Sometimes I’ll be sitting here browsing the Internet and watching people get really angry over some celebrity’s behavior or go righteous on others who don’t share their opinion – and then I’ll come across something amazing that’ll make me realize that what we have accomplished as a species is so frigging cool and in a way makes all of that other petty stuff okay if only because it puts it in perspective.
In this case it was a great article on the Falkirk Wheel, a 35-metre lift spanning the Forth and Clyde Canal in central Scotland and which can raise six boats 25 meters up to the Union Canal above it. The thing is a pretty significant engineering feat in itself, but that its design was based on a traditional two-headed axe makes it downright badass.
I went looking for other architectural marvels, skipping the really well-known pieces (the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, etc.) in favor of the more exotic. For instance the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center has a title nearly as complex as the geography of the building plan. Opened in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, the building was established to conduct research in the field of energy by King Abdullah. And that’s great, but not as neat as its design – which makes it look like the Millenium Falcon landed on Tatooine and crystallized as it aged.
(photo courtesy travellersbazaar.com)
Nearby in Dubai the Cayan Tower – though I’ll call it the Infinity Tower, which was its name before it was finished, and which is way better in my opinion – looks like a colossus pinched a high rise with its thumb and forefinger and twisted as it lifted. Designed by the same group that built the Burj Khalifa (below), the Infinity Tower is the world’s tallest high rise building with a twist of 90 degrees. I don’t even…
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest man-made structure in the world, and while I don’t really need to say any more than that I would like to express the chagrin of my fellow Canadians at having had that title taken from us. But in what a spectacular fashion to have had that done so. The skyscraper lives up to its classification, gloriously, its highest point stretching 2,722 feet into the heavens. I don’t think I’ll be alive to see this record bested, if ever it is, though the Burj itself was put up in a scant six years so who knows.
I’m going to take you underground now to the longest undersea tunnel in the world – the Channel Tunnel, though let’s call it the Chunnel because it’s cuter and that’s what everybody else calls it anyways. The Chunnel spans 50.5 kilometers beneath the English Channel running a rail line between Folkestone, Kent in the United Kingdom and Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais in northern France. At 250 feet it’s not as deep as the Seikan Tunnel in Japan, which itself sits 790 feet below sea level, but it was an idea with a deep history, having first appeared in the early 19th Century.
Across the world in China sits the Beijing National Aquatics Centre, or the Water Cube, whose design seems eerie and alien. Originally built for the 2008 summer Olympics, where inside over 25 swimming records were broken, the building’s bubbles were created by slicing through bubbles in soap foam, which resulted in more irregular, organic patterns than normal foam bubble structures. The building was renovated inside after the Olympics and today hosts a sweet water park.
Situated within the same city is the National Centre for the Performing Arts in China, better known as “The Giant Egg” for reasons that I think are apparent. The exterior of the theater is a titanium accented glass dome that is completely surrounded by a man-made lake, and said to look like an egg floating on water, or a water drop. What it actually looks like is the helmet of a futuristic giant warrior.
I couldn’t list the tallest building without including the tallest bridge, in this case the Millau Viaduct that spans the river Tarn in southern France. With a summit of 1,125 feet above the base of the structure, which is 62 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower, it’s been consistently ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time.
Probably the strangest-looking structure on this list, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain could have been spawned right out of one of Borges’ Labyrinths. The walls twist and curve to defy and baffle the imagination and all common sense, giving it a sense of awe and wonder that cements its regard as one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture.