In 2012, buildings, bridges and ocean vessels got bigger, greener, stronger and longer than ever. Check out our annual Best Of What’s New awards in engineering below.
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Grand Award Winner: Dockwise Vanguard
When a battleship needs repairs in the middle of the ocean, a semisubmersible vessel like the Dockwise Vanguard can provide offshore dry dock. The 902-foot-long and 230-foot-wide bowless Vanguard—the largest craft of its kind by nearly a football field—can submerge its deck below the waterline and move its above-water towers aside, allowing mammoth marine vessels to float aboard before the Vanguard rides back up underneath them. The Vanguard can carry 121,254 tons of cargo and another 7,716 tons of food, fuel, and supplies; that’s almost double the payload of any such craft before it.
Al Hamra Firdous Tower
At 1,353 feet, the Al Hamra Firdous Tower in Kuwait is the tallest building in the world with one side made of stone. Before the advent of steel frames, which made glass curtain walls possible, masonry helped buildings stand tall. Instead of choosing stone for its strength, though, engineers and architects at SOM chose it to help keep the building cool. The tower’s monolithic facade faces south, where stone helps mitigate heat loading from the broiling sun. The rest of the building is covered entirely in glass, maximizing views across Kuwait City.
At this year’s Summer Olympics in London, the Lee Valley White Water Centre debuted an entirely new kind of whitewater park system—built with what resemble giant Legos. The components, called RapidBlocs, are made from high-density polyethylene and galvanized steel frames. Designers can easily reconfigure them to create nearly any whitewater course, from world-class slalom canoe runs to weekend Cub Scout floats.
Russky Island Bridge
The world’s longest cable-stayed bridge connects the Russian port city of Vladivostok to Russky Island with a main span of 3,622 feet. The bridge’s 1,053-foot-tall A-shaped towers (the world’s tallest) rest on 253-foot-deep piles; its 1,902-foot cable stays (the world’s longest) are clad in UV protective housings.
Pixel, a 12,300-square-foot, carbon-neutral office building in Melbourne, Australia, is arguably the most sustainable workplace ever. Designed by the architectural firm Studio 505, Pixel captures, cleans, and recycles all of its water on-site. Solar panels and wind turbines on the roof generate all the electricity the building needs. This year, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded it the world’s highest LEED rating—105 out of 110 possible points.
When engineers at the firm Buckland & Taylor set out to replace the 2,430-foot-long trusses on the 83-year-old Milton-Madison Bridge over the Ohio River, they decided to slide the structures in one move. Some of the 15,260-ton steel mass will be prefabricated, and the rest erected on temporary piers. Eight strand jacks will nudge the whole thing across sliding girders until it comes to rest, a day later, atop the bridge’s reinforced pylons 55 feet away.
Systems that geologists use to see below the Earth’s crust on dry land don’t work well underwater. The new IsoMetrix marine seismic system, on the other hand, samples data in all directions, so it can capture returning wave fields in 3-D. The system creates images of structures beneath the seafloor, allowing oil companies to see deep reservoirs with unprecedented clarity.