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Our future leaders take us through their favourite engineering projects

27 July 2020

From historic palaces to ultra-modern metro systems, discover Holly, Louise, Hayley, Tim, Emma and Pip’s all-time favourite examples of engineering, as part of #EngineeringSummer.

Our future leaders take us through their favourite engineering projects
Just some of the many diverse civil engineering projects to get you inspired

From the United States to the Middle East, these engineering projects may vary greatly in purpose but they have all served to inspire a generation of engineers. See what our future leaders have to say about their favourite examples of engineering and why they love them so much.

Boston Big Dig, Central Artery/Tunnel Project

Boston's Big Dig revitalised the traffic flow and the city. Photograph: Mott MacDonald
Boston's Big Dig revitalised the traffic flow and the city. Photograph: Mott MacDonald

Holly Smith: "Having grown up in Boston, USA between 1995 and 2007, it was impossible not to notice the impacts of living amongst a mega-infrastructure project.

"Engineers were effectively tasked with undertaking open heart surgery on a city; to remove the city’s elevated six-lane central artery which strangled the city with chronic congestion and to create a new tunnelled solution whilst allowing the city’s traffic to still flow non-stop.

"The project had extreme engineering challenges, including having to freeze the city’s poor landfill-based ground to ensure railway lines were not impacted by tunnelling operations, and the implementation of enormous jacking systems and floatation devices for immersed tube tunnel sections.

"As the most expensive and complex urban transportation project ever undertaken in the USA, is the project a success? The project was delivered 8 years late with a ballooned cost of up to $24bn (accounting for interest on debts) from the initial $2.6bn budget.

"The project was plagued with quality issues, including a mis-calculated tunnel alignment, a $42 million-dollar lawsuit for substandard concrete, and tragically, a death of the member of the public by the collapse of a concrete ceiling panel, held in place an ill-conceived bolting system.

"However, it has also allowed the city to flourish. 300 acres of new public open green spaces replace the old ‘Green Monster’ elevated highway; all neighbourhoods of the city now are freely connected; and a new harbour island for all to enjoy, made from tunnelling spoil.

"So why is this project a favourite of mine? I think the project is inspiring, as it highlights the huge challenges engineering principles can solve whilst improving quality of life. However, I also believe it is a stark reminder of the responsibility we have to society, to ensure we are managing quality and change effectively whilst keeping the public safe."

See what it did for Boston

Hampton Court Palace renovation

Hampton Court Palace. Photograph: Shutterstock
Hampton Court Palace. Photograph: Shutterstock

Louise Hetherington: "Often as civil engineers we focus on the new and shiny elements of the industry, the 3H’s we could say, of Heathrow, Hinckley and HS2.

"Yet the projects I find most fascinating are the historic, the upgrading old to new and the re-purposing of existing assets. We only build 0.5% of all infrastructure each year so something needs to happen with our aging buildings. And my favourite example of this was the renovation works at Hampton Court Palace.

"As part of my placement year I had the opportunity to undertake monitoring works of this incredible structure, check the roof for structural decay and contribute to innovative solutions which both maintained structural integrity and preserved heritage material. It may not be new or shiny but its preserving the history of the UK for future and a completely different spin on the sustainability agenda we see nowadays."

See more about the restoration

Crossrail - London's East West railway

Canary Wharf station. Photograph: Crossrail
Canary Wharf station. Photograph: Crossrail

Hayley Jackson: "Crossrail, the new underground railway line being constructed beneath London will always be a special project to me. It’s my favourite project as it was my first experience of construction and being an engineer on site aged 19, with just one year of university under my belt. Crossrail is over 100km of new railway running across the West-East of London.

"I spent 9 weeks working on the Victoria Dock Portal, a portal structure in the East of London from the end of the Limmo Peninsula to Victoria Dock tunnel leading to the station at Custom House. This was the end of a tunnelled section and will take the trains from ground level in and out of the tunnels.

"This was a fantastic experience seeing civil engineering on such a large scale and I spent every day fascinated by the complex construction being undertaken and that this was my career! The structure I was working on was surrounded by running trains, hotels, shops, businesses and housing and I loved learning about how the construction project worked with all these different constraints to impact them as little as possible.

"After my third year at university, I spent 8 weeks working at Whitechapel Station. Having seen Crossrail working all across London, I really understood the scale and excellence of the engineering taking place, from the tunnels, new stations being constructed in densely urbanised places and the interface of the different train lines in the stations.

"I also realised the importance and positive impact it was having on the local area, particularly in Whitechapel, attracting more business and regeneration for the local people. Crossrail will not just impact those travelling across London but also the areas where stations are located as it has started a drive to improve the local area!

"Crossrail is a fantastic project for those involved in building it, learning about it and benefitting from its construction. It was a brilliant first experience and exposure to a career in civil engineering and I will always look back and be grateful for the experience!

