Engineering HOF – WIF Into History

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History’s Greatest

Engineering Achievements

The history of civilization is replete with examples of humanity improving the world in which it lives. Through ingenuity, imagination, and hard work, humanity has spanned rivers, built roads, erected cities, and created the infrastructure to connect them. Some projects took centuries to complete; others were finished with alacrity, driven by immediate needs. Many were treated with derision by contemporaries who considered the vision of their proponents’ to be delusional. Some — the Panama Canal being one example of many — were completed only after a spectacular and expensive failure during earlier attempts. Still others were spurred by the competition between nations and empires

Spectacular feats of engineering preceded the term engineer. The master builders and visionaries evolved over the centuries from mathematicians (spontaneously, it would seem) across the globe. The Great Wall in China, the pyramids of the Maya and Aztec cultures, the cities of the ancient world all were accomplished by engineering, though the builders and designers were unaware that they were engineers. Over the centuries, engineering accomplishments were directed at the worship of gods and heroes, the improvement of societal life, and to simply celebrate the spirit of humanity. Here are 10 of the greatest engineering achievements in history.

10. The Roman Water Distribution System

Three centuries before the beginning of the Common Era the Roman Republic, later the Empire, distributed water throughout its dominions using a system of canals, pipes, reservoirs, standing tanks, and aqueducts. Entirely through the use of gravity the Romans distributed fresh water to cities and towns, as well as to mines and farms. Some of the aqueducts still stand, architectural marvels built by laborers under the supervision of surveyors and master builders. By the end of the third century the city of Rome was serviced by eleven separate water conduits distributing water throughout the city, and in the case of the wealthier citizens directly into their homes. Poorer residents resorted to public wells and baths.

The empire was serviced with water systems as well, operated by both local governments and the state. Natural springs were the preferred sources of water. Easements were established by law on either side of the conduit’s pathway. The waterways were liberally supplied with inspection points – which would today be called manholes – and the water was routinely inspected for purity. Lead pipes were used in some sections, though the use of ceramic piping was preferred, and sections of the aqueducts which were of concrete were lined with brick, to prevent erosion and to help filter the water. The system was so well designed and built that there are sections still in use for the distribution of fresh water nearly 20 centuries after they were built.

9. The Cathedral of Hagia Sophia

Built as a Christian church and later converted to an Islamic mosque, the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia is today a museum, and an iconic image of Turkey. Originally constructed in the sixth century it has survived rioting, looting by conquerors, earthquakes, fires, and the ravages of time. Built chiefly of masonry, it is easily recognized by its corner minarets and its massive dome. Built and rebuilt many times over the years, it remains a symbol of Byzantine architecture, and for over 1,000 years Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world. Its design was revolutionary in its day.

The huge dome is set upon a square base, supported by four triangle shaped pendentives in the square’s corners. The pendentives carry the weight of the dome and direct it downwards, rather than outwards as the shape of the dome would otherwise dictate. Though the dome collapsed on more than one occasion, and was modified during rebuilding to include ribs which help distribute its weight to the supporting walls, each rebuilding strengthened it and improved the overall structure of the building. Hagia Sophia is a museum of both the Christian and Islamic faiths, as well as the Byzantine Empire and the Crusades. It remains one of the largest masonry buildings in the world in the 21st century.

8. The Leshan Buddha

Carved from a single stone and completed in the early ninth century, the Great Buddha of Leshan stands over 230 feet tall, with a breadth across the shoulders of 92 feet. It is the tallest statue of Buddha to be found in the world, carved from the sandstone of a cliff overlooking the junction of the Min and Dadu Rivers in Sichuan. Ordinarily sandstone would be easily eroded by the rainwater which has fallen on the statue over the centuries. That it hasn’t is a tribute to the ingenious engineering which controls the flow of water through and behind the statue, which has served to protect it since its completion circa 803 CE.

