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The 10 greatest engineering feats of last 15 years

Collection of record breakers demonstrate advances in engineering

Competitors take part in the 'Viaduc' race, on the Millau viaduct, the world's tallest bridge (ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images).
Competitors take part in the 'Viaduc' race, on the Millau viaduct, the world's tallest bridge (ERIC CABANIS/AFP/Getty Images).
Peri formwork in action during construction of the viaduct.
Peri formwork in action during construction of the viaduct.
The world's tallest building by a massive margin.
The world's tallest building by a massive margin.
A tourist walks in front of the controversial Three Gorges Dam (Andrew Wong/Getty Images).
A tourist walks in front of the controversial Three Gorges Dam (Andrew Wong/Getty Images).
Workers make final preparations to pipes, as they enter the sea from the pipelay vessel Acergy Piper, to form part of the 1200km Langeled pipeline.
Workers make final preparations to pipes, as they enter the sea from the pipelay vessel Acergy Piper, to form part of the 1200km Langeled pipeline.
A train leaves the Tibetan capital Lhasa on its way to Beijing along the world's highest railway line (PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images).
A train leaves the Tibetan capital Lhasa on its way to Beijing along the world's highest railway line (PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images).
The Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, was the world's tallest building, before the Burj Khalifa. (Marc Gerritsen/Getty Images).
The Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, was the world's tallest building, before the Burj Khalifa. (Marc Gerritsen/Getty Images).
The construction site of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge (China Photos/Getty Images).
The construction site of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge (China Photos/Getty Images).
Ramps leading to and from the I-93 south section of Boston?s 'Big Dig' (John Mottern/Getty Images).
Ramps leading to and from the I-93 south section of Boston?s 'Big Dig' (John Mottern/Getty Images).
Gas trains at Ras Laffan.
Gas trains at Ras Laffan.
A view of the world's largest superconducting solenoid magnet, part of the Large Hadron Collider (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images).
A view of the world's largest superconducting solenoid magnet, part of the Large Hadron Collider (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images).

Here at CW we like cool engineering. To help celebrate the achievements of the wider construction world, we’ve assembled a list of the projects we think constitute the greatest engineering achievements of the last 15 years.

You might not agree with all the entries, or their ranking, but the ingenuity behind each of these projects is undeniable. Each one also represents a massive leap of faith in the power of engineering to overcome the challenges of the natural world and to extend the boundaries of achievement.

Notably three of the entries are from China, which has led the world in unbridled engineering ambition over the last ten years. Each one of the Chinese projects seems determined to defy the limitations of its natural surroundings, as indeed do many of the others.

1. Millau viaduct
2. Burj Khalifa
3. Three gorges dam
4. Langeled pipeline
5. Qingzang Tibet railway
6. Taipei 101
7. Hangzhou bay bridge
8. Big Dig aka the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T)
9. Ras Laffan gas trains
10. Large hadron collider


1. Millau viaduct

Taking our top spot is quite frankly the world’s most beautiful bridge structure. The Millau Viaduct was designed by Foster + Partners and completed in December 2004, after a three year construction period. Located in southwest France, the viaduct is comprised of eight sections, with lengths of 2x204m and 6x342m, and spans the River Tarn valley. A total of seven reinforced concrete pylons of heights between 78 and 245m support the 32m-wide steel superstructure, with its hollow box girders and the steel pylons carrying the stay cables. Structural engineering was done by EEG Simecsol and Greisch, with Eiffage Construction acting as the main contractor, and Peri providing the formwork.

Check out: Top 7 bridge projects in the GCC

Next: Burj Khalifa

2. Burj Khalifa

The world’s tallest building was an easy pick for this list. The engineering challenges of doing something for the first time, while busting through all previous height records by a massive margin, are part of the reason this structure has caught so much attention. Designed and engineered by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, (the company responsible for the equally cool, but considerably shorter Infinity Tower) the project officially opened in January 2010.