Discover the Crossrail mega project

Msheireb Station in Qatar

Doha Metro system. Photograph: Shutterstock
Doha Metro system. Photograph: Shutterstock

Tim Hou: "One of the projects I was lucky enough to work on was the design of Msheireb Station in Qatar as part of the new Doha Metro. With the Doha 2022 World Cup in the calendar, Doha focused a lot of effort to try and upgrade their transport infrastructure, which included building a brand new metro network consisting of 3 lines.

"In a city that heavily relies on its road network, it was important to encourage people to use alternative methods of transport. Msheireb Station is one of the flagship stations, the largest in the network, and was an extremely complex project. With parts of the station located 40m below ground level, there was a real focus on the temporary works and geotechnical design, and I was particularly interested to look at how the design process differs in the Middle East to in the UK.

"I haven’t worked on a project of its scale since, and the design presented some unique challenges that you just wouldn’t get on other projects. It is fantastic to see the station, now backfilled, fully operational and I’m proud to say that as a civil engineer I know a lot about what went into the construction behind the cladding that the passengers will see as they use the station. Hopefully, I will be able to travel and see it in the future!"

Discover Doha's first metro

High Speed Two

High Speed Two. Photograph: Shutterstock
High Speed Two. Photograph: Shutterstock

Emma Watkins: "My favourite example of civil engineering changed this year, when I started working on HS2. With everything in the news, I was unsure what to expect. What I found was a huge team of individuals who were fighting tooth and nail to support the Camden community through the construction, who have thought about every aspect of the environment possible and who have the most diverse team of engineers I have ever come across.

"It’s a huge project, encompassing every kind of engineering anyone could want to do, but it values sustainability and society to a degree I haven’t seen in construction before. I am really proud to be working on HS2 and I just wish we could communicate the great project it is to more people."

Find out more about HS2

London Sewer System: Part 1

Joseph Bazalgette (top right) at the northern outfall sewer being built below London’s Abbey Mills pumping station. Photograph: Getty
Joseph Bazalgette (top right) at the northern outfall sewer being built below London’s Abbey Mills pumping station. Photograph: Getty

Philippa Jefferis: "In 1858 the River Thames was in a terrible state, full of raw sewage and other smelly things because the whole city of London used it to get rid of their waste and this was resulting in many outbreaks of cholera. Sir Joseph Bazalgette, a famous civil engineer, oversaw construction of a great network of sewers under London to solve the problem. Impressive and life saving as this feat of engineering is, it is not my favourite civil engineering project.

"You see this new sewer system caused a problem for the Houses of Parliament. The original toilets in the building were in keeping with the rest of the traditional London’s sewer network. Everything flushed neatly straight into the Thames, as it conveniently flows right alongside. Unfortunately, Bazalgette’s super sewer was above the outfall so a solution was needed to get the waste 'uphill' into the new sewer.

"This was during the age of great invention, and the Victorian’s were not ones to be deterred by mere gravity. Which is where The Shone Ejector came to be incorporated into the building. Designed by Isaac Shone (seems being named Isaac may give you an advantage in understanding gravity), this hydro–pneumatic sewage ejector collected sewage into a tank before using compressed air in periodic bursts to elevate the effluent.

"Installed in 1887, this is still how it works today! Why is it my favourite enginering project? Well apart from the fact that toilet humour is always quite a funny and it makes me chuckle at the idea of poo being pinged upwards while MPs have serious debates above. It also shows how civil engineers have to think creatively to solve issues when they are designing things, and that working with other engineers (like mechanical engineers) can create innovative solutions."

Find out about Joseph Bazelgette

London Sewer System: Part 2

London's sewer system
London's sewer system

Joe Marner: "It might not be glamorous, attractive, or even that noticeable at first, but my favorite example of civil engineering is the London sewer system. The system was designed and built by Joseph Bazalgette in the second half of the 19th century. At the time, there was a real problem in London resulting from raw sewerage routinely being disposed of in the river Thames as there was no city-wide sanitation system. This caused an awful smell as well as encouraging the spread of water-borne diseases.

"Bazelgette's sewer system is great because it solved the sanitation problem, improving public health in the city immeasurably - something many people might not always think of as the role of civil engineers. However, it's my favorite because the project incorporated so many more examples of the things civil engineers do.

"Firstly, when it came to choosing the size of the sewers, Bazalgette doubled his estimate "just in case", which proved to be extremely wise given that he was working before tower blocks had been built, the population was much lower and the city was much less dense than it is today. The sewers themselves were built on the north bank of the Thames within the river's tidal range, so the embankment structures reclaimed land from the river and protected riverside property from flooding.

"As well as the sewers, the embankment also accommodated an underground railway (now the District Line), utilities, and a major road at surface level which eased congestion from surrounding areas. On top of all of this, the embankment also created public spaces and gardens. I don't think there are many projects that have done so much to benefit society as this one!"

Find out more about London's sewers

  • Amy Bigmore, digital and social media manager at Institution of Civil Engineers