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Outstanding Building Achievements

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands

The history of civil engineering can be traced back to 4000 BC when the sole means of construction was human labor, lacking any sophisticated equipment. With advancement in all spheres of technology, civil engineering has also developed tremendously.

Civil engineering involves the design, construction, and maintenance of works such as roads, bridges, and buildings. It's a science that includes a variety of disciplines including soils, structures, geology, and other fields. Thus the history of civil engineering is closely associated with the history of advancement in these sciences. In ancient history, most of the construction was carried out by artisans, and technical expertise was limited. Tasks were accomplished by the utilization of manual labor only, without the use of sophisticated machinery, since it did not exist. Therefore, civil engineering works could only be realized with the utilization of a large number of skilled workers over an extended period of time.

It might be appropriate to assume that the science of civil engineering truly commenced between 4000 and 2000 BC in Egypt when transportation gained such importance that it led to the development of the wheel. According to the historians, the Pyramids were constructed in Egypt during 2800-2400 BC and may be considered as the first large structure construction ever. The Great Wall of China that was constructed around 200 BC is considered another achievement of ancient civil engineering. The Romans developed extensive structures in their empire, including aqueducts, bridges, and dams. A scientific approach to the physical sciences concerning civil engineering was implemented by Archimedes in the third century BC, by utilizing the Archimedes Principle concerning buoyancy and the Archimedes screw for raising water.

As stated above, civil engineering is considered to be the first main discipline of engineering, and the engineers were in fact military engineers with expertise in military and civil works. During the era of battles or operations, the engineers were engaged to assist the soldiers fighting in the battlefield by making catapults, towers, and other instruments used for fighting the enemy. However, during peace time, they were concerned mainly with the civil activities such as building fortifications for defense, making bridges, canals, etc.

Until the recent era, there was no major difference between the terms civil engineering and architecture, and they were often used interchangeably. It was in the 18th century that the term civil engineering was firstly used independently from the term military engineering. The first private college in the United States that included Civil Engineering as a separate discipline was Norwich University established in the year 1819. Civil engineering societies were formed in United States and European countries during the 19th century, and similar institutions were established in other countries of the world during the 20th century. The American Society of Civil Engineers is the first national engineering society in the United States. In was founded in 1852 with members related to the civil engineering profession located globally. The number of universities in the world that include civil engineering as a discipline have increased tremendously during the 19th and the 20th centuries, indicating the importance of this technology.

Numerous technologies have assisted in the advancement of civil engineering in the modern world, including high-tech machinery, selection of materials, test equipment, and other sciences. However, the most prominent contributor in this field is considered to be computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacture (CAM). Civil engineers use this technology to achieve an efficient system of construction, including manufacture, fabrication, and erection. Three-dimensional design software is an essential tool for the civil engineer that facilitates him in the efficient designing of bridges, tall buildings, and other huge complicated structures.

Civil engineering has evolved tremendously in aspects relating to building, designing and maintaining the world’s built and natural environments. Historically, the term ‘civil engineering’ did not exist. It is only recently that engineers whose duties were civil and non- military were categorized as civil engineers to differentiate them from military engineers. A military engineer is one who makes ‘machines of war’. In ancient times the bridge, waterways, fortifications and machines of war were all projects also projects undertaken by the military engineer. Kings, Queens, Emperors or Pharaohs required these military building services from their engineers in order to build massive structures that created a powerful and imposing image of themselves.