Check out: How the Burj was built

Next: Three Gorges dam

3. Three Gorges dam

China’s unbridled engineering ambition is brilliantly illustrated by the insane scale of the Three Gorges dam. The body of the dam was completed in 2006. The project attracted a mass of criticism for its impact on the environment and local inhabitants. More than a million peoplewere displaced by the dam’s reservoir, which is so large that some scientists expressed concerns about its seismic impact. However, it also controls flooding, which has devastated the river valley in the past.

Check out: 10 biggest infrastructure contracts in KSA

Next: Langeled pipeline

4. Langeled pipeline

Claiming the title of world’s longest under water gas pipeline, Langeled was developed to pipe Norway’s natural gas to a power hungry British market. It runs 1166km and can pump a maximum of 25.5 billion m3 of gas a year. The pipeline was opened in two stages, the first in October 2006, the second a year later.

Check out: Top 10 Kuwait projects

Next: Qingzang Tibet railway

5. Qingzang Tibet railway

Building the world’s highest altitude railway on permafrost was never going to be easy, but once again Chinese engineers thought they’d give it a go anyway. The track runs form the city of Golmud in China, to Lhasa in Tibet, crossing some tough landscape along the way. The highest point is the Tanggula pass, at just over 5000m. Top of the engineering challenges was the paradoxical melting permafrost. The solution was to elevate the tracks a little, to keep the cool air circulating, and mounted the tracks on columns driven deep enough to hit stable earth. The line also lays claim to having the highest rail tunnel in the world with the 1338m-long Fenghuoshan tunnel at 4905m above sea level.

Check out: 6 of the best: projects to keep an eye on

Next: Taipei 101

6. Taipei 101

Okay, it’s not the world’s tallest building, but it still has some clever engineering to help it deal with Taiwan’s significant earthquake activity and typhoon season. Engineered by Thorton Tomasetti, the building is designed to cope with wind speeds up to 216kph and the strongest earthquakes expected to occur in cycles over literally thousands of years. As part of the strengthening measures required, the building contains a giant steel pendulum, which acts as a tuned mass damper. The strength of the foundations was put to the test when an earthquake struck during construction, toppling cranes from the incomplete structure, but leaving the core of the building undamaged.

Check out:

Next: Hangzhou bay bridge

7. Hangzhou Bay bridge

This structure was completed in 2007 and chopped 120km off the drive between Ningbo and Shanghai. The bridge was engineered to deal with the massive tides in the area, plus the seasonal storms that can rip through the area. The possibility of a ship colliding with the bridge also had to be accounted for in the design. The bridge has six express lanes in two directions and an orthotropic steel deck is used on its main spans and five ramp bridges, and was paved with 50 millimeters epoxy asphalt concrete.

Check out: Construction starts on world’s biggest sea bridge
and Top 7 bridge projects in the GCC

Next: Big Dig

8. Big Dig aka the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T)

Billed as the most expensive highway project in the US, the Big Dig is the colloquial name given to Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T). The project turned a highway through the centre of the city into a tunnel, plus added bridges and tunnels to the existing network. It was ambitious, to say the least, and had a rough road to completion. Accusations about corruption and fraud flew, people died in construction accidents and the bill came to a whopping US $22 billion.

Check out: Top 10 GCC road projects

Next: Ras Laffan LNG Trains

9. Ras Laffan LNG Trains

Qatar’s quest to be the world’s largest source of LNG has been boosted by the steady development of the gas trains in Ras Laffan. Train number seven, brought online in late February 2010, is the fourth 7.8 million tons per annum in the Ras Laffan 3 facility, which are the largest in the world.

Check out: 10 Qatari projects you should be involved in

Next: Large hadron collider

10. Large hadron collider

A little out of left field, this project scores 10 out of 10 on the Magnus Pike scale of mad science. In a 27km long circular tunnel, buried underground just outside Geneva, the large hadron collider was developed so protons moving at a fraction less than the speed of light could be smashed into each other. At a cost of more than three billion euros to build, plus another chunk of cash after early experiments broke it, the machine is not a small under taking. It was first fired up in September 2008.
 

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