Engineers have designed incredible structures throughout time. Some of these are still shrouded in mystery, such as the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge. We still don’t know exactly how the engineering plans were actually carried out in terms of getting huge, heavy bricks and rocks in place.
Not knowing how they were made hasn’t stopped us from trying to build things even more impressive. Innovations and new technologies have allowed us to construct bigger and taller designs, and in places we could have only dreamed even 50 years ago. The following projects are perfect examples of how far we’ve come and continue to go.
1. International Space Station
What do you get when five space agencies representing 15 countries build a single space station? According to Space.com, the International Space Station is “the most complex international scientific and engineering project in history and the largest structure humans have ever put into space.”
The station is as large as a U.S. football field (including the endzones) and weighs over 460 tons. It travels 240 miles above Earth at speeds of five miles per second, orbiting the Earth in 92 minutes.
The station was constructed in space piece by piece over ten years and through 30 missions. The first module launched in 1998 and has been continuously manned since November of 2000. Current plans have the station being used through 2020, but there are discussions to keep it going past that.
2. Burj Khalifa (Dubai)
The Burj Khalifa holds seven world records at 2,716 feet (828 meters):
- Tallest building in the world.
- Tallest freestanding structure in the world.
- Highest number of stories in the world.
- Highest occupied floor in the world.
- Highest outdoor observation deck in the world.
- Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world.
- Tallest service elevator in the world.
Building the tower, engineers faced problems primarily with strong winds. More than 40 wind tests were conducted to determine wind’s effect on the building, and on the cranes used to build the structure. To combat the wind stress, the “Y” shape of the building was designed. This shape allows at least one “leg” of the “Y” to be unaffected by wind force no matter what direction the wind blows.
3. Channel Tunnel (England and France)
How do you build an alternate route that expedites travel across the English Channel between England and France? You create the Channel Tunnel—a hybrid railway that spans 31 miles (24 of which are under the sea bed) between Folkestone, England and Coquelles, France.
Opened on May 6, 1994 (construction took six years and cost at least $15 billion), the Channel Tunnel consists of two 25-foot diameter parallel tunnels, with a 16-foot diameter service tunnel in between. 11 tunnel boring machines, each of which spanned the length of two football fields, drilled the enormous passageways. The service tunnel allows workers and equipment to move through the tunnel without blocking the trains while also relieving air pressure from the oncoming trains.
4. Shanghai World Financial Center (Shanghai)
The Shanghai World Financial Center was designed in 1997 to be the world’s tallest building at 1,509 feet (460 meters). However, a fund shortage during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s caused the project to temporarily stop. Cons
truction restarted in 2003, but by then the Taipei Tower was already in the works to be built at 1,667 feet (508 meters). The foundation of the Financial Center was already set and the highest they were able to build was 1,614 feet (492 meters).
The most distinctive feature is the trapezoid-shaped opening at its peak to reduce wind pressure. Because of this opening, it’s said that the building resembles a bottle opener. To also help with winds, there are two tuned mass dampers below the building’s observation floors to reduce its sway during windstorms and earthquakes. Tuned mass dampers are “devices mounted in structures to reduce the amplitude of mechanical vibrations.” In addition, after the World Trade Center events on September 11, 2001, the building was redesigned to withstand a plane crash, including external elevators and fireproof areas.
5. CN Tower (Toronto)
In the 1960s, Toronto’s skyline grew quickly with the construction of multiple skyscrapers, causing issues with radio and TV signals. Canadian National (CN) built the CN Tower to serve as the large radio and TV tower the city needed and to show off the strength of Canadian industry. At 1,815 feet (553 meters), it was. But, it wasn’t officially recognized as the tallest “building” due to the accepted definition of a building. It doesn’t have individual floors and only houses elevators and an observation deck.
Some interesting facts and figures about the construction include:
- 1,537 workers were on-site five days a week, 24 hours a day, for three years and four months to complete construction.
- The tower was built to withstand an earthquake of 8.5 on the Richter scale and winds up to 260 mph.
- It is struck by lightning an average of 75 times per year. Copper strips run down the building to grounding rods buried underground to prevent damage.
- The tower’s glass floor was the first of its kind and can hold the weight of 14 hippos.
6. Empire State Building (New York)
The construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 ignited a skyscraper race in the early 20th century. Standing 1,250 feet tall (380 meters), excluding the 204-foot antennae (62 meters), the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building when it opened on May 1, 1931. It held this title until the World Trade Center surpassed it in 1972.
Construction took only one year and 45 days, with the total cost of construction at $24.7 million (not including the cost of the land) — half of what was expected due to the Great Depression’s impact on labor costs.
The building has been featured in multiple movies (such as King Kong and Sleepless in Seattle). Static electricity gathers at high elevations and is so strong at the top of the building that couples on the observatory floor can see sparks when they kiss.
7. Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco)
San Francisco is on a peninsula, which cut off the city from other areas and limited its growth in the early 20th century. People could only travel to Marin County by a slow, inefficient ferry.
The Golden Gate Bridge, which opened on May 27, 1937 (construction took four years and four months), runs 1.7 miles and weighs 887,000 tons. Costing approximately $35 million to build, it came in under budget and ahead of schedule.
The construction had an unprecedented safety record for a project of this magnitude at the time – only eleven worker fatalities. A key component in improved safety was the installation of a net that ran under the bridge floor that saved 19 lives – the survivors were called members of the “Halfway to Hell Club.” To compare, most bridges at the time saw one fatality per $1 million in construction costs.
Each of these feats not only solved design challenges, their innovations moved the industry forward. What else would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments below.
International Space Station by Wikimedia Commons
Burj Khalifa by Francisco Anzola (License CC 2.0)
Channel Tunnel by Wikipedia
Shanghai World Financial Center by Mr.XY (Own work) (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
CN Tower by Robert Taylor from Stirling, Canada (CN Tower Uploaded by Skeezix1000) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Empire State Building by Wiki Commons
Golden Gate Bridge by PR 20/20