The Leshan Buddha includes over 1,000 coiled hair buns, of stone, which are placed on the statue’s head. They were designed to collect rainwater, and to route it to a system of drains and drainpipes which allow the water to flow through the statue’s head and arms, draining out the back, behind the stone clothes and away from the statue, protecting it from the effects of erosion. The system was installed as part of the original carving. Originally protected by a wooden shelter which was destroyed by the Mongols, the statue has stood exposed to the elements for seven centuries, with its drainage system protecting it from erosion. Today the greatest threat to the statue is the heavily polluted air of the region, a factor its designers could not have anticipated.

7. The Erie Canal

Between the Hudson River and Lake Erie land elevation increases by about 600 feet. Canal locks of the day (1800) could raise or lower boats about 12 feet, which meant that at least 50 locks would be required to build a canal which linked the Hudson with the Great Lakes. President Thomas Jefferson called the project “…little short of madness.” New York’s governor, Dewitt Clinton, disagreed and supported the project, which led to its detractors calling the canal “Dewitt’s Ditch” and other, less mild pejoratives. Clinton pursued the project fervently, overseeing the creation of a 360 mile long waterway across upstate New York, which linked the upper Midwest to New York City. The cities of Buffalo, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, thrived once the canal was completed, in 1825.

The engineering demands of the canal included the removal of earth using animal power, water power (using aqueducts to redirect water flow), and gunpowder to blast through limestone. None of the canal’s planners and builders were professional engineers, instead they were mathematics instructors, judges, and amateur surveyors who learned as they went. Labor was provided by increased immigration, mostly from Ireland and the German provinces. When it was completed in 1825 the canal was considered an engineering masterpiece, one of the longest canals in the world. The Erie Canal’s heyday was relatively short, due to the development of the railroads, but it led to the growth of the port of New York, and spurred the building of competing canals in other Eastern states.

6. The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge was originally envisioned by John Roebling, who had built suspension bridges of shorter spans across the Ohio River and at other locations. The project in Brooklyn and Manhattan led to an accident which cost Roebling his life, and the engineering challenges passed to his son, Washington Roebling. Washington was stricken with the bends early in the construction, and was forced to supervise the project from his Manhattan apartment. The engineering challenges were difficult; wooden caissons were sunk to the bottom of the East River, with men inside them to excavate the river bottom until the caissons reached bedrock. In the case of the east tower supporting the bridge, they never did. The tower rests on sand to this day.

It took 14 years to complete the project, from 1869 -1883. Often described as a suspension bridge, the structure is in reality a hybrid suspension/cable stayed bridge, with the load of the span transferred by wire cables to the towers, and thence to the bedrock on the Brooklyn side, and the sand over the bedrock on the Manhattan side. In the 21st century it carries six lanes of traffic as well as bicycles and pedestrians, though it no longer accommodates rail traffic, nor commercial vehicles. It was considered the engineering masterpiece of the world at the time of its completion, spanning nearly six thousand feet, and linking the formerly separate cities of Brooklyn and New York.

5. The Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel built the iconic symbol of Paris – indeed of all of France – to serve as the gateway to the 1889 World’s Fair. Contrary to popular belief, Eiffel did not design the tower, instead purchasing the patent rights to the design from engineers within his employ. He then signed a contract for the construction of the tower acting as himself, rather than as his company, and later set up another company to handle the management of the tower and the income derived from it. The design of the tower was controversial from the outset, with artists and engineers complaining of its lack of aesthetic value. It was said that French writer Guy de Maupassant ate at the restaurant in the tower after its completion because it was the only place in Paris from which the tower could not be seen.

The ironwork was delivered to the site with holes for connecting bolts pre-drilled, and as they were installed the tower was brought into proper alignment through the use of hydraulic jacks installed near the four feet of the structure. Creeper cranes climbed the legs of the tower to erect each succeeding level. The tower was declared complete in March 1889, at the time the tallest man-made structure in the world. It reached the height of 1,063 feet and remains the tallest structure in Paris. The tower was to have been dismantled in 1909, under the terms of the original contract, but its usefulness as a radio transmitter gained it a longer lease on life. By the end of the twentieth century the idea of dismantling the tower was unthinkable.

