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15 Amazing Civil Engineering Feats

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 10/25/2012

Ever since people transitioned from hunter gatherers to farming the quest to build bigger and better structures has been going on. From the ancient pyramids at Giza to the modern day International Space Station, these structures represent the pinnacle of human engineering achievement.

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    The Great Pyramid at Giza

    The Great Pyramid at Giza 

    As the only remaining representative of the original Seven Wonders of the World, any discussion of the greatest engineering feats of humanity without its mention would undermine any authority. This structure is at least 5000 years old, with some claiming it to be up to twice that. For more, check out "The Age of the Pyramids" here at Bright Hub Engineering. There are several theories on how it was constructed, but there is no actual proof to push any one theory to the forefront. No matter which theory is eventually accepted, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest engineering feats of the ancient world.

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    Great Wall of China

    Great Wall of China 

    The massive scale of the Great Wall of China merits its inclusion on this list of engineering marvels. At just over 5500 miles long it is the longest continuous construction in the entire world. Although claims were made that is the only man-made object that can be seen from space by the naked eye, this is not true. What astronauts thought was the Great Wall was actually a river.

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    Channel Tunnel in France

    Channel Tunnel in France 

    The "Chunnel" is a 31.4 mile underwater tunnel that connects France and England. It was first proposed back in 1802 but because the technology was too expensive it had to wait almost another 200 years. When it was completed, the Channel Tunnel had the longest underwater run of any tunnel in existence (over 23.5 miles). For more on the construction of the Euro Tunnel, see "Engineering the Euro Tunnel."

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    CN Tower

    CN Tower 

    The CN Tower in Toronto, Canada stands at a breathtaking 1,815.4 ft tall as is currently the tallest free standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. The American Society of Civil Engineers named it one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World. Interestingly enough, the tower was originally designed as a radio antenna without any plans for an observation deck. The main pod wasn't added to the design until much later. For more on this iconic structure, check out "The CN Tower - Enduring Engineering."

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    China's Bird's Nest

    China's Bird's Nest 

    The Bird's Nest (Beijing National Stadium) is one of the most recognized of all recent construction projects, as the crowning jewel of the Beijing Olympic Plaza it was beamed into millions of homes for fourteen straight days. The unique design was based on a study of Chinese ceramics and incorporates more structural steel than any other building on the planet (110,000 tons).

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    Delta Works (Netherlands)

    Delta Works (Netherlands) 

    Constructed in several different phases between 1950 and 2010, the Delta Works is a ongoing project that contains a compilation of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers that act to protect the coastline of the Netherlands by reducing the amount that is exposed to open seas. It is also on the list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World as composed by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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    Panama Canal

    Panama Canal 

    The Panama Canal has long been considered an engineering marvel. First proposed by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain the 48-mile long man-made canal links the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. When the canal was completed in 1914 it cut 14,000 miles off a trip around Cape Horn. Consisting of several man-made lakes and three locks, the canal is one of the busiest sea ports in the world. Take a full tour of the Panama Canal Transit in Pictures.

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    Golden Gate Bridge

    Golden Gate Bridge 

    The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most elegant structures in the world. Designed by famous Manhattan designer Leon Moisseiff, the 8,981 foot long suspension bridge takes advantage of the "deflection theory" which allows that a small, flexible suspended roadway can flex to compensate for high winds. See "Details of the Golden Gate Bridge" for more specifics. The bridge is the fastest route over San Francisco Bay (before its construction the only way across the bay was by ferry) and an integral part of U.S. Highway 1.

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    The Millau Viaduct

    The Millau Viaduct 

    If this isn't a breathtaking view, I'm not sure what is. The Millau Viaduct is the highest bridge in Europe, standing over 890 feet above the ground. It broke several records when it was erected including the highest pylons in the world (803 ft. 8 in.), highest bridge tower in the world (1,125 ft.), and the highest road bridge deck in Europe (890 ft.). Follow the entire construction process at "The Engineering Story of the Millau Viaduct."

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    The Ice Hotel

    The Ice Hotel 

    The ice hotel makes this list because it is rebuilt every year in a matter of months, the entire structure is made from ice, and the workers brave temperatures of up to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Now in its 22nd year, the hotel is located 200 km north of the Arctic Circle in Jukkasjärvi, Norway. It is just as much an art project as an engineering marvel and should rightfully find its place on this list as the only transient engineering marvel.

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    The International Space Station

    The International Space Station 

    The international space station is a collaborative engineering marvel. Constructed primarily at ground level facilities and launched into space on rockets or in shuttles, the space station is the only permanent structure to be assembled in space. The assembly logistics are mind boggling as each module had to be dry fitted on Earth so that astronauts in space suits could easily assemble them in the vacuum of space. This might possibly be the greatest achievement in human history to this point.

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    Petronas Towers

    Petronas Towers 

    The Petronas Towers are the tallest twin towers in the world. Located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the towers stand 1,242 feet tall and consist of 88 floors. The sky bridge located between the 41st and 42nd floors is the highest two-story bridge in the world. Most buildings of extreme height are built with steel skeletons but the cost to import steel into Malaysia made this impractical so the towers were built from concrete (making them twice as heavy and resulting in the need for a double sized base) making them the tallest concrete structures ever built. For more on the construction details see "The Petronas Twin Towers: Construction & How Tall Are They?"

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    Palm Tree Island

    Palm Tree Island 

    One of the most ambitious engineering goals of the past century was the construction and development of artificial islands off the coast of Dubai. The palm tree island was created by dredging over 1.1 billion cubic meters of sand and rock from the nearby ocean bottom to create the palm fronds and circular barrier islands. If this proves cost effective, Dubai may build another artificial archipelago, a scale model of the continents of the world. See, "Palm Islands, Dubia: Eight Wonder of the World" for more.

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    Burj-Al-Arab Hotel

    Burj-Al-Arab Hotel 

    Although not the tallest or most expensive hotel in the world, the Burj-Al-Arab Hotel in Dubai is an engineering marvel none-the-less. The sail shaped hotel was inspired by the curves of the Sydney Opera House and was meant to be an icon for the country. The interior of the hotel features a grand gallery that stretches up a breathtaking 590 feet. For more on this amazing hotel see "Building the Tallest Hotel."

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    Lake Mead and Hoover Dam

    Lake Mead and Hoover Dam 

    Lake Mead is the largest man-made resevior in the world. The construction of Hoover dam occurred between 1931 and 1936, the height of the American great depression. It was the crowning achievement of the era consisting of 2,480,000 cubic meters of concrete and holding back the flow of the mighty Colorado River. In addition to being both a hydroelectric power source and water reservoir, Lake Mead serves a third purpose as well- as a recreational lake. See "Five Interesting Facts about the Hoover Dam" for more information.

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    Oasis of the Seas

    Oasis of the Seas 

    Called a city on the ocean, the Oasis of the Seas is one of two Oasis Class vessels in the world. With a displacement of 100,000 tons it comes in at the same weight as a American Nimitz aircraft carrier. It can handle over 6,000 passages and cruises in the Caribbean from a launch point in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It features a "living" park onboard that contains over 12,000 plants and over 50 trees as well as an entire boardwalk including a mini golf course and hand crafted carousel. If you're interested what the fuel consumption of these ships is like- and why it may not matter as much as one might guess- you might want to also see "Cruise Ship Gas Mileage" here at Bright Hub Engineering.

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