Megastructures

Continuing on Five this week is the gripping documentary series that explores huge engineering projects from all over the world. This instalment investigates the construction of the Bahrain World Trade Centre, the first skyscraper in the world to be powered by wind turbines incorporated into the building’s design.

The astounding Bahrain World Trade Centre, or BWTC, is the brainchild of South African architect Shaun Killa, who has won fame for skyscrapers throughout the Middle East. A keen sailor with a passion for sustainable design, Killa hit upon the idea for a huge sail-like structure that would draw its energy from integrated wind turbines.

Bahrain’s capital, Al-Manamah, sits on the Persian gulf. Each day, hot air rises, creating an area of low pressure that leads to strong winds. The daily cycle means that Al-Manamah has consistently high on-shore winds around 60 per cent of the time. Killa realised this was the perfect location for a skyscraper powered by wind turbines. “In November 2003, when I first came to Bahrain, there was a tremendous wind blowing,” he says. “My first impression was that I should be sailing.”

Though most turbines stand on vertical poles, Killa’s vision for his audacious construction was to incorporate three huge turbines, each 95 feet in diameter, within the building. These would spin on horizontal bridges, stacked on top of each other between two towers. The sail-like shape of the 50- storey towers would be designed to maximise the movement of the sea breeze through the turbines.

However, Killa needed to find engineers who could construct the turbines. “All the turbine manufacturers we were consulting said it couldn’t be done,” Keeler admits. Eventually two Danish engineers, Lars Tørrild Thorbek and Ole Sangill, responded to Keeler’s pleas and agreed to research whether the wind turbines would produce enough energy to justify the cost of the building.

Thorbek and Sangill set up a scale model of the building in a wind tunnel and used sensors to measure the wind speed between the two towers. The study yielded encouraging results, suggesting that the wind between the towers accelerated by 20 per cent. Thorbek and Sangill also concluded that even winds coming at the building from a 45- degree angle could still turn the blades. They estimated that the turbines could provide 15 per cent of the building’s energy needs.

Killa faced another challenge, however, when it came to building the blades for the turbines. With market forces biased towards higher blade volume and size, the Bahrain tower attracted little interest – the order was too small for many manufacturers to make a profit. However, Killa and the team made a breakthrough when they investigated a pre-existing blade design. They determined an older model would survive the conditions in the Bahrain tower, but they needed to enhance the safety features of the blades.

The engineers also discovered that the marriage of the turbines to the bridges could create a nightmare scenario – resonance. If the vibrations of the bridges and the turbines were ever the same, they could amplify each other and eventually cause the bridges to collapse. To avoid this, the team decided to make the bridges more rigid, so the vibrations would always be faster than those of the turbines.

Finally, two and a half years after construction began, the tower reached its apex. The bridges were lifted into place at the dizzying height of 133 metres. Sangill and Thorbek flew in from Denmark. With a schedule of just seven days to position the turbines and attach them to the generators, any delay could be costly. But raising aerodynamic blades between two towers designed to generate wind provided the construction team with one final challenge…

Thursday 15th October 8.00pm

Concluding this week is the documentary series that explores how disasters throughout the world have influenced the evolution of modern structural engineering. This instalment examines how a series of catastrophic events involving skyscrapers highlighted a number of threats to the buildings’ integrity and forced architects to incorporate new safety features into their designs for the superstructures of the future.

The titans of city architecture for over a century, skyscrapers dominate urban landscapes throughout the world. No other building design so readily accommodates the voracious need for space in urban centres, but there can be a high price for this solution to overcrowded city life. Within such high and crowded structures, the consequences of engineering errors can be catastrophic.

Structural engineers have identified four main threats to skyscraper integrity: structural collapse, earthquake, fire and blast. Architects strive to combat these threats using strategic planning, radical design and pioneering technology. In Moscow, the engineers working on the 365-metre Federation Tower believe their new skyscraper will be one of the strongest and safest buildings in the world, setting new standards and avoiding the pitfalls of the past. “We tried to do something never done before,” says project director Ara Aramanian.

