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Across history, mankind has consistently challenged the limitations of what engineering can achieve. All over the globe, the structures in our list below highlight the strength in great design and innovative construction.
The Aqueduct of Segovia
The Aqueduct of Segovia is a Roman aqueduct in the Spanish city of Segovia and is one of the best-preserved examples of Roman aqueduct engineering in the world. It is so revered that it features on the city’s coat of arms, having provided water to its citizens up until the mid-19th century.
Dating as far back as the 1st century AD, the aqueduct once transported water from the Rio Frio river, situated in a mountain range 17 km from Segovia. To reach the old city, the water was conveyed by the aqueduct bridge which is comprised of 24,000 granite blocks and is made (quite incredibly) without the use of mortar. At its tallest, in the Plaza de Diaz Sanz, the aqueduct measures in at 28.5 metres, providing the city square with a visually stunning piece of architecture.
The Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge in New York is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the United States. The hybrid cable-stayed and suspension bridge connects the boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn, stretching across the East River. It has a main span of 1,595 ft. and was the first steel-wire suspension bridge constructed in the world.
The bridge features two towers built, of limestone, granite and Rosendale cement and the engineering to put them in place was outstanding for its time. Two floating caissons made of yellow pine were placed in the East River whilst the stone towers were built on top of them until they sank to the bottom of the riverbed. These are the foundations on which the Brooklyn Bridge stands today.
The Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is an artificial 48-mile waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. This feat of civil engineering allows ships to pass between North and South America and shortens the trip via natural channels by a staggering 9,000 miles making it one of the most important constructions to international maritime trade.
More than 15,000 ships cross the canal each year using the lock system which lifts the ships from one ocean, release them into Gatun Lake (which sits 26m above sea level) and lowers them into the other ocean on the other side.
Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge
The Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge is the world’s longest bridge with an impressive length of 102.4 miles. Unlike most other bridges it is built on a viaduct design using spans to cross over valleys, canals, rivers and lakes. This mammoth construction, which loosely parallels the route of the Yangtze River, only took four years to construct and connects the cities of Shanghai and Nanjing in the Jiangsu Province of China. The railway that the bridge connects matches up to its impressive engineering connecting 818 miles across China.
Akashi Kaikyō Bridge
The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge is a suspension bridge which links the city of Kobe on the Japanese mainland of Honshu to Iwaya on Awaji Island. It has the longest span of any suspension bridge ever built with a measurement of 1,991 metres.
Before this impressive construction was made, ferries would carry passengers across the Akashi Strait which the bridge now crosses. This dangerous and busy waterway is often victim to severe storms and has taken lives on several occasions. Following public outrage, the Japanese government set plans in place for the Honshū–Shikoku Bridge Project, which created three routes across the island. The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge is the largest and most impressive of these civil engineering projects.
The Falkirk Wheel
The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in central Scotland part of the country’s regeneration plan to reconnect unused waterways. It brings the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal back together after over 80 years of the two bodies of water being separated.
The engineering marvel of this structure relies not on its size or grandeur (like others on this list) but on its unique and modern design. Instead of following the traditional lock-system structure, the architects designed a wheel with cradle compartments at its top and bottom. These cradles lift the canal boats from the water, rotate them along a central axis and lower them down into the canal on the other side. At its highest point, the boats are raised 24 metres above the water level below. The unique engineering and design of The Falkirk Wheel mean that it is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world.
El Castillo (also known as The Temple of Kukulcan) is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid at the heart of Chichen Itza, in Mexico. The pyramid is constructed by a number of square terraces laid on top of one another, with staircases leading up to the top of the temple on each of its four sides. The structure is 24m high, and the temple at its pinnacle is an additional 6m tall. El Castillo is not on this list for architectural innovation or size but for the incredible spectacle that it creates around the spring and Autumn equinoxes.
The pre-Columbian Maya civilisation that built this temple has a close connection to a serpent deity called Kukulkan, and due to the incredible foresight of its designers, homage is paid to their god every spring and autumn equinox. In the late afternoon, the light strikes off the northwest corner of the pyramid and casts a series of zig-zagging shadows against the structure’s balustrade which creates the illusion of a serpent crawling down the pyramid!
This list goes some way to prove that mankind has continuously experimented with design and construction to build some of the world’s most impressive structures. Some provided practical solutions to travel issues, another provided a whole city with centuries of water, but all of them prove that the limitations of civil engineering are constantly being stretched.
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