Every day, construction workers from around the world are doing amazing things on their specific job sites. In our minds, the coolest projects are any project that a construction worker is proud to have built, one made with care and quality. There are other factors that we consider to be cool, as well, including those that break down barriers and allow other companies to realize something they previously thought may not have been possible are actually possible. Many of the projects we chose for this year’s list highlight workers acting as pioneers for a specific type of construction and allowing the construction industry to grow by trying new things.
French Castle Being Built Only Using 13th Century Construction Techniques
The Guedelon Castle, located in Burgundy, France, has been under construction since 1997 and it’s still not expected to be complete until 2020. Even though the construction process is spread out over nearly 25 years, it’s an incredible feat to complete this project completely from scratch, with a team of on-site quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenters, blacksmiths, tile masons, and rope makers. That’s right, they even have to make their own tile and ropes; there aren’t any Home Depots available on this job. In total, the project employs 70 craftsmen, 40 of whom work on-site. Not all of those tradesmen came with years of experience, as many had to hone their skills in the field. In to the 70 the project employs, around 600 people spend time throughout the year learning the tricks of the trade.
In order to determine how the castles were actually built centuries ago, a team of archaeologists and historians examined illustrations on medieval manuscripts, financial records, and other 13th century castles that are still standing. Not only has this project been an extremely interesting experiment for today’s people to see with their own eyes how these structures were built, but it also helps researchers fill in the blanks on ancient construction methods.
When Michel Guyot, who owns and restores Saint-Fergeau Castle, originally thought of building this authentic 13th castle, many laughed at him, but he soon found a partner in Maryline Martin. The team worked for months planning and fundraising to make the project a reality. One year after construction started, in 1998, the site was opened to the public, so that visitors could see the amazing process. In 2015 alone, 300,000 people visited Geudelon Castle and the project is now completely funded by tourism.
This is an absolute must see if you ever happen to visit France.
The National Museum of African American History & Culture
Decades in the making, The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) officially opened its doors to the public on September 24, 2016. Contained inside are over 36,000 artifacts that document and promote the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history and is “the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture,” according to the museum’s website. Designed by the team of Freelon Adjaye Bond/Smithgroup, the 322,600 square feet building was built by a combination of Clark Construction Group, Smoot Construction and H.J. Russell and Company. After roughly 4 years of construction, the building is finally complete and open to the public, standing tall in the heart of the National Mall in Washington D.C.
The World’s Highest and Longest Glass Bridge
If you’re afraid of heights, you might have a new worst enemy. Tucked away in the beautiful Avatar mountains, where the movie of the same name was filmed, stands the newest and current record holder for the world’s tallest and highest glass bridge, boasting incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
Spanning a length of 1410 feet (430 meters) and standing 984 feet (300 meters) off the ground, the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge is not only the highest and longest glass bridge, but also the 11th highest of any bridge throughout the world. China, by the way, is the apparent king of high bridges, they currently claim 12 of the 15 highest bridges in the world, with the other three spots held by Papa New Guinea, Mexico, and the United States (4, 5, and 14, respectively).
When the bridge opened in August, many people were understandably scared to walk on a glass bridge that high in the air, especially after a different glass walkway that stands 3,500 feet high, also in China, cracked just a year previously, after a sharp object was dropped on it. To help ease the worries of their visitors, volunteers were encouraged to smash the glass panels with a sledgehammer to prove its strength.
The Renovation of the 1930’s House of the Future
At the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago, 16 homes were constructed for display to promote new building products and materials to the fair-goers. Only 7 have survived since the fair ended and 5 of them have been transported to Beverly Shores, Indiana by barge, in an attempt to preserve them. Perhaps the most famous of the 5 homes that are owned by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is the House of Tomorrow.