4. The Panama Canal

The 51-mile long cut across the Isthmus of Panama was a dream for many decades prior to the French beginning its construction in 1881. During the building of America’s Transcontinental Railroad, equipment for use in the Sierras was shipped from the east coast of the United States to Panama, transferred across the Isthmus, and then shipped to California. Engineers for years studied the building of a canal before the French attempted to complete one, but the engineering difficulties combined with the climate and politics to thwart their efforts after more than two decades. The United States stepped in where the French failed, and completed the canal in 1914, after another ten years of work.

The canal is actually two canals, connected on either end with an artificial lake, Lake Gatun, located 85 feet above sea level. Locks on the two canals raise or lower ships to or from the level of the lake, allowing them to traverse from Atlantic to Pacific, or vice versa. The canal allows ships to transfer from one ocean to the other in just under twelve hours. It was the engineering decision to abandon the sea level canal design favored by the French and instead create Lake Gatun through the building of Gatun Dam (then the largest dam in the world) and install locks to raise and lower ships which allowed the Americans to succeed in completing the dam, which changed shipping lanes and inter-ocean traffic forever.

3. The Channel Tunnel

For centuries the British Isles remained unconnected to the European continent, a situation which many Britons favored as critical to their national security. Numerous proposals for a tunnel beneath the channel were put forth, but opposition within England and France prevented any serious efforts. Attempts to build tunnels for automobile traffic were started and stopped in the mid-to-late 20th century. Finally, in the late 1980s, after the usual political and professional maneuvering among governments, businesses, and financiers, work on the tunnels for high speed rail trains got underway, already bearing the nickname by which it is best known today, the Chunnel.

The tunnel was built from both sides, using massive tunnel boring machines – TBMS – to approach each other. The machines bore through what is mostly chalk, though the varying geology of the French shore created some difficulties. Both the French and English used the removed spoil for land reclamation projects. The tunnels were lined with both cast iron and reinforced concrete. When completed, the tunnel provided electrical power to the trains running through it via overhead lines. The tunnel opened in 1994, and today allows for a trip from London to Paris in just over two hours. The tunnel also allows for freight traffic delivering goods manufactured throughout Europe to be imported to Britain, and British goods to find markets on the continent.

2. Burj Khalifa

The world’s tallest structure as of 2019, Burj Khalifa is a mixed use skyscraper in Dubai, which was completed in 2009. The building was designed by the same Chicago firm which designed the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in that city, and uses the same engineering principle of bundled tubes at its core to support the building’s weight. The tubular design allowed for substantially less steel to be used in construction, with most of the building being reinforced concrete. Its spire alone, which is mostly decorative, would qualify it as the 11th tallest structure in Europe were it erected on the continent.

The building has an outdoor swimming pool located on the 76th floor, with another on the 43rd floor. A 300 room hotel is located within the building, as well as corporate offices and private apartments. For those of a hardy constitution, 2,909 steps connect the ground floor with the 160th. The observation deck is located on the 124th floor. The surrounding park, known as Burj Khalifa Park, is landscaped with desert plants which are kept hydrated using water collected by the building’s cooling system, which itself relies on the cooler air of the upper portion of the building to decrease the temperatures of the lower portion of the structure.

1. The Apollo Space Program

It remains one of the signature engineering achievements in the history of the human race. No other program has delivered human beings to an environment other than their home planet and returned them safely to earth. Americans not only walked on the surface of the moon, they drove on it, using a battery driven vehicle designed for the purpose, capable of carrying two astronauts and greatly increasing the area which the lunar explorers could cover. It was carried to the moon within the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and used for the final three moon missions in the early 1970s. In 2003, the National Academy of Engineers called the program the “…greatest engineering team effort in American history.”

