4 Incredible Icons Of Impossible Engineering

From the world’s biggest observation wheel to the skyscraper that looks like an unfinished game of Jenga, there are some rather remarkable things to gawp at in the new series of Impossible Engineering…

Bluewaters Island

THE BIGGEST WHEEL ON EARTH

Dubai is a place that doesn't do half-measures. Renowned for its luxury malls and gleaming cityscape, it's a man-made oasis of excess which simmers and glimmers in the heat of the Middle East. One of the latest additions to this ever more elaborate metropolis is Bluewaters Island, a newly rebooted chunk of land bedecked with high-end stores, eateries and - most eye-catchingly - the world's biggest observation wheel.

This is the Ain Dubai, which looms over the horizon at a height of over 250 metres. To put it into perspective, the London Eye is a mere 135 metres tall. Some other facts illustrate the sheer scale of this brave new landmark: it contains considerably more steel than was used to make the Eiffel Tower, and the rim of the wheel alone weighs about the same as 16 Airbus A380 jets. It's probably just as well the wheel is so vast, since Dubai is also home to the world's tallest building - the steely needle that is the Burj Khalifa, itself a quintessential example of impossible engineering.

THE FLOATING RAILWAY

Washington State Route 520, which connects Seattle to Redmond (home of Microsoft), is no ordinary highway. Part of it runs along the world's longest floating bridge, Evergreen Point, which spans Lake Washington. It also happens to be the widest floating bridge, supported on dozens of gigantic, floating, concrete pontoons, each secured by anchors that keep the bridge connected to the bottom of the freezing lake. It is, in other words, two bridges layered together: a pontoon deck and the main bridge deck on which traffic travels.

Opening in 2016, the size of the bridge, and the engineering ingenuity that went into it, made headlines. But, close by, there's some even more miraculous work going on. The Homer M. Hadley Memorial Bridge may only be the world's fifth-longest floating bridge, but it is poised to be the first one to have trains travelling across it.

This floating railway is a colossal undertaking, with safety of paramount importance. The bridge literally bobs up and down and sways from side to side, with the movement of the wind and the waves. If a train was to derail, it would swiftly sink to the lake bed. Construction will make use of pivoting bearings that allow the tracks to go with the flow, similar to buildings designed to withstand earthquakes. The floating railway is bound to enjoy widespread engineering acclaim when it finally opens in 2023.

THE SHIP THAT CARRIES OIL RIGS

To carry really big loads across the high seas, you need a really, REALLY big ship. Enter, Boka Vanguard, the largest heavy lifting vessel ever built. Capable of carrying both the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower at the same time, this jaw-dropping piece of technology is actually a semi-submersible. That means its deck can be lowered beneath the waves, allowing the intended cargo (and by cargo we mean things like cruise ships and oil rigs) to float over it and get into position before the deck is then raised to carry the load.

Boka Vanguard may not be the prettiest looking vessel out there, but its sprawling dimensions make it an eye-catching spectacle wherever it turns up. In fact, its very presence made the news in Cornwall when it was moored off the coastline in summer 2019. As a local reporter wrote for the CornwallLive site, "Its huge peaks proved a hot topic of discussion locally with people speculating why it had remained in the area so long and whether it would be a permanent feature on the horizon."

THE "JENGA TOWER"

The city of Austin in Texas has a famous motto: "Keep Austin Weird". So it's fitting that the tallest building in Austin is architecturally eccentric. The Independent was completed in 2019 and immediately raised eyebrows with its jaunty structure, with various chunks of the block sticking out from the main body like blocks of Jenga. Unsurprisingly, the plush, residential skyscraper was swiftly dubbed the Jenga Tower.

Not everyone was pleased when the building opened. Its avant-garde design, specifically the jutting prong of the roof, has inspired some concerned citizens to create a protest movement known as "Fix the Crown", urging the city to make the top of the tower look less "unfinished".

As for the hazardous-seeming cantilevered floors, they're kept firmly secure by a complex system of steel tension rods and compression struts. Rather than hiding this metal lattice, the architects have placed them front and centre throughout the cantilevered sections of the building, making them design features which residents can enjoy. As one local writer put it in an article on the tower, "Jenga, this ain't."