The House of Tomorrow which debuted almost 30 years before the famous cartoon, The Jetsons, featured many of the features that we have come to expect in homes today and some that have yet to come to fruition. Among the features of the house were General Electric’s first-ever dishwasher, an “iceless” refrigerator, central air conditioning, and push button garage door opener. Those are definitely not features real estate agents would be excited to tell their clients about today, but in the 1930’s, they were pipe dreams. One of the features that has not become a standard just yet is the attached airplane hangar, which the architect, George Keck, envisioned would be a household staple in the future.
The building structure itself was also extremely forward thinking. According to Indiana Landmarks, the House of Tomorrow was one of the first ever residential buildings to use a glass curtain wall structure and also one of the first to incorporate passive solar energy techniques.
After the futuristic house was transported to Beverly Shores, Indiana, its condition has slowly deteriorated and is in need of major repair. The building was recently named a National Treasure, the first in the state of Indiana, which Indiana Landmarks says will help in fundraising efforts. Representatives of Indiana Landmarks hope that enough money will be raised to begin the restoration in the spring of 2017.
The restoration will be completed by the National Trust’s H.O.P.E crew, which is an incredible organization that trains and teaches young people in the art of preservation techniques. H.O.P.E., which stands for “Hands On Preservation Experience,” employs preservation experts to train crewmembers on tasks, such as repointing, carpentry, and window restoration. It’s a fantastic looking organization, which will give kids tangible skills to take with them to their adulthood, while also exposing them to the construction industry. 27,000 kids participate on the crew, annually, providing 13.5 million hours of service.
You can help the House of Tomorrow restoration effort by donating to the cause here or, if you’d like more information about getting involved with the H.O.P.E. crew, click here.
Habitat for Humanity’s Eco Village
Since the summer of 2012, the St. Croix Valley Eco Village, one of Habitat for Humanity’s signature projects, officially began. Over the next 4 years, the 5 acre plot, located in River Falls, Wisconsin, was transformed from a greyfield to an 18 home residential community. Greyfield sites are defined as “economically obsolescent, outdated, failing, moribund or underused real estate assets or land,” which mostly describe abandoned retail centers in the US and Canada. The homes on the development were designed with many environmental goals in mind:
- Reduce water consumption by 50% the use of rain water harvesting
- Achieve net-zero and carbon negative energy usage, by using passive house techniques, as well as rooftop solar panels and high performance windows.
- Diverting 90% of construction waste from landfills and locally sourcing 25% of all materials
- Resistant to storms and tornados
- Achieve LEED for Homes Platinum and LEED-ND Gold or better
Dubai’s New Tallest Building
Dubai has held the record for world’s tallest building since the opening of the Burj Khalifa in 2010. The gigantic tower, which houses office, residential, retail, and hotel space spread over 163 floors stands 2,717 feet (828m) in the air. It was an impressive feat, once in which Dubai and the United Arab Emirates pride themselves on, but in a few short years, its crown will be passed to a new record holder.
The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour, which will surpass the famed Burj Khalifa, has officially broken ground and is expected to be completed ahead of Expo 2020 Dubai. Details on record breaking buildings are usually kept pretty hush-hush until the last minute, to deter any other buildings in design from eclipsing them, but initial reports are expecting the new building to be 3,045 feet (928m) tall, over 300 feet taller than its counterpart. Although it may be significantly taller than the Burj, The Tower will mostly perform as an observation tower for Dubai, offering 360 degree views of the state of the art city. It’s also unknown how long it will keep the record, with the Jeddah Tower currently already under construction in Saudi Arabia, which is expected to peak at 3,281 feet (1000m). The Jeddah, which started construction in 2011, was originally supposed to open in 2019, but has since run into delays.
The Tower will be the anchor of Dubai Creek Harbour, which is a 2.3 square mile (6km) development, which will highlight some of the most advanced artificial intelligence.