In May 1968, the 23-storey tower block Ronan Point in East London fell victim to sudden and profound structural collapse. Four people died in the incident, while a further 17 were injured. “It fell like a house of cards,” recalls eyewitness Ray Hollands. The subsequent investigation highlighted a flaw in the building design and some poor construction standards. The tower was built using a large panel system, whereby precast concrete panels were arranged like giant building blocks. When one of these panels was blown out by a localised gas explosion, a whole corner of the building caved in on itself. This kind of failure is known as ‘progressive collapse’.

The first big tower built in London after the Ronan Point incident, the 183-metre Tower 42 completed in 1980, features a solution to progressive collapse called ‘alternative load paths’, in which strong and continuous connections throughout the building are linked by a robust central core –meaning the integrity of the structure is not dependant on any single section. “The beams and the columns here have continuity,” explains Dr John Roberts of the Institution of Structural Engineers. The Federation Tower in Moscow features three alternative-load systems: a central concrete core, a perimeter frame of concrete columns and concrete outriggers – reinforced beams that reach out from the central core to the perimeter. “It’s a kind of belt-and-braces approach,” says Dr Roberts.

The earthquake that killed 9,000 people in Mexico City in 1985 taught architects more about building design than any other quake in history. Among the 50,000 buildings destroyed, many were steel structures that failed because of weak welding. In Turkey, the 270-metre Diamond currently under construction features ‘full-penetration’ welding. Each steel beam is fixed to the adjoining column with 1,278 bolts, making the beams stronger at the joins than anywhere else. The new Torre Mayor skyscraper in Mexico City, now the tallest building in Latin America at 225 metres, features huge dampers designed to absorb the vibrations of an earthquake measuring up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.

To cope with the potential destruction caused by blast and fire, as exposed so fatally in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, architects at the Federation Tower use a special fireproof coating and specially designed superstrength concrete to support the steel throughout the structure. The thick glass units on the outside of the building are designed to absorb missile attacks, while a revolutionary twin elevator system housed within the reinforced concrete core allows for a swift evacuation, even when the tower is on fire. The Federation could now burn at 1,200C for four hours before it collapsed. “It’s an extremely fine-tuned job,” says Ara Aramanian.

Thursday 8th October 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the documentary series that explores how disasters throughout the world have influenced the evolution of modern engineering. This instalment examines how a series of high-speed rail crashes forced engineers to incorporate a number of safety features into their designs for the trains of the future.

High-speed trains are an essential part of modern travel, slashing journey times between cities and transporting passengers in comfort and style. But with the need for speed comes a greater necessity for safety. When fast trains crash, the results can be catastrophic. Collisions throughout history have exposed flaws in safety technology and rail infrastructure – flaws that the designers of new trains are striving to eradicate.For French engineer François Lacôte, the man behind the revolutionary new AGV train, learning from past mistakes is an essential part of designing for the future. “We take into account all the events, incidents and accidents so that our new ideas can benefit from this experience,” he says. “We are constantly learning.”

The world’s worst ever high-speed rail crash took place on 3 June 1998 in Eschede, Germany. With 287 passengers on board, ICE train 884 was travelling at 200km/h from Hanover to Hamburg when it derailed and hit a road bridge. The impact caused the bridge to collapse on top of the crumpled carriages, trapping hundreds of passengers inside. The accident killed 101 people.

Investigators discovered that a wheel failure caused the Eschede crash. To reduce vibration, ICE trains used rubber-cushioned wheels in favour of solid ‘monoblock’ wheels. The steel frame of one of these wheels fractured and caught on a set of points, forcing the carriages off the rails. Since 1998, all points on the German network have been moved away from bridges, while rubber-cushioned wheels have been replaced with monoblocks.

Designers working on the AGV have taken structural steps to ensure that the aluminium shell and the steel under-frame remain intact in the event of a crash, while the undercarriages – known as bogies – are located between the cars to prevent jackknifing. The AGV bogies also feature their own motors, eliminating the need for locomotives at either end. “The motors are distributed along the train, giving us a low centre of gravity,” says Lacôte.