The Apollo program led to significant advances in the development of integrated circuitry, contributed to the growing cause of environmentalism, and over 20% of the world’s population watched on television when astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first human footprints on the lunar surface. NASA claimed spin-offs from the space program in the areas of freeze-dried foods, emergency reflective blankets, hand-held portable vacuum cleaners, and more than 2,000 other areas. LASIK surgery is a direct descendant of the technology developed to dock with vehicles in space, first performed as part of the Gemini program, in which astronauts learned the techniques required of Apollo.


Engineering HOF –

WIF Into History

Unusual Buildings Around the World – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Strange/Great Buildings

From Around

the Globe

There is no doubt that art and architecture can depict the unusual. And when artistic licence meets the concrete world of construction, the results can be nothing short of mind-boggling. In this account, we take a tour in which we discover a horizontal skyscraper, a circular skyscraper, a robot building, a bizarre towering castle of wood, and the world’s largest bread basket, among other constructions that will expand your mind and even end up on your travel itineraries.

10. Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center (Shenzen, China)

When is a skyscraper a skyscraper in name and shape, but not in behavior and function? When it is a fairly typical looking skyscraper that has been painstakingly constructed to lie on its side! The building logically would look totally typical if you were to turn your head 90 degrees to the side when you examine it, for the building’s position is what makes it weird. Why? Because the structure is an eerie sideways skyscraper, built horizontally along the ground but in the form of a skyscraper. Strange and thought provoking. The brainchild of Steven Holl Architects, the Horizontal Skyscraper – Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China may look normal in shape, in sharp contrast to the oddity of its physical position

Standing on supporting pillars, the building is actually the length of the height of the Empire State Building, while its physical location is stretched along an immaculately landscaped garden with grass, woody plants and pools of water. The construction of the building extended from 2006 to 2009. While bizarre, the building has both ample glass and ample class. It serves its purposes including office and conference centre functions plus apartments and hotel suites, creating both a distinctive place to work and live while providing a modern and iconic place to visit. Considered a winner, the project was recognized with a 2010 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, showcased as an example of excellence.

9. The Wooden Skyscraper (Archangelsk, Russia)

A house of cards may not stand well, but a wooden skyscraper? If one is creative enough to think out of the box and crazy enough to construct a monster castle of boards, then one may well be on their way to scraping the heavens with a tower of mere timber. A work of a madman, a convict, and a potential mad genius, albeit one flouting building regulations in a concerning way, the Wooden Skyscraper of Archangelsk in Russia is a towering monstrosity that is best described as a monument to one man’s personal journey to Babel in the sometimes frozen North.

Known as Sutyagin House, the 144-foot building was begun in 1992 by underworld lord Nikolai Petrovich Sutyagin in defiance of both building regulations and architectural challenges. Impressive in stature, massive but clearly rickety upon close inspection, the giant building stood in the face of all imaginable building regulations before its reign of rebellion was brought to a close. Rising spire-like but resembling a skyscraper merged with a supervillain’s castle, the massive wood structure dominated the local region for years before deteriorating during his time in prison. After his release, city authorities finally succeeded in having the structure, which had been built based on inspiration from Japanese and Norwegian wooden structures and intended as a status symbol and as accommodation, to be demolished.

8. Robot Building (Bangkok, Thailand)

Technology and state of the art buildings often go hand in hand, but it is almost unheard of for a full size skyscraper to actually look like a robot. Technologically advanced buildings may boast their advancement with the right materials, shapes, and structural elements, but simply being constructed to look like artificially intelligent, non-living humanoids is a brave mechanical step in a radically novel direction. Built with an array of superficial features added on to a body, torso and head like structure, the high tech United Overseas Bank headquarters in the form of a robot building in Bangkok, Thailand forms a globally unprecedented and exceptionally striking project.

