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Updated by GOAT Series Staff on Apr 17, 2018
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Greatest Engineering Feat of All Time

What is the greatest engineering feat of all time?
1

The International Space Station

The International Space Station
For ages, man dreamed of venturing into the stars and exploring the night sky. In the 20th century, this dream was realized with both the lunar landings and the establishment of an indefinite space station, launched with the assistance of multiple countries around the world. The International Space Station, first deployed in 1998, was fraught with financial concerns and uncertainties over its operation and cyclical crew design, but critics quickly realized the inherent value of the project. It was the culmination of decades of aeronautics engineering and space studies, and gave the world a renewed dose of confidence in researchers’ abilities to both innovate and expand the current space program. Countless experiments and observations have been sent back from the scientists aboard the ISS, and due to the public’s growing interest in space-related exploration and studies, the station is sure to become even more valuable in the years to come.

Location: In low orbit | Date of Completion: November 20, 1998 | Primary Challenge: Maintaining a livable space for astronauts in an ongoing research setting, including psychological and medical support.

Defining Innovation: Placing a long-term and habitable station into the Earth's orbit, enabling research to be carried out indefinitely. | Function: Offer a habitat for international astronauts to make observations and monitor real-time space data. | Materials: nickel hydride, plastics, aluminium, titanium, steel, carbon fiber | Fun Fact: In connecting its electrical systems alone, the ISS utilizes eight miles of wiring.
2

The Large Hadron Collidor

The Large Hadron Collidor
If you’ve never heard of the Small Hadron Collider, there’s probably a reason for it. Yes, one reason is because it doesn’t exist, but another is because it’s dwarfed by its far more impressive counterpart. The Large Hadron Collider was a project funded by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Currently based in a facility near Geneva, this particle collider has been responsible for some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern science, including the search for the Higgs-Boson Particle. CERN devoted a lot of its time to ensuring the safety of the facility, as well as designing it to be the perfect “race-track” for particles, which would lead to more observable reactions upon impact. With so much energy contained in one facility, the potential for a loss in coolant or catastrophic failure was high, and the facility sustained some damage during its early operation. Despite these setbacks, however, the collider has been able to stay running and perform experiments ever since.

Location: Near Geneva, Switzerland | Date of Completion: September 10, 2008 | Primary Challenge: Designing an efficient manner of conserving energy while powering the facility's superconducting magnets and beam technology.

Defining Innovation: Expanding on particle collider design to make the world's largest facility in its class. | Function: Running practical tests involving particle physics and collision. | Materials: steel, concrete, magnets, aluminum, plastics, titanium, lead | Fun Fact: Particles accelerators, much like those found in the Large Hadron Collider, are used to set the paint on soda cans.
3

The Colosseum

The Colosseum
Anybody who grew up with sword-and-sandal films knows about the thrills of The Colosseum, including its famous gladiatorial sparring. But for the Ancient Romans, the Colosseum was an invitation to some of the best live entertainment around, and it included far more than fights between armed men. The Colosseum’s design, which incorporated complex acoustics and a seating arrangement that hosted enormous numbers of onlookers, was only possible because of revolutionary techniques using materials such as Roman concrete. The Colosseum played host to a number of games, including hunting events, but its most time-honored activity is certainly the gladiatorial games, which could be accompanied by any number of surprises due to the amphitheater’s slew of trapdoors and hidden entrances. In short, the Colosseum was more than a design – it was a shining example of the Roman spirit and its dedication to mechanical excellence.

Location: Rome, Italy | Date of Completion: 80 A.D. | Primary Challenge: Utilizing the relatively new processes of concrete laying and vaulted arch placement to ensure structural stability.

Defining Innovation: Enabling almost 50,000 spectators to watch the gladiatorial games, which meets the capacity of many modern sports stadiums. | Function: Host all manners of combat, historical re-enactments, play performances, and other public spectacles for Roman citizens. | Materials: stone, tiles, bricks, limestone, mortar, lime, cement | Fun Fact: According to ancient sources, the Colosseum was capable of being flooded and used in mock sea-battles.
4

Palm Jumeirah

Palm Jumeirah
Up until a few years ago, taking an island vacation usually meant heading somewhere in the Pacific. The latest and greatest trend in island vacationing nowadays, however, is found in the United Arab Emirates, where the artificial archipelago of Palm Jumeirah makes its home. Although Jumeirah was the first of two intended Palm archipelagos, construction on its sister islands has not yet been completed. Jumeirah’s numerous design challenges included creating a base that would not wither under constant water flow, giving the islands enough sand to remain in place and support construction work, and crafting an enormous shield made of rocks to prevent wave surges. When all was said and done (and after countless tons of sand deliveries), Jumeirah was considered stable enough to be accented with a slew of hotels and resort facilities, and quickly established a name as a prime resort destination.

Location: Dubai, UAE | Date of Completion: April 30, 2009 | Primary Challenge: Creating an enveloping ring of breakwater stone to prevent waves from destroying a delicate rubble-and-sand foundation.