On 27 June 1988, a runaway train careered into Paris’s Gare de Lyon station and ploughed into a stationary train. Eyewitness Dominique Pavy missed the incident by seconds, having left the stationary train just seconds before impact. “I saw things for which I have no words to explain,” she recalls. The cause of the crash, which claimed 59 lives, was the failure of the air braking system. The control centre then locked down the system using a ‘general closure procedure’, little realising that this overrode an automatic safety feature that would have directed the runaway train into an empty platform.

To avoid the failure of air breaks, Lacôte has done away with them altogether in the AGV. Instead, he employs a system called ‘dynamic braking’, whereby the magnetic field powering the motors is reversed. In the AGV, the energy created by this braking system is then turned into electricity and sold back to the national grid. “We actually make money every time we brake this train!” says Lacôte. To prevent the carriages collapsing as they did in Gare de Lyon, the nose of the AGV features a revolutionary threephased shock absorber designed by Thierry Yonnet.

To keep up with developments in train technology, it is essential that the rail infrastructure is also modernised. European engineers are now working on a fully automated train control system, which will put an end to train signals and eliminate a major cause of delays and accidents in the past. Using a satellite radio communication system, information from the control centre can be transferred directly into a train’s on-board computer, such that drivers may no longer be necessary. “Once [the system] is introduced throughout Europe, it will be the end of an era,” says railway expert Christian Wolmar. “Essentially trains will be controlled from outside rather than in the cab.”

Thursday 24th September 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the documentary series that explores how disasters have influenced the evolution of modern structural engineering. This instalment examines how a series of tragic events at sports stadiums forced architects to incorporate a number of safety features into their designs for the arenas of the future.

Sport stadiums are amongst the most iconic, eyecatching structures of the modern world. Symbols of local and national pride, they play host to huge crowds on a weekly basis. No other structure holds so many people in such close proximity and in such an emotionally charged atmosphere – so when the structures fail, the effects can be catastrophic. Over the past century, more than 1,600 people have died at stadiums across the world. To prevent disasters happening in the stadiums of the future, engineers have had to learn what went wrong in the past.

For the designers of today’s stadiums, like the Nou Mestalla being built in Valencia, Spain, there are three main dangers to be addressed: fire, structural collapse and crowd control. On 11 May 1985, 56 people were killed when a fire ripped through a wooden stand at Valley Parade football stadium, home to Bradford City. Paul Firth, a fan who saw the tragedy unfold, recalls how quickly the fire spread: “From that first flame to the entire stand being on fire, top to bottom, took four minutes.”

Since the Bradford City disaster, all materials used in stadium construction must be flame retardant. The Nou Mestalla is built from fireproof reinforced concrete and clad in steel treated with hi-tech intumescent paint. The roof is made of a lightweight plastic called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) that vaporises when burnt, starving the fire below of oxygen. Alongside the fire-safety features, the Nou Mestalla boasts an evacuation system that allows a capacity-crowd of 75,000 people to disperse in under eight minutes. Architect J Parrish has been involved with stadium design for over 30 years. “If ever any disaster happens, then we need to learn from it,” he says.

In 1900, Ibrox Park in Glasgow was the biggest purpose-built stadium in the world, with a capacity of 80,000. Two years after its completion, it played host to an international football match between Scotland and England. During the game, part of one of the terraces suddenly gave way, resulting in 26 deaths and more than 500 injuries. While engineers had accounted for the dead weight of the fans, they had not factored in the extra pressure caused by movement – known as live weight.

The stands of the Nou Mestalla can cope with 800kg of pressure per square metre. To prevent the cantilevered stands from vibrating, the structure is strengthened at key points identified by complex computer analysis. “We model how [the stadium] will react to people jumping up and down, and that gives us a more efficient design,” explains structural engineer David Castro. “It allows us to place stiffness where it is required.”

As a result of the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985, in which hooliganism among Liverpool and Juventus fans led to a crush that killed 39 people, fencing became an important factor in crowd control in football stadiums across the world. Perimeter fencing prevented fans from invading the pitch, while high wire fences kept supporters from opposing teams apart. However, this crude solution to a complex problem led directly to the worst stadium disaster in western European history.