While looking just like a robot might seem laughable as a merging of architectural and technological oddity, the construction also constitutes a spectacular and unique example of creating a building with “robo-morphic” architecture. The idea was to reflect the high-tech nature of the bank through architecture and the work certainly did its job. The half window, half wall bump out eyes, antennae and ears combine nicely with the abdomen, torso and head to make a pretty cute, albeit huge and stationary robot headquarters. And where did Thai architect and genius Sumet Jumsai get his inspiration? He created the vision for the building based on the idea he developed by seeing his son’s toy robot after the Bank of Asia commissioned him to design them a new headquarters building.

7. Genex Tower (Belgrade, Serbia)

Eastern European architecture can gain the look of science fiction constructions, sometimes merging the modern and the castle-like in one building. Strange, awkward-looking in the eyes of some but also undeniably impressive in sheer size, the Genex Tower of Belgrade is an architectural monstrosity dating back to times of great conflict. Looking like a bizarre cross between the CN Tower and the Brandenburg Gate on steroids, the structure is extraordinary for its gate-like shape coupled with its narrowness and sheer height.

Built as the novel and daring planned creation of architect Mihajlo Mitrovic forms a massive arch built with two skyscrapers, the taller reaching a height of 377 feet, further distinguished with a huge yet remarkably incongruous revolving restaurant perched 459 feet above the ground. The restaurant’s circular shape is a prime example of the irregularity and incongruity of the different structural components of the tower’s form and strange spatial layout. The connecting section of the building that creates the arch shape consists of a two story bridge walkway extending between the unified towers. Walking between the two towers is a startling experience, with nothing below for hundreds of feet as you boldly walk the relatively short distance bridging the giant towers.

6. Burj Khalifa (Dubai)

Acclaimed as the tallest building on the planet, the Burj Khalifa is remarkable not only for its sheer size and height at 2,716.5 feet and more than 160 stories. The building holds a multitude of world records, including tallest building in the world, highest occupied floor, most stories of any building globally, highest outdoor observation deck, tallest service elevator, and tallest free-standing structure. (Oh, and there was also that time Tom Cruise climbed up the side.) Constructed of the gigantic building was started in 2004, while the exterior of the building reached completion in 2009 prior to the opening of the structure in 2010.

Built in part to increase tourism revenue, the construction was supported by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in a bid to create an extraordinarily striking creation that would garner a significantly greater global recognition of Dubai. Containing hundreds of apartment and hotel suites, the building also boasts swimming pools and elevators that include equipment that can reach speeds of 33-feet-per-second. Constructed primarily from reinforced concrete with significant quantities of steel structural elements, the tower has both a stepped appearance and narrow spires that reflect Islamic architectural styles characteristic of Dubai.

5. Goldin Finance Tower (Tianjin, China)

Remarkable for its incredibly ordinariness and simplicity in shape coupled with impossible height and slenderness, the Goldin Finance Tower of Tianjin, China reaches an astonishing height of 1,957 feet but is essentially cube shaped and remarkably spindly. Almost a third of a mile high, the building has been likened to a huge walking stick due to its spindly appearance and supertall design as it nears completion. With 117 stories contained within its vertical rise, the Tianjin central business district landmark is deceptively ordinary in its almost stereotypical skyscraper shape. However, the sheer height of the building combined with its relatively narrow and square base shape in fact accentuates the dramatic appearance of the building, giving it the incredibly striking appearance of a giant square stick.

Unlike more bulbous or spire adorned tall buildings, the Goldin Finance Tower is at its heart a functional building that devotes the bulk of its construction to practical usage thanks to its continuous square shape that rises to great heights without being reduced to narrow spires and vanity constructions. With four prominent corner reinforcements rising vertically, the building contains finely designed, rectangle-shaped window patterns that add to the meticulous and functional look of the building’s construction. Inside, the construction includes sky lobbies and the world’s highest swimming pool, adding more distinctive elements to the already dramatic looking tower.