Defining Innovation: Forming one of the world's first large-scale and functional artificial archipelagos. | Function: Provide a luxury resort and vacation complex intended for the extremely wealthy, designed to hold a multitude of buildings and activities. | Materials: rock and sand | Fun Fact: Over 12,000 palm trees have been placed or grown on the island in its nursery habitats.
5

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China
Throughout history, almost every ancient faction has turned to the wall as a defensive strategy against outsiders. Rome’s attempt, Hadrian’s Wall, succeeded in covering a wide cut of land, but failed to provide enough height to dissuade attackers. The Chinese did not make the same mistake. The Great Wall began during the Qin Dynasty, which was also the first dynasty to truly unite China as a centralized entity. Using taxation and the concentrated efforts of thousands of laborers, the Qin leaders succeeded in making significant progress on the wall. It was later continued during the Han and Ming dynasties, though its construction was halted during the relatively modern Qing Dynasty. Despite the cessation of construction, The Great Wall of China held historical value as a protection against the Mongols and other groups, and to this day, it remains a powerful icon around the world.

Location: Throughout China | Date of Completion: N.D. (Construction discontinued by the Qing dynasty in the 17th century) | Primary Challenge: Safeguarding laborers against extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

Defining Innovation: Constructing a massive fortification spanning over 5,000 miles and mobilizing China's scattered labor force. | Function: Protection against invasion from raiders and armies on the Steppes, possibly taxation on Silk Road goods or border protection. | Materials: bricks, stones, rammed earth, lime, wood | Fun Fact: Contrary to popular belief, the Great Wall cannot be observed from space (or even, in most cases, from low orbit!).
6

Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa
The United Arab Emirates’ Burj Khalifa is currently the world’s tallest building, and it made sure to claim the honor with a dose of flair. Constructed in a terraced style and boasting everything from nightclubs to entire shopping malls, the Burj Khalifa is the apex of engineering and development in an architectural sense. Its glass façade is flawless and designed to evoke a mirror-like surface, and its rooms are focused around a theme of opulence and impeccable taste. Like its predecessor, Burj Al Arab, the Burj Khalifa needed to withstand a constant barrage of wind and inclement weather, and needed even more protection due to its added height (which comes out to a staggering 830 meters). With some of the world’s top architects, designers, and engineers in tow, the Burj Khalifa’s construction team set out to create one of the most lavish buildings in existence – and succeeded.

Location: Dubai, UAE | Date of Completion: January 4, 2010 | Primary Challenge: Developing high-pressure pumps capable of transporting and laying concrete at dizzying heights

Defining Innovation: Challenging vertical limits with the addition of sky lobbies and terraced architecture | Function: Serve as a high-end hotel with an attached mall, condominium complex, night clubs, restaurants, and park grounds | Materials: aluminum, stainless steel, concrete, glass, silicone | Fun Fact: The structure was popularized in the action film Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which featured a death-defying rappel down its glass windows.
7

Aqua Appia

Aqua Appia
Access to clean drinking water has often been a source of celebration and conflict in human history. For the Ancient Romans, procuring clean water was more than just a luxury – it was an essential ingredient to survival. As the population of Rome grew during the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C., the need for more food and water became extremely pressing, and threatened to slow down or halt the city’s development if not met. Roman civil engineers were quick to devise a solution, which involved carrying water from distant natural sources directly into the city. These systems, which would later be known as aqueducts, began with the Aqua Appia, the “prototype” of the project. The Aqua Appia carried water underground for much of its journey, but flowed above-ground for some of the later portions of its journey in stone tunnels. Despite constant leakage and the need for clockwork repairs, the Aqua Appia proved itself to be the defining step forward in Roman civil planning.

Location: Rome, Italy | Date of Completion: 312 B.C. | Primary Challenge: Properly fitting the stones of the conduit, which carried water from the source to its above-ground destination.

Defining Innovation: Using engineering principles to ferry water from one location to another without using buckets or other manual transfer methods. | Function: To deliver fresh water to Roman citizens with a centralized aqueduct system. | Materials: stone, lead, earth, wood, terra cotta | Fun Fact: The imprecise nature of this aqueduct's construction often necessitated frequent repairs and rebuilding, largely due to leakage.
8

The Duomo

The Duomo
Like many cathedrals from the Renaissance, the Florence Cathedral was able to achieve significant amounts of construction progress in its early years, but took hundreds of years to reach full completion. One of the men responsible for hastening the Florence Cathedral’s construction was an architect named Filippo Brunelleschi. Brunelleschi designed the duomo, or dome, to the cathedral, using a design of his own invention. He relied on lightweight bricks, stacked in a fish-bone pattern, as well as an octagonal design for his inner support structure. The end result to the project was a sleek and elegant look for the dome’s exterior, and a dome capable of supporting its own weight. Brunelleschi was rewarded handsomely for his efforts, and to this day, the average tourist in Florence can still marvel at the architect’s design.

Location: Florence, Italy | Date of Completion: 1469 | Primary Challenge: Overcoming the tremendous strain placed on a dome of that size and weight.

