a Level 7 nuclear incident, the highest level since Chernobyl, was triggered at the Fukushima 1 & 2 power plants. With over 125,000 buildings destroyed, the World Bank called it the most expensive natural disaster in the world, estimated to cost over $235BN.

Construction headline: Chancellor George Osborne's 2011 Budget is a mixed bag for the construction industry. There is good news for infrastructure, with £200M of funding announced for railways and £100M for road upkeep. A total of £3BN was also made available through the Green Investment Bank. £210M was announced to help first-time buyers get on the housing ladder. But Paul King of the UK Green Building Council reacted badly to the government reducing the Sustainable Code Level 6 demand by 2016 to Level 5, calling it 'Two out of ten'.

MARCH: Developer Candy and Candy's £1bn ghetto for the über wealthy, One Hyde Park, opens in London's Knightsbridge. Built by contractor Laing O'Rourke, it attracts buyers, despite costs of apartments being upwards of £6,000/sq.ft


World headline: April 29th saw 24 million domestic viewers and hundreds millions more around the world watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William to his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton in an Alexander McQueen creation. But with the May Bank Holiday, the extra long weekend it spawned was said to have cost the economy £5BN. And while the Royal pair looked up, it seemed everyone else was looking down, with comments about chief bridesmaid Pippa Middleton’s derriere setting the Twittersphere alight.

Construction headline: With the £55BN Building Schools for the Future programme long gone, The government's James Review of Education procurement for Schools is published, with a series of recommendations including a central body responsible for schools procurement, standardised design components and national frameworks for schools work. By August only £2BN of funding for construction would be released, with a further three month consultation on the Review. It's findings are yet to be published.

APRIL: 138yrs after it first opened, and 75yrs after it last closed down, developer Manhattan Loft and hotel chain Marriott reopen George Gilbert Scott's high gothic fantasy, the St Pancras Hotel, marking the completion of one of Europe's grandest termini


World headline: American President Barack Obama announces on May 2nd that US forces had shot dead al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden on a covert raid of a compound where he was thought to be hiding outside Islamabad in Pakistan. Bin laden was reportedly buried at sea after a Muslim funeral rite held on a US aircraft carrier. He had evaded US and allied forces for a decade, despite a £25M bounty on his head. Bin Laden was considered the mastermind behind the attack on the World Trade Centre towers in New York in 2001.

Construction headline: A year before London's Olympics, UK contractors and consultants are given the opportunity to pitch work to Brazil's five biggest construction firms for work on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Contractors from the Olympic stadium, velodrome and basketball arena were given the chance to meet a Brazilian delegation in talks organised by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). Rio de Janeiro has an £8.6BN investment programme to build the 2016 Games- and a £350BN national infrastructure investment programme.

MAY: In a last gasp for UK arts projects whose funding was decimated in the government's Spending Review, the £35m Hepworth Wakefield opens as part of the greater regeneration of the city's riverside. 5 weeks after it opens it welcomes its 100,000th visit


World headline: Yoghurt and stones were thrown at Greek Police by protesters opposing the austerity measures amounting to €28BN to be imposed by George Papandreou’s government to secure an EU bailout to stop Greece from having to declare itself bankrupt. US credit agency Standard and Poors had reduced its rating from B to CCC, making it the least credit worthy of the 131 nations it monitors. With the austerity measures adopted and a bailout secured, Papandreou would resign five months later.

Construction headline: Paul Morrell becomes chief construction adviser to government, heading up its Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth team, mandated to cut the cost of public procurement by 20%. Part of his remit is also to establish ways of monitoring retrofitting, although it will only 'consider' use of Display Energy Certificates for private buildings. Morrell also pushes the contentious policy of making Building Information Modelling mandatory on all publicly procured projects within five years.

JUNE: After a planning battle where English Heritage fought to have listed the Arup-designed Broadgate development in London, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt rejected the request leaving Architects Make clear to construct the huge HQ design for bank UBS


World headline: Amidst continuing accusations of celebrity phone hacking by the media, The Guardian leads with a story claiming that journalists employed by the ‘News of the World’ newspaper, owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, hacked the voice mailbox of murdered teenager Millie Dowler. The accusation implicates then editor Rebekah Brooks and forces News International to shut down the 168 year old newspaper only a week later. Andy Coulson, former NOTW editor and media advisor to David Cameron, resigned before the story finally broke.

Construction headline: The pressure groups gather to oppose the government's draft National Planning Policy Framework, reducing thousands of pages of national policy to just fifty-three- and with its contentious clause giving a 'presumption in favour of sustainable development.' With the policy driven as much by the Treasury as the Homes and Communities Agency, the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Design Council Cabe smell a rat, thinking the policy wording will lead to 'unchecked and damaging development' in the drive to kickstart the economy.

JULY: The new Museum of Liverpool opens to be the city's 'Third Disgrace'. By November the Museum's trustees are taking architect AEW to court for design defects causing ceiling panels to collapse


World headline: Temperatures flare in the UK after the police suspect Mark Duggan is shot dead in Tottenham, sparking a peaceful protest for answers; which, questions unanswered, by August 6th has become a full-scale riot. For the next four days in London rioting and looting spreads, reaching other UK cities. On 10th August two brothers in Birmingham are knocked down and killed in a hit-and-run incident. A later police round-up sees thousands of youths custodially sentenced.