During the FA Cup semi-final clash between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989, incoming Liverpool fans were herded into two central pens at one end of the stadium. To ease a bottleneck outside, police opened a gate usually reserved as an exit. The resultant surge of people flooding into the stadium caused a crush that killed 96 people. Immediately after the Hillsborough disaster, all perimeter fences in England were removed, and the big clubs began to replace terraces with all-seater stands. In modern stadiums, crowds are managed by hi-tech control rooms, from which supporters are monitored at all times. The flow of incoming fans is electronically controlled to avoid overcrowding, while any troublemakers can be identified and removed.

Thursday 10th September 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the documentary series that explores how disasters throughout the world have influenced the evolution of modern structural engineering. This instalment examines how a series of catastrophic events involving skyscrapers highlighted a number of threats to the buildings’ integrity and forced architects to incorporate new safety features into their designs for the superstructures of the future.

The titans of city architecture for over a century, skyscrapers dominate urban landscapes throughout the world. No other building design so readily accommodates the voracious need for space in urban centres, but there can be a high price for this solution to overcrowded city life. Within such high and crowded structures, the consequences of engineering errors can be catastrophic.

Structural engineers have identified four main threats to skyscraper integrity: structural collapse, earthquake, fire and blast. Architects strive to combat these threats using strategic planning, radical design and pioneering technology. In Moscow, the engineers working on the 365-metre Federation Tower believe their new skyscraper will be one of the strongest and safest buildings in the world, setting new standards and avoiding the pitfalls of the past. “We tried to do something never done before,” says project director Ara Aramanian.

In May 1968, the 23-storey tower block Ronan Point in East London fell victim to sudden and profound structural collapse. Four people died in the incident, while a further 17 were injured. “It fell like a house of cards,” recalls eyewitness Ray Hollands. The subsequent investigation highlighted a flaw in the building design and some poor construction standards. The tower was built using a large panel system, whereby precast concrete panels were arranged like giant building blocks. When one of these panels was blown out by a localised gas explosion, a whole corner of the building caved in on itself. This kind of failure is known as ‘progressive collapse’.

The first big tower built in London after the Ronan Point incident, the 183-metre Tower 42 completed in 1980, features a solution to progressive collapse called ‘alternative load paths’, in which strong and continuous connections throughout the building are linked by a robust central core –meaning the integrity of the structure is not dependant on any single section. “The beams and the columns here have continuity,” explains Dr John Roberts of the Institution of Structural Engineers. The Federation Tower in Moscow features three alternative-load systems: a central concrete core, a perimeter frame of concrete columns and concrete outriggers – reinforced beams that reach out from the central core to the perimeter. “It’s a kind of belt-and-braces approach,” says Dr Roberts.

The earthquake that killed 9,000 people in Mexico City in 1985 taught architects more about building design than any other quake in history. Among the 50,000 buildings destroyed, many were steel structures that failed because of weak welding. In Turkey, the 270-metre Diamond currently under construction features ‘full-penetration’ welding. Each steel beam is fixed to the adjoining column with 1,278 bolts, making the beams stronger at the joins than anywhere else. The new Torre Mayor skyscraper in Mexico City, now the tallest building in Latin America at 225 metres, features huge dampers designed to absorb the vibrations of an earthquake measuring up to 8.5 on the Richter scale.

To cope with the potential destruction caused by blast and fire, as exposed so fatally in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, architects at the Federation Tower use a special fireproof coating and specially designed superstrength concrete to support the steel throughout the structure. The thick glass units on the outside of the building are designed to absorb missile attacks, while a revolutionary twin elevator system housed within the reinforced concrete core allows for a swift evacuation, even when the tower is on fire. The Federation could now burn at 1,200C for four hours before it collapsed. “It’s an extremely fine-tuned job,” says Ara Aramanian.