The World’s Largest Airport
The Instanbul Yeni Havalimani, as the new airport is called, began construction in May of 2015. When the final phase of construction is completed around 2028, it will claim the title as the world’s largest airport. Currently, based upon passenger capacity per year, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is the world’s largest, handling over 101 million passengers last year. Istanbul’s’ initial construction phase, which is estimated to be completed in early 2018, will allow 90 million passengers to fly per year, By 2028, officials estimate that the airport will be able to handle 150 million per year, with an expandable capacity of up to 200 million. The project specs are extremely impressive:
- 18,903.53 acre (7650 Hectares) site
- 818,057,191.67 square feet (76,000,000m²) project area
- 37,673,686.46 square feet (3,500,000m²) construction area
- 13,993,083.54 square feet (1,300,000m²) main terminal
- 35,314,666.7 cubic feet (1,000,000m³) of concrete in terminal building
- 198,416 tons (180,000 metric tons) of ferrous reinforcement in terminal building
- 30,000 employees during construction
Of the 58 cranes that Liebherr supplied, which is the single largest order in Liebherr’s history, there were three different varieties:
World’s Tallest Modular Building
461 Dean Street, being heralded as the world’s tallest modular building, is a 363-unit residential tower located directly adjacent to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Designed by SHoP Architects, the tower design was expected to reduce construction costs by 20% and trim 10 months off of the proposed 30 month schedule, according to City Limits. Each modular section, of which there were 930, were built at a new factory at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and shipped to the site in a 10 foot high by 15 foot wide by 30 foot long chassis. The groundbreaking ceremony took place in December of 2012 and the building was scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as smoothly as everyone was hoping. According to reports, the building was plagued with issues, including “significant water damage.” The issues not only lead to long delays, but also a change of contractor after disputes. This specific project was added to our list, because, even though there were many challenges, the designers, developers, and contractors still completed a project that had never been done before and the industry will be much better off because of it. Lessons learned from this project can only make future modular construction easier in the future.
Full Scale Replica of the Titanic
One of the most famous ships in history, the Titanic, is getting re-born in the form of a full size replica, which will serve as a tourist attraction for residents and visitors of China. The original ship, which hit an iceberg in 1912, causing it to sink, was the subject of the record breaking film, also named the Titanic, in 1997. According to NPR, a replica about 90% of the size of the original was built for the movie, but later sunk after filming was completed.
Before construction started on this soon-to-be tourist attraction, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer was attempting to build a full-scale replica in order to travel and complete the route the original Titanic was attempting to. That project has since been delayed, allowing the China based construction company Wuchang Shipbuilding Industry Group the chance to complete the first full sized remake. The company hopes to get as close to the original design as possible, even down to the materials. NPR reports that the group does not intend to build every room in the ship, but there will be several interior rooms that visitors will be able to tour.
The new ship is already under construction and is expected to be complete by the end of 2017. The 882 feet (269m) long by 92 feet (28m) wide ship has a budget of $145 million, but already appears to be over budget. Among the interior rooms to receive replicas will be the ballroom, a theater, a pool, and some first-class cabins. This version of the ship has no plans to set sail, however, and it will remain in its permanent location.
The video below, by New China TV, shows some of the work that has already taken place.
Giant Inflatable Tunnel
There’s no doubt that road work can be a huge inconvenience to drivers, but many times businesses in the route of the work can suffer more, even causing some to have to close permanently. While many projects around the country have been navigating towards pre-fabricated and modular construction to reduce the time workers actually spend on site, a project in Canada will be opting for the giant inflatable tunnel method.
Designed by KANVA, an architecture firm in Montreal, the 46 feet (14m) wide and 36 feet (11m) high tunnel will serve to protect pedestrian traffic from the construction and the nearby buildings from dust and debris. The city’s main goal is to allow customers to get to the local business along Ste. Catherine St. in Montreal as safely and easily as possible, during construction, which begins in January 2018. The city is also ready to schedule entertainment within the $3.8 million tunnel to attract more visitors. While work beneath the road is taking place, the tunnel will be covering the construction work, but when the sidewalks are being worked on, the pedestrians will walk underneath the tunnel. No vehicles will be allowed on the road until the work is complete.
It’s definitely an unconventional idea, but it will be interesting to see how the construction workers like working under the roof and if it will actually improve business on the street.
