The 5 Largest Engineering Projects In The History of The World

Written by on October 31, 2012 in Technology - No comments | Print this page


Engineering is an ancient science. The invention of the wheel was a feat of engineering genius, and so was the construction of the Egyptian pyramids. The scope of engineering projects has gotten larger and more complex over the course of centuries, however, as advances in applied mathematics and physics make new solutions possible.

Today’s engineering projects can be vast in scope, whether they aim to provide transportation options for millions of urban dwellers, or they seek to replace dirty forms of energy productions, like burning coal, with cleaner, hydroelectric solutions.

Described below are five of the largest engineering projects in the history of the world. These five projects share not only size, scope and enormous price tags, but also the fact that they transformed, or have the potential to transform, the lives of millions of people around the globe.

The Panama Canal

When it first opened in 1914, the Panama Canal was widely hailed as the eighth wonder of the world. It still deserves that epithet today. The waterway would have been a noteworthy earth-moving project under any circumstances, but it was particularly remarkable given the nature of the Panama Isthmus, a mosquito-infested jungle that first had to be cleared and then excavated.

The 48-mile channel connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans took ten years and $375 million to build (roughly the equivalent of $8.6 billion in today’s currency.) The Canal is constructed as a series of locks and spillways whose water levels can be raised and lowered as needed to facilitate ships’ passages through them.

Three Gorges Dam

The largest hydroelectric project in the history of engineering is the Three Gorges Dam spanning the Yangtze River in China’s Hubei province. At 410 miles long and well over half a mile wide, the Three Gorges Dam has 32 power generators with the potential to produce 85 billion kilowatts of energy annually.

Until the Three Gorges Dam became fully operational in July 2012, coal supplied 70 percent of China’s energy needs. Economists project that hydroelectric power generated by the Dam will reduce coal consumption by 31 million tons every year. In addition, the Dam will play an important role in controlling the damage and loss of life associated with the Yangtze River’s periodic floods.

The Big Dig (Boston)

Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel Project, known to Beantown residents as “the Big Dig,” cost $14 billion to complete, making it the most expensive public works project ever undertaken in the United States. The project was designed to enlarge Boston’s existing expressways, rerouting the city’s central thoroughfare, Interstate 93, through a subterranean tunnel.

Since highways couldn’t be shut down during the project, building the new roadway was a logistical challenge of enormous magnitude. Excavation and construction had to take place without impacting existing highways, underground train lines and gas, electric, water and phone lines. Construction began in 1991 and finished in 2007, nine years behind schedule. The ongoing construction posed great inconveniences for Boston residents. Since the project has been completed, though, Boston has seen a 12 percent reduction in carbon monoxide levels, and has 45 new public parks.

The Chunnel

In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers created a list of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. Rounding out the list was the Channel Tunnel, nicknamed the “Chunnel,” connecting Britain with France.

At 31.4 miles, the Chunnel is the longest, continuous undersea tunnel in the world. It took six years to complete, at a cost of approximately $21 billion.

The Chunnel carries high-speed Eurostar passenger trains and international freight trains through three tunnels. Two of the tunnels are designed for train use while the third is a designated maintenance and emergency escape route. The Chunnel deploys 300 miles of cold water pipes, to offset the heat generated by the high-speed trains that use its tunnels.

The International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS), a manned satellite orbiting at an altitude of 214 miles above the Earth, is the single most expensive object ever built. The space agencies of the United States, Japan, Russia, Canada and the European Union collaborated upon the project. NASA contributions alone to the ISS totaled more than $100. Additionally, numerous corporations in 16 nations — nearly 100,000 individuals in all — had some role in either designing, constructing or lunching the satellite.

The ISS defrays some of the costs of its construction and ongoing maintenance by catering to private space tourists, each of whom spends $20 million for the opportunity to experience weightlessness in outer space.

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This is a guest post.  Tony Garrett is a structural engineer and guest author at, a site with guides to top-ranked online engineering degree programs.


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