Defining Innovation: Pioneering an inventive system of octagonal ring support for a large and ambitious dome shape. | Function: Crowning the famous Florence Cathedral and solving previous architectural woes associated with dome collapses. | Materials: bricks, stone, mortar | Fun Fact: Although the dome was completed in 1469, the cathedral's façade was not officially finished until 1887.
9

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge
In the modern world, it’s easy to something like a bridge for granted. After all, in its simplest form, a bridge is simply a span that allows us to cross over water or chasms. The logistics behind designing a lasting and secure, bridge, however, are extremely complex, and often camouflaged in aesthetic design. This is especially true for San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, which has soaring suspension cable systems and delicate arches that hide the enormous amount of strain and mechanical tension placed on the bridge every day. This groundbreaking structure, which had its construction begin in the early 20th century as a solution to the San Francisco Bay’s impassable nature, soon grew into a symbol of American ingenuity and engineering prowess. A rash of on-site accidents claimed the lives of several workers, but diligent work protocol – including safety nets and attentive civil engineering – helped to prevent further injuries to the workmen as well as future drivers.

Location: San Francisco, California, USA | Date of Completion: April 19, 1937 | Primary Challenge: Designing a bridge capable of withstanding extreme wind speeds.

Defining Innovation: Capitalizing on a unique design based around suspension cable rigging and new metallurgy techniques. | Function: Allow traffic to pass directly over the mile-wide San Francisco Bay | Materials: galvanized steel, concrete, epoxy asphalt | Fun Fact: Out of concern for passing ships in the Bay, the Navy requested that the bridge be painted with eye-catching stripes.
10

The Pyramid of Khufu

The Pyramid of Khufu
While all of the pyramids at Giza may command respect and attention, one of them stands out among the rest. The Pyramid of Khufu, also known as the Great Pyramid of Giza, is the largest and most prestigious structure in the grouping. Khufu was a pharaoh during the fourth dynasty in Egypt, and his pyramid’s design was intended to reflect his status as a demigod. Using a special method of elevating bricks on slopes, the Egyptians constructed the pyramid using limestone blocks, and in its original form, the structure had straight, sloping sides. Due to the outer surface wearing away, the pyramids now seem to have a ziggurat-like appearance, but they still appear as grand and majestic as in their prime. Within the pyramid, the builders were able to incorporate chambers for the queen and various items, and tunnels both ascend and descend throughout the structure, offering access to a collection of sacred rooms. While Khufu may not have lived forever, his pyramid certainly may.

Location: El Giza, Egypt | Date of Completion: Between 2560 and 2540 B.C. | Primary Challenge: Lifting the large limestone blocks to the desired height using limited technology.

Defining Innovation: Organizing manpower and resource delivery systems to ensure a constant and productive work pace on the megastructure. | Function: Housing the entombed body of Pharoah Khufu. | Materials: limestone, pink granite, basalt, alabaster | Fun Fact: The Pyramid of Khufu is the only pyramid at Giza to have passages continuing upward and downward into the structure.
11

The Channel Tunnel

The Channel Tunnel
During World War II, one of the largest operations of the war took place in June of 1944, termed D-Day. Tasked with crossing the English Channel, planners spent months trying to resolve the weather, the course of approach, and the logistics of travel. Decades later, teams of engineers and architects had a similar situation on their hands, but approached it radically differently. Drilling under the English Channel itself, the builders formed a tunnel that would allow passengers and trams to move between England and France without ever turning to boats or planes. The Channel Tunnel, also known affectionately as the Chunnel, is one of very few large-scale tunneling projects to succeed without encountering significant issues, not including the ever-present anxiety about funding. Today, millions of travelers use the Channel Tunnel as convenient and decidedly unique way to travel abroad.

Location: Spanning from Kent, England to Pas-de-Calais, France | Date of Completion: May 6, 1994 | Primary Challenge: Working around the exorbitant costs associated with high-pressure drilling beneath the channel.

Defining Innovation: Developing a system of reliable and passenger-accessible transport beneath a major body of water. | Function: Permitting traffic and travel beneath the English Channel. | Materials: steel, concrete | Fun Fact: 85% of the passengers using the Channel Tunnel are British
12

The National Stadium

The National Stadium
The modern Chinese architectural world is an astounding thing, and has proved its efficiency multiple times in the past few years through quickly-built skyscrapers and widespread public works projects. Beijing’s crowning steel jewel, The National Stadium, reflects the meticulous work of China’s engineers and planners in every inch of its steel latticework appearance. Using a complex system of support and beam-weaving for an eye-catching aesthetic design, The National Stadium proved to be one of Beijing’s most memorable features during the 2008 Olympics, and even earned the name Bird’s Nest due to its exterior composition. During the building’s construction, its designers and builders faced a large amount of challenges from dwindling budget figures. In the end, however, the team was able to succeed in creating its vision of a unique and lasting monument to Chinese engineering.

Location: Beijing, China | Date of Completion: September, 2007 | Primary Challenge: Balancing a unique steel aesthetic with the stadium's intended functionality.

Defining Innovation: Employing massive amounts of steel to create the world's largest enclosed space. | Function: Hosting sports such as soccer or track running. | Materials: steel, concrete, aluminum | Fun Fact: Midway through the stadium's construction, its budget was cut from $500 million to $300 million.