The New York Wheel
The world’s first Ferris Wheel was designed and built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, IL in 1893 by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. Since then, the wheels have been a staple of many state fairs across the United States and many other places throughout the World. Much like tall buildings, the past few years has shown us that having the tallest Ferris Wheel is a strong source of pride for a city or country. The current record holder for tallest Ferris Wheel is the High Roller in Las Vegas, Nevada, topping out at 550ft and opened in March of 2014. The record won’t last much longer as there are two Ferris Wheels currently under construction that will be taller: the Dubai Eye and the New York Wheel. The Dubai Eye, which is getting very close to completion, is planned to reach a staggering 850 feet tall (260 meters) and the New York Wheel is expected to peak at 630 feet tall (192m). The original wheel designed by Ferris Jr. topped out at 264 ft (80.4m).
Though the New York Wheel may not be the tallest in the World once it’s complete thanks to the massive Dubai Eye, it will still hold the United States record until the next competitor shows up. At 630 feet, it will surely give tourists and New Yorkers some excellent views of the iconic city. It also gives all of us construction nerds a chance to get a detailed look inside the construction process. In the video below, by silive.com, you’ll be able to see one of the two continuous placements of more than 4,000 cubic yards of concrete across roughly 420 trucks, as carried out by Skanska. Each placement took nearly 13 hours to complete and began at 3am. In addition to the concrete, the foundation has over 900 tons of steel reinforcement bars carefully placed throughout. According to Skanska's blog, 96 drilled shafts, each 67 inches in diameter and 110 feet deep, served as the foundation for the pile caps, which are forty feet wide, eleven feet deep, and around 300 feet long.
That gigantic foundation will be expected to withstand the weight of two legs, which each weigh 110 tons on top of the weight of the wheel and the 1,440 person capacity. Gilbane Building Company is acting as Construction Manager of the project, which is expected to be completed in 2017.
Record breaking or not, this an impressive attraction. Enjoy the video below:
Panama Canal Expansion
The Panama Canal has been undergoing a 5.5 billion dollar expansion project since March of 2011 and has finally officially opened, as of Sunday, June 26, 2016. The mega project included a new, third set of locks, which lift passing ships up and down the differing elevations of the Canal; a new Pacific access channel, which required the excavation of roughly 65 million cubic yards (50 million cubic meters); a navigation channel improvement; and improvements to the water supply.
The 5 year long project was a major employer throughout the project, as well, totaling over 40 thousand cumulative jobs, 39,333 of which were contractors and subcontractors. As of January of 2016, over 5.2 million yards of concrete have been poured (4 million cubic meters).
From the beginning to the end of the project, EarthCam shot 4k video footage and has recently released a timelapse video of the entire process, with over 142 different webcam angles. It’s pretty extraordinary to watch crews build the massive and complex system in such a short period of time.
3D Printed Office
Back in June of 2015, Dubai announced their plans to design and build the World’s first fully functional 3D printed office building. On May 23, 2016, that office building has officially opened, as announced by the Government of Dubai. The building was a part of Dubai’s 3d Printing Strategy, which they hope will propel the country to World leader status in that arena.
The 2,700 sf (250 square meter) office was made of a special concrete and other building materials that were designed and made in both Dubai and the US. The arches of the building were utilized to make sure the building was structurally sound. The designers made sure to incorporate key components of typical buildings in their design, as well, including electricity water, data and telephone, and A/C.
So, although it took almost exactly a year for the building to open, the building didn’t take nearly that much time to be completed. According to Dubai leaders, it took just 17 days to print the building and 2 additional days to assemble the parts in the field. Designers utilized a massive 20 feet high by 120 feet long by 40 feet wide 3D-printer, with an automated robotic arm.
Total labor for the project included 1 person to monitor the printer, 7 people to install the building components, and 10 electricians and other specialists to complete the mechanicals and electrical work. All in all, Dubai estimates that the total labor was reduced by over 50% versus a typical office building of similar size.
In the video below, shared by exitlabs, you can see some renderings of how the building components were printed and some actual footage from the installation on-site.