Construction headline: Continued turmoil in the markets due to financial problems in the Eurozone has not been good to construction, with three industry giants posting gloomy economic results.  Interserve's profits dropped over 14%, Laing O'Rourke made a 0.75% profit, but lost nearly a quarter of its employees due to a falling workload; and Morgan Sindall's pre-tax profits were down 9% to £16.7M. The value of Galliford Try and Barratt shares dropped 20% over the course of the month. End of year results would paint a similar picture.

AUGUST: Construction magazines get a first look at the new passenger concourse at London's King's Cross station, with its distinctive 150m-wide, half-domed roof


World headline: September 11th 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre Towers, in which over 3,000 people died. New York remembers with a Service of Remembrance attended by President Obama, who inaugurated the new 9/11 Memorial – two huge square waterfalls sitting at the foundations level of the collapsed towers, whose walls are inscribed with the names of all those that died. Around it, Ground Zero remains a building site.

Construction headline: The RIBA was accused of firing-up the anti-development lobby when it launched its 'Case for Space' report, which pointed the finger at house builders for its 'shameful shoebox homes'. Their survey claimed that the average 3-bed home was '8% smaller than minimum size', causing a furore in the industry. Two construction figures on the RIBA panel resigned- Jane Briginshaw of the Homes and Communities Agency and David Birkbeck of Design for Homes, the latter saying 'The timing is shocking- it's kicking house builders in the balls.'

SEPTEMBER: Architect Zaha Hadid's £268m Olympic swimming pool opens. Contractor Morrisroe had their work cut out creating the sculptural concrete, and steel contractor Rowecord breathe a sigh of relief on completion of the 3,000-tonne steel roof


World headline: Steve Jobs, co-founder of computer firm Apple Inc, dies aged 56 of cancer, causing an extraordinary outpouring of grief, with flowers being laid and candles lit at Apple Stores around the world. Jobs’ business manner was famously efficient, puritanical and ruthless, but he solicited enormous loyalty from his employees and from consumers who viewed his products, notably the iPhone, as the communications equivalent of reinventing the wheel.

Construction headline: There are mixed messages from government after it announces a 200,000 home 'housing revolution' boost to housebuilders over the next four years at the Tory conference in Manchester, half of them by 2015, using sites on a 'build now, pay later basis.' The Localism Bill receives Royal Assent but Housing minister Grant Schapps has to assure anti-reform lobbyists that the draft National Planning Policy's 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' would give councils a 'grace period' to prepare development plans- to stop planners taking advantage of policy loopholes.

OCTOBER: Lord Foster's Spaceport America, the sole hub for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, completes in New Mexico. Hunkered down in the desert landscape, it's a terminus control centre and hanger for the tycoon's new commercial space flight venture


World headline: Danica Camacho, a baby girl born in the Phillipines, becomes the world’s 7 billionth person, as chosen by the United Nations, aiming to draw attention to issues raised by the burgeoning world population. The lucky lady received a scholarship grant to help with her future education- a result of the accusation levelled at them by the sixth and fifth billionth babies claiming the UN had largely ignored them in their later years.

Construction headline: The solar panel industry is rocked by the cancelling of a number of multi-million pound projects after the the government slashes the Feed-In tariff rate by more than half, which some industry figures say could threaten 25,000 'solar' jobs. Contractor Carillion, having paid £306M for solar energy firm Eaga, puts 4,500 employees on statutory notice of redundancy. The Prime Minister's Autumn statement concentrates on infrastructure and money for its Housing Strategy to try and 'Get Britain Building.'

NOVEMBER: Glasgow's 22,500sq.m new Transport Museum gets its official Royal opening. BAM Construction were behind the construction of the new museum and had to deal with a complex steel roof as well as 24,000 zinc panels all over its facade


World headline: The Eurozone debt crisis continues to loom large, especially regarding Italian and Spanish debt, and forces the resignation of Italian President Silvio Berlusconi. At an emergency EU summit on 9th December, German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy demand greater EU control of member states’ fiscal plans. Refusing to accept Europe-wide taxes on financial transactions for fear of weakening the City, Cameron vetoes the vote and isolates himself from Europe.

Construction headline: There's a lack of team spirit on the £700M Olympic Village site when construction manager Lend Lease issues a non-completion notice on contractor Galliford Try. The original completion date was supposed to be October 31st, revised to December 12th. The owners Qatari Diar and Delancey confirmed that the 2,800 home complex will be re-named the 'East Village' and will be home to 6000 people from 2013. Transport secretary Justin Greening announces £860M for 21 regional infrastructure projects. Jobless figures rose to 2.64M- the first time it has been higher than when the Coalition took power.

DECEMBER: London Mayor Boris Johnson's £22m Arcelor Mittal Orbit, designed by artist Anish Kapoor and engineer Cecil Balmond, becomes the tallest freestanding sculpture in the UK. Now everyone in London, including Lord Nelson, can see it

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