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Cracks appear in curtain walling

AGENDA - COMMENT

THE FALL-OUT from the collapse of curtain walling giant Schmidlin could be catastrophic.

Project managers on five flagship projects in London are praying that efforts to resurrect the cladding and curtain walling business in Switzerland will be successful.

While the UK arm of Schmidlin is profitable and, at present, continues to trade normally, it relies on its Swiss parent for proprietary curtain walling. The bat tle is now on to save this business, otherwise construction jobs, not just in the UK but around the world, will grind to a halt.

Even more worryingly, Schmidlin's problems raise serious questions about the viability of the European curtain walling market. The firm's main European rival, Permasteelisa, has also warned it will post losses this year.

Twenty years ago the home-grown UK curtain walling industry faced a similar crisis. And, despite a number of attempts to save and later create viable curtain walling businesses here, main contractors were forced to rely on the big Continental firms. Now projects are ever more challenging and manufacturing costs are rising.

At the same time clients expect firms to shoulder more risk at even lower margins.

It is a deadly combination of forces, which threatens to send Continental specialists the way of the UK. Unless attitudes to risk and reward are brought into balance, clients may one day find themselves counting the true cost of complex curtain walling designs.

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