This was the ultimate form of self-promotion. The reason the ‘civil’ and ‘military’ engineers were grouped as one, was because the techniques of designing these projects were similar and one who worked on military construction projects also worked on civil projects. Also the structures such as roads, dams, buildings and bridges facilitated for the military agendas of certain rulers. Definitely, before the term civil engineer was coined, civil engineers were in existence. Millennia ago when the pyramids of the Mayan and Egyptian empires were building pyramids, the people designing and supervising the construction of the pyramids must have been an engineer. Certainly, those endowed with the responsibility of devising ways to solve the day to day problems of construction, transportation, water irrigation, city planning were engineers. The engineers of the past often worked on technical problems of their day by using mechanics, available materials and technicians of the day and often worked in areas that ranged from mechanical, military inventions to architecture, which involved the design of aesthetic structure and the overall shape and form of structures. 1. Electrification 2. Automobile 3. Airplane 4. Water Supply and Distribution 5. Electronics 6. Radio and Television 7. Agricultural Mechanization 8. Computers 9. Telephone 10. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration 11. Highways 12. Spacecraft 13. Internet 14. Imaging 15. Household Appliances 16. Health Technologies 17. Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies 18. Laser and Fiber Optics 19. Nuclear Technologies 20. High-performance Materials Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century Scores of times each day, with the merest flick of a finger, each one of us taps into vast sources of energy—deep veins of coal and great reservoirs of oil, sweeping winds and rushing waters, the hidden power of the atom and the radiance of the Sun itself—all transformed into electricity, the workhorse of the modern world. When Thomas Edison did some future gazing about transportation during a newspaper interview in 1895, he didn't hedge his bets. "The horseless carriage is the coming wonder," said American's reigning inventor. "It is only a question of a short time when the carriages and trucks in every large city will be run with motors." Just what kind of motors would remain unclear for a few more years. Not a single human being had ever flown a powered aircraft when the 20th century began. By century's end, flying had become relatively common for millions of people, and some were even flying through space. The first piloted, powered, controlled flight lasted 12 seconds and carried one man 120 feet. Today, nonstop commercial flights lasting as long as 15 hours carry hundreds of passengers halfway around the world. At the beginning of the 20th century, in the United States and in many other countries, water was both greatly in demand and greatly feared. Cities across the nation were clamoring for more of it as their populations grew, and much of the West saw it as the crucial missing ingredient for development. At the same time, the condition of existing water supply systems was abysmal—and a direct threat to public health. Barely stifled yawns greeted the electronics novelty that was introduced to the public in mid-1948. "A device called a transistor, which has several applications in radio where a vacuum tube ordinarily is employed, was demonstrated for the first time yesterday at Bell Telephone Laboratories," noted an obviously unimpressed New York Times reporter on page 46 of the day's issue. In the autumn of 1899 a new mode of communication wedged its way into the coverage of a hallowed sports event. Outside New York's harbor, two sleek sailboats—Columbia of the New York Yacht Club and Shamrock of the Ulster Yacht Club in Ireland—were about to compete for the America's Cup, a coveted international trophy. In previous contests the public had no way of knowing what happened on the water until spectators reached shore after the races. This time, however, reports would "come rushing through the air with the simplicity of light," as one newspaper reporter breathlessly put it. You often see them from the window of a cross-country jet: huge, perfect circles in varying shades of green, gold, or brown laid out in a vast checkerboard stretching to the horizon. Across much of the American Midwest and on farmland throughout the world, these genuine crop circles are the sure sign of an automated irrigation system—and an emblem of a revolution in agriculture, the most ancient of human occupations. At the heart of this transformation is a single concept: mechanization. The machine depicted on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics magazine sounded impressive—"World's First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models"—and at a price of $397 for the parts, it seemed like quite a bargain. In truth, the Altair 8800 was not a minicomputer, a term normally reserved for machines many times as powerful. Nor was it easy to use. Programming had to be done by adjusting toggle switches, the memory held a meager 256 bytes of data, and output took the form of patterns of flashing lights. "The telephone," wrote Alexander Graham Bell in an 1877 prospectus drumming up support for his new invention, "may be briefly described as an electrical contrivance for reproducing in distant places the tones and articulations of a speaker's voice." As for connecting one such contrivance to another, he suggested possibilities that admittedly sounded utopian: "It is conceivable that cables of telephone wires could be laid underground, or suspended overhead, communicating by branch wires with private dwellings, country houses, shops, manufactories, etc." Which of the appliances in your home would be the hardest to live without? The most frequent answer to that question in a recent survey was the refrigerator. Over the course of the 20th century, this onetime luxury became an indispensable feature of the American home, a mainstay in more than 99.5 percent of the nation's family kitchens by century's end. Sweeping visions were something