Wednesday 19th August 8.00pm

The gripping documentary series exploring huge engineering projects continues. This instalment follows the demolition of a 40-year-old rocket launch tower at Cape Canaveral. This tough, 90mhigh structure represents a massive logistical challenge for a family of demolition experts. Up to a third of the building’s entire weight must be stripped out before the tower can be imploded. Workers must brave high winds at great heights to ensure charges are planted correctly.

At Patrick Air Force Base in Cape Canaveral, a family-run demolition company faces its most difficult assignment yet. Controlled Demolitions, Inc (CDI), run by Mark Loizeaux, has been tasked with dismantling a 6,000-ton rocket launch tower known as MST 40. This relic of the space age launched 55 Titan rockets in the 1960s, before being converted into a giant rocket repair shop in the 1980s.

The tower was decommissioned in 2005 and now CDI has been asked to demolish it in just 31 days. To complicate matters, MST 40 must be imploded without damage to either the underground control bunker – dubbed the ‘batcave’ – or the four lightning towers that surround it. This means moving the tower to the far end of its runway. MST 40 is equipped with giant wheels, but these have seized up in the three years it has been in disuse. The first task is to cut the wheels free and push the tower to its new position with four heavy-duty excavators.

Once MST 40 is installed in its new location, CDI begins preparing the mammoth structure for demolition. The tower consists of multiple layers of interlocking steel – making it one of the toughest buildings CDI has ever destroyed. The team needs to remove one third of its entire weight to weaken the structure. This involves ripping out and cutting up huge parts of the building.

In the dry climate, the risk of sparks from the blowtorches starting a forest fire is high. Project manager Kevin Klass cannot help but worry over the dangers. “The 18mph wind takes those sparks out to the grass and now I’ve got a grass fire to contend with,” he muses.

As various parts of the building are ripped away, the tower becomes more prone to the high winds of the Cape. Workers arrive one morning to find the rocket launch has almost been blown off the end of the runway. The next problem concerns the guide wires of the two closest lightning towers, which fall within the blast zone. These cables must be taken out of the ground and pinned further away from MST 40.

Stress mounts as demolition day approaches. “Kevin, because he’s responsible for it, is maybe under more pressure,” says company boss Mark. “But he’s solid, he can handle it.” The floors of the tower are cut away, leaving the exposed girders of the structure at the mercy of the weather. “It’s all about the wind. We’re watching the weather now,” says Mark. An exhausted Kevin ruefully remarks that MST stands for ‘Miss Strong and Tough’.

“She’s getting meaner, that’s for sure,” he says. The final stage of the procedure sees Mark’s daughter, Stacey, arrive to plant the charges. “It’s a form of plastic explosive – it detonates at about 25,000ft per second,” she says. But Stacey is keen to stress that everything relies on the correct placing of the charges, not their force. “In every single project that we do, explosives are nothing more than a catalyst. Our number-one tool is gravity,” she says. At last, MST 40 is wired and ready to blow. But will she fall the correct way?

Thursday 3rd September 8.00pm

Continuing this week on Five is the documentary series that explores how disasters throughout the world have influenced the evolution of modern structural engineering. The second instalment examines how a series of major bridge disasters helped engineers discover vital clues about these complicated structures, and led to the development of ever more ambitious bridges.

On 2 August 2007, during a busy rush hour in the city of Minneapolis in the American midwest, the entire span of an interstate bridge broke into pieces and collapsed into the Mississippi River. Tragically, 13 people lost their lives in the ensuing carnage. The incident was caught live on CCTV, and the horrifying images sent shock waves around the world. The nation was sent into a state of panic. How could this appalling calamity have occurred?

his documentary examines major bridge disasters, including the Minneapolis collapse, and reveals how engineers are learning from past failures to build increasingly challenging bridges. The programme includes footage of the highest bridge in the world at Millau in the South of France, and the mammoth Stonecutters bridge currently under construction in Hong Kong harbour. There is also a look at a range of other engineering marvels, including the proposed Hong Kong–Macau link, which will be a staggering 50km long.