4. AlDar Headquarters (Abu Dhabi)

Built in Abu Dhabi, the bizarre AlDar Headquarters might shock first time visitors or lead to a false UFO crash report. Why? Because the enormous but beautiful structure is in fact the world’s first circular skyscraper. Towering at 360 feet tall, the building represents unity, stability and rationality as well as infinity and was completed in 2010. The structure resembles a gigantic plate that has been stuck into the desert ground, widened slightly and then packed with office space. The two sides of the building are interspersed with a continuous edge of windows that resembles a band that has been used to join two halves, but further increases the sideways landed UFO appearance of the structure.

Reinforcing beams crisscross the outsides of the building, creating the appearance of a myriad of diamond shape structures on the sides. On a smaller scale, within each diamond like face section, multitudes of diamond like lines define the shapes of multiple window panels grouped together. The result is the convex outer shape the building, which resembles two plates put together in form. While many buildings have been constructed with rounded foundation, the creation of a towering circle that is actually placed to stand upon its side like a UFO or a giant wheel is in fact unprecedented in architectural achievements.

3. Dancing House (Prague, Czech Republic)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is remarkable, but its lean was certainly not intended and apart from the lean, its architecture is normal. Conversely, the Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic was purposely built in such a manner that it may look at first glance to be in a state of collapse. Started in 1994 and finished in 1996, the structure consists of two leaning figures that represent dancers Fred Astair, depicted by the concrete tower, and Ginger Rogers, intended to be represented by the leaning glass tower that stands on concrete legs. The combination of the two indeed looks just like a man and a women in the moment of embrace while enjoying a graceful and intimate dance.

The result of architectural collaboration between American architect Frank Gehry and Croatian architect Vlado Milunic, who recruited Gehry to work with him in fulfilling the request of Dutch company Nationale Nederlanden to build an iconic headquarters building. The building where the Ginger Rogers structure stands had been destroyed during WWII by Allied bombing, while the structure that represents Astair, which survived largely intact, was the home since childhood of Václav Havel, who later served as Czech president and commissioned a study of the site by Milunic after Milunic shared his vision.

2. Longaberger Headquarters Basket Building (Newark, Ohio)

Is it bigger than a breadbasket? Well, this turn of phrase may be less useful as a generalization of measure when the breadbasket in question is not just over a foot long, but is an entire office building. Not a full skyscraper, but a building so remarkable in scale for what it represents and as a subject, we have to take our hats off to the Longaberger Company Headquarters building in Ohio. Why? Because the entire building is not only constructed as a gigantic bread basket but it actually looks like one, built to include even a textured exterior design that replicates the look of a woven basket.

The building is fully realistic, complete with metal handles weighing nearly 150 tons that are specially heated to keep them in good condition. The 7-story building was able to accommodate 500 employees, with a intricate and remarkable authentic macroscale weaving design. The spaces in between the replicated weaves formed the windows of the remarkably distinctive building. After facing financial challenges, the company, which specializes in baskets, pottery, and other home décor relocated to a “normal” building in 2016, to the disappointment of some and the satisfaction of others who expressed a preference for working in a more practical building.

1. Fake Hills (Beihai, China)

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The hills may be said to have eyes in horror films, but in Beihai, China, those hills that you see may definitely be filled with human eyes as people go about their business in a bizarre but awesome building complex that has been fashioned in the form of a hilly skyline. The Fake Hills represent a very bold expression of the urban planning concept of harmonizing building form and character with the surrounding environment. Extending lengthwise and paralleling the beach except for one unit at right angles, the fake hills form a silhouette of foothill like appearance that are accompanied by lush gardens interspersed with lower individual buildings in between the structures and the beach.

The main structure is unified and narrow, with a curving outline but having a straight across edge that is intended to contain numerous amenities and access points, allowing people to walk along the width of the laterally compressed hills as they undulate up and down. In December 2016, Beijing based MAD completed the first phase of the project as the fake hills get up and running toward being able to accommodate a rich diversity of uses. The towering hills are intended to reflect the hilly coastal scenery of the southern Chinese port city in which they stand, adding depth and character in a dramatic manifestation of economic development efforts compared to the more mundane form of standard apartments.


Unusual Buildings Around the World –

WIF 10 Cent Travel