of a specialty for William Durant, founder of General Motors, and he ran true to form in a 1922 interview. "Most of us," he said, "will live to see this whole country covered with a network of motor highways built from point to point as the bird flies, the hills cut down, the dales bridged over, the obstacles removed." Given the intensity of America's love affair with the automobile, his prediction wasn't so far-fetched. The event was so draped in secrecy that, despite its historic nature, no pictures were taken. But no one who was there—nor, for that matter, anyone else who heard of it—would ever forget the moment. With a blinding glare and a shuddering roar, the rocket lifted from its concrete pad and thundered into the early evening sky, soaring up and up and up until it was nothing more than a tiny glowing speck. On the plains of Kazakhstan, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union had just launched the first-ever spacecraft, its payload a 184-pound satellite called Sputnik. The conference held at the Washington Hilton in October 1972 wasn't meant to jump-start a revolution. Staged for a technological elite, its purpose was to showcase a computer-linking scheme called ARPANET, a new kind of network that had been developed under military auspices to help computer scientists share information and enable them to harness the processing power of distant machines. Traffic on the system was still very light, though, and many potential users thought it was too complex to have much of a future. To see with a keener eye has been a human obsession since the times of Leeuwenhoek and Galileo, considered fathers of the microscope and telescope, respectively. For centuries keener vision meant to see more clearly what was far away or what was very small—to magnify and sharpen. But in the 20th century it also came to signify all sorts of vision that once would have been deemed "magic"—the penetration of veils both around us and within us as well as the registering of forms of "light" to which human sight is utterly blind. As a frequent purveyor of domestic dreams, Good Housekeeping magazine was on familiar ground in 1930 when it rhetorically asked its readers: "How many times have you wished you could push a button and find your meals deliciously prepared and served, and then as easily cleared away by the snap of a switch?" No such miraculous button or switch was in prospect, of course—not for cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing clothes, or any of the other homemaking chores that, by enduring custom, mainly fell to women. In 1900 the average life expectancy in the United States was 47 years. By 2000 it was nearing 77 years. That remarkable 30-year increase was the result of a number of factors, including the creation of a safe water supply. But no small part of the credit should go to the century's wide assortment of medical advances in diagnosis, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and other forms of treatment. If coal was king in the 19th century, oil was the undisputed emperor of the 20th. Refined forms of petroleum, or "rock oil," became—in quite literal terms—the fuel on which the 20th century ran, the lifeblood of its automobiles, aircraft, farm equipment, and industrial machines. If necessity is the mother of invention, the odds of a breakthrough in telecommunications were rising fast as the 20th century passed its midpoint. Most long-distance message traffic was then carried by electrons traveling along copper or coaxial cables, but the flow was pinched and expensive, with demand greatly outstripping supply. Over the next few decades, however, the bottlenecks in long-haul communications would be cleared away by a radically new technology. Beating swords into plowshares—that's how advocates of nuclear technology have long characterized efforts to develop peaceful applications of the atom's energy. In an ongoing controversy, opponents point to the destructive potential and say that, despite the benefits, this is almost always a tool too dangerous to use. Beyond the controversy, however, lies the story of scientific and engineering breakthroughs that unfolded over a remarkably short period of time—with unprecedented effects on the world, for both good and ill. "All hail, King Steel," wrote Andrew Carnegie in a 1901 paean to the monarch of metals, praising it for working "wonders upon the earth." A few decades earlier a British inventor named Henry Bessemer had figured out how to make steel in large quantities, and Carnegie and other industry titans were now producing millions of tons of it each year, to be used for the structural framing of bridges and skyscrapers, the tracks of sprawling railway networks, the ribs and plates of steamship hulls, and a multitude of other applications extending from food cans to road signs.

Pluck the pyramids out of the sand, and for most of us, Egypt wouldn't be Egypt. The same is true for France without its cathedrals, or San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. In a time of knowledge workers and software engineers, it's easy to take feats of engineering — creations of low-tech stone, steel, and concrete — for granted. It's also easy to see them as a menace. These days, the words "great project" may call to mind China's Three Gorges Dam, which threatens social and environmental havoc as its 350-mile lake starts to fill. Or our own interstate highways--the largest public-works project ever. Yes, they have given us mobility, but they have also blighted our landscape with suburban sprawl.

The dark side is inevitable: Master builders undertake nothing less than remaking the world, and in that there is risk. Driven by faith or greed, high ideals or private demons, these architects of the future have the confidence — and audacity — to create structures that will touch the lives of millions for generations to come. When they get it right, they enrich not just our physical surroundings but our imagination. And they leave us with stories of struggle and triumph, testimony to humanity's restless quest to leave its indelible mark on the world. - Tim Appenzeller



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