With intimate access to the inner workings of these super-structures, ‘Megastructures: Built from Disaster’ reveals how engineers are fighting the elements and building new bridges using techniques learned from tough lessons of the past. Testimony from survivors of these shocking catastrophes emphasises the vital nature of the engineers’ work. Can they prevent a disaster such as the Minneapolis collapse from happening again?

Continuing on Five this week is the gripping documentary series that explores huge engineering projects from all over the world. This instalment sees a family of demolition experts attempt to bring down one of the USA’s oldest luxury resorts – the Sheraton Bal Harbour hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.

In the busy tourist spot of Miami Beach in Florida, one historic hotel is due for demolition. Once host to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and even John F Kennedy, the 50-year-old Sheraton Bal Harbour now stands empty. In order to make way for a new, multibillion-dollar complex of luxury apartments, the 17-storey hotel and its 12-storey car park must be flattened. To get the job done, the land owners have hired the best in the business – a family-run company from Maryland called Controlled Demolition, Inc (CDI).

CDI has taken down resorts all over the world, but this project offers a unique challenge. The Sheraton is surrounded on all sides by people and property. To the north and south are huge apartment blocks, to the west a busy road and a shopping mall and to the east, a pristine beach. In order to avoid damage to other buildings, the hotel must be brought down into predetermined fall zones. For explosives expert Stacey Loizeaux and the rest of her family, this will be the second demolition in quick succession. “I’ll be very happy when these buildings are on the ground,” says Stacey. “Two shots in one week is a lot of work!”

With just ten days to complete the project, demolition designer and company president Mark Loizeaux must work fast. However, after an initial inspection, he spots a big problem. Designed to protect the building against hurricanes, a huge steel wall known as an I-beam spans the sixth floor of the hotel. “This is bad,” says Mark. “I can’t do anything with this.” The presence of the I-beam means that Mark’s plan to topple the hotel will not work, since the flexible steel could withstand the blast and pull the falling concrete onto a neighbouring building.

Another problem surfaces during an examination of the car park. Buildings like this normally use large concrete pillars reinforced on each side by steel rods known as rebar. However, the rebar in these pillars seems to be irregular, meaning the explosive charges must be very carefully set in each column. “I hate this rebar configuration,” says Mark. In order to find a solution to the problem, Mark organises a test blast on two of the columns and examines the results to determine how much dynamite he will need for the demolition.

Meanwhile, Mark’s brother Doug deals with the I-beam. To cut through the tough steel he intends to use a number of ‘shaped charges’ – explosive charges shaped to focus the effect of the blast in one direction. The weight of the beam will then help pull the building into the fall zone. “The real key is timing,” says Doug. “We’re using the construction to control the fall of the building.” As insurance, the team threads huge tensile cables throughout the building to drag the back wall forwards during demolition.

Once the hotel and car park have been prepared, Stacey and Devon arrive on scene to load 230kg of explosives. However, one of the Sheraton’s neighbours files a last-minute complaint about the proposed demolition, meaning the city council cannot issue a permit. Relying on the notion that the permit will come through in time, Mark instructs his daughters to lay the charges as planned.

In the event, Mark’s permit comes through with just 24 hours to spare. With all the charges laid, the site secured and the police on hand to block the roads in the surrounding area, the countdown can finally begin. “We’re loaded, we’re wired, we’re ready to go,” says Mark. But with so much at stake, will the demolition go as smoothly as planned?

Continuing tonight on Five is the documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the most incredible structures and machines in the world. Tonight’s episode looks at the engineering behind Freedom of the Seas – the largest passenger ship ever built.

When the colossal RMS Queen Mary II (QM2) superliner was completed in 2003, she was by far the longest, tallest and broadest ship of her kind ever built. But just three years later, the QM2’s crown was taken. Measuring a quarter of a mile in length and standing at a height of 18 storeys, Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas is the largest passenger ship in the world and a wonder of modern maritime science.

