London is packed with outstanding civil engineering sights – from neo-classical to brutalist buildings, these structures will amaze and inspire you.
This year’s Engineering Summer theme is a celebration of civil engineering that has changed our lives for the better. So, we thought it was the perfect time to take you on a tour of the UK capital’s most famous civil engineering sights.
From preserving London’s cultural heritage to building a more sustainable future, these structures encompass the beauty, history and innovation that makes London one of the greatest cities in the world.
1. Big Ben (1859)
Holding vigil over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, Big Ben, or the Elizabeth Tower, is an iconic landmark of London. It stands at 96 metres tall, and a colossal 850 cubic metres of stone were used in its construction. Augustus Pugin designed Big Ben in the neo-Gothic style.
If you’ve not had the opportunity to see Big Ben in person, you’ve most likely seen it light up the silver screen, with it featuring in films ranging from Disney’s classic Peter Pan (1953) to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2010).
After a five-year renewal project, Big Ben revealed its brand-new look in 2022, with its dazzling golden façade lighting up London’s skyline.
2. The London Eye (1999)
Built in 1999 to celebrate the new millennium, the London Eye has become one of the most recognisable sights in the capital.
It was inaugurated in response to a 1993 millennium landmark competition. Although the competition initially yielded no winners, David Marks and Julia Barfield were sure that their design, which represented ‘the time turning and the turn of the century’, would be embraced by Londoners.
Its construction involved new techniques and used construction materials from around the world, making it an awe-inspiring feat of modern engineering.
As the tallest cantilevered observation wheel in the world, it’s not surprising that its breathtaking 360° views of London gets it more annual visitors than the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Taj Mahal!
3. Tower Bridge (1894)
This grade I-listed bascule and suspension bridge was designed and built by the combined efforts of Sir Horace Jones, the city architect, and civil engineer John Barry Wolfe.
Tower Bridge took more than 11,000 tons of steel to build, with the structure requiring more than 70,000 tons of concrete to support it.
Today it stands majestic above the River Thames, with 40,000 people and 21,000 vehicles crossing the bridge daily. In 1952, one of these vehicles was one of the iconic red double-deckers driven by Albert Gunter.
Due to human error, the bascules began to rise as the bus was crossing the bridge. Gunter reacted by accelerating and, miraculously, managed to make the bus ‘jump’ across the gap, landing his passengers safely on the other side.
4. The Shard (2013)
If you were to ask a group of people what the Shard is, you’d likely get many different answers. The 26-floor building is made up of office spaces, restaurants, and a five-star hotel. It's also home to the capital's highest viewing gallery, at a dizzying 244 metres. It’s the perfect spot for a bird’s eye view of London’s skyline.
If that’s not impressive enough, it’s also one of the capital’s most sustainable skyscrapers.
5. The National Theatre (1976)
When the National Theatre opened in 1976, architectural writer Mark Girouard described it as an ‘aesthetic of broken forms.’ An example of a brutalist building, architect Denys Lasdun was commissioned to design the theatre.
The building is formed entirely of concrete, with its two fly towers, horizontal terraces and multi-levels creating a maze of a structure.
6. Kew Gardens (1759)
Tucked away in the borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames is Kew Gardens – an oasis of calm and nature that feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. It boasts attractions ranging from Temperate House to Kew Palace, offering miles of gorgeous open space and forestry.
Civil engineering firm JT Mackley and Co Ltd have worked on several irrigation projects for Kew Gardens. One is the Rhizotron, an incredible tree-top walkway that allows visitors to observe the magical flora and fauna from 18 metres above the ground.
7. Wembley Stadium (2007)
Wembley Stadium is the national stadium of England. With a staggering 90,000 capacity, it’s the largest stadium in the UK and the second-largest in Europe.
One of its most striking features is its 133-metre arch, which is the longest single-span roof structure in the world. Impressively, you can see it from all over London.
Wembley Stadium has hosted thrilling events ranging from the 1966 World Cup Final to Harry Styles’ recent Love On Tour appearance.
8.The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (1675)
Known as ‘the home of time,’ Greenwich Observatory was founded in 1675 in response to Britain’s maritime ambitions. It's home to the world’s prime meridian, dividing the eastern and western hemispheres.
9. St Paul’s Cathedral (1675-1710)
St Paul’s Cathedral combines splendour with a rich culture and history. Designed by architect Sir Christopher Wren, it has the largest dome in the world at 366 feet high.
Impressively, Wren and his team completed the entire project in 33 years. That might sound like a long time, but given the cathedral’s intricacy and scale, it was no easy feat.
The cathedral has several art installations, including works by William Blake and Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor.
Unsurprisingly, its resplendence has caught the eyes of Hollywood. The cathedral’s exterior has been featured in films ranging from Sherlock Holmes (2009) to Paddington 2 (2017).
St Paul’s Cathedral is the perfect building to see during a walking tour of London, with its dazzling structure looking magnificent by day or night.