Ancient structural engineering is sometimes underestimated.
In an age of rapid expansion and mass produced, affordable housing, we should be looking to our structural engineering predecessors, the trailblazers of sustainability, whose engineering achievements gave us structural design that has stood the test of time.
Structures were once built to serve a multitude of purposes; to survive extreme local climates and to stand the test of time. Professor of Architecture John Ochsendorf states that, whilst it seems a strange concept to revert back in time for inspiration and guidance, native builders have been responsive to their local climate for thousands of years, as well as being skilled at creating structures with longevity. Structural Engineer Steve Burrows explains that these structures were not a great experiment, but the application of science.
Here is our top pick of structural design that has stood the test of time:
THE GREAT PYRAMIDS OF GIZA (4,570YRS)
Despite their prowess, the largest pyramid ever built, and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, still took 20 years of intensive slave labour to build. It is still largely in tact and despite advancements in current technology, scientists are still struggling to replicate it. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
THE INCA GRASS BRIDGES (600YRS)
Being repaired each year means that this technically is not a structure that was built to stand the test of time, but Ochesndorf ‘views this as a shining example of how intertwined people and the things they build can really be. If a community is invested in a structure so fully that they’re excited about maintaining it, the structure is a vital part of that community’. (Image courtesy of Mental Floss)
NEWGRANGE, COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND (5,000YRS)
Because of the Newgrange positioning at the top of a hill, archaeologists suggest that the team responsible for its construction would have been highly organised for that period of history, moving and lifting the very large, stone slabs to the top of the hill. In addition, grooves found in the stone roof, as well as the burnt soil and sea sand used to fill gaps between stones, suggests that the construction team were aware of the effects of weathering and the need to redirect water from the passage to keep it waterproof. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
HAGIA SOPHIA – ISTANBUL (1,473YEARS)
The larger dome roof deemed unsuccessful when the first attempt collapsed due to the piers that were used to support the weight collapsed. “The dome rests not on a drum but on pendentives, spherical triangles that arise from