This week’s Megastructures reveals the technological secrets behind the creation of Freedom of the Seas. The story begins in Finland’s state-of-the-art Kvaerner Masa-Yards shipyard, where the world’s leading engineering minds first came up with the idea for such a leviathan. While the ship contains some of the cruise industry’s most amazing recreational features – including an onboard surf park, cantilevered whirlpools that extend 12 feet beyond the sides of the ship, a rockclimbing wall, a basketball court and an ice-skating rink – she also possesses imaginative onboard programming and cutting-edge technology.

Below deck, the engine room is packed full of technology, including a cutting-edge navigational system that guides the ship and its precious cargo through extreme weather and violent oceanic conditions. The power is provided by six V12 diesel engines that put out 75,600 kW – or over 100,000 horsepower – providing a top speed of 21.6 knots.

With Freedom of the Seas, the cruiseliner industry has reached a critical size – anything longer, taller or with a greater draught may not actually be possible. According to engineers, only an increase in the ship’s breadth would be physically feasible – and this only with major new scientific and technical breakthroughs. As it stands, the ship weighs in at some 160,000 tonnes and can carry up to 5,000 people, meaning that flotation is a delicate balancing act.

Freedom of the Seas is yet another major milestone in Royal Caribbean’s history of innovation. As this superliner comes to life, Megastructures provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at one of the most sophisticated marvels of modern naval engineering.

megastructures
building the world (3/3)
20.00–21.00

Concluding tonight on Five the series that lifts the lid on some of the most incredible structures and machines ever created. Tonight’s instalment looks at the construction of a group of islands in Dubai in the shape of the world map. Large enough to be seen from space, these artificial land masses represent an extraordinary engineering challenge, as construction teams race to meet an incredibly tight deadline.

The kingdom of Dubai is fast transforming itself into the luxury tourist capital of the world, with construction projects as diverse as the world’s tallest hotel, and artificial islands in the shape of palm trees. Now this tiny desert state is the location of the most audacious reclaimed land project to date. From the depths of the Arabian Gulf, 300 new islands are appearing above the waves to form the outline of the world map, which will eventually be home to hundreds of luxury hotels, villas and facilities. This programme tells the story behind this remarkable feat of engineering.

In 2001, the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, had a visionary idea to put his kingdom on the world map by recreating that same map in a man-made archipelago. The artificial land masses forming The World would lie two miles off the coast of Dubai. This colossal project – measuring over five miles in length and four miles in width – would need a breakwater 16 miles long to protect it from the waves. In addition to these huge engineering demands, the Sheikh imposed an unbelievable deadline of 2008 to complete The World.

Megastructures reveals how marine engineers developed a groundbreaking design for the breakwater, and how they have overcome the obstacles of building it so far from mainland Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed’s exacting standards constantly push the teams outside their comfort zone. The breakwater will not only be the longest in the world, but it will also be constructed entirely of natural materials. With steel and concrete banned, the designers have to make the structure from rock and sand. Moreover, the breakwater is only allowed to rise a meter above the waves so that it does not ruin the view.

The World demands a staggering 30 million tonnes of rock and 320 million cubic meters of sand. Tonight’s documentary explores how engineers tackle the daunting task of blasting such enormous quantities out of the quarries, and how dredgers scour the Gulf for sand. Ironically, despite being surrounded by desert, the local sand is unsuitable for island building, and only sand from the ocean will hold up against the pummelling of the waves. The supply of materials must operate without glitches or the Sheikh’s deadline will be forfeited.

As the islands take shape, the construction teams turn to the problem of water stagnation. The World cannot become a top destination with fetid channels of water and dead fish coursing between the land masses, so environmental scientists must use all of their ingenuity to avert an environmental catastrophe. They manage to eliminate the stagnant water by creating an opening in the breakwater, allowing fresh currents to flush the system.

With the islands nearly complete, the project has only just reached the half-way mark. But an even bigger challenge awaits the engineers – they must turn the World into a habitable environment for 250,000 people. They will need villas and hotels, fresh water, sewage treatment, electricity, transport, and marinas with a capacity for thousands of yachts. They must also find buyers willing to invest in a project that requires a serious leap of faith. There are billions of dollars at stake but, if the project succeeds, huge dividends will be the reward – along with a luxury tourist destination the likes of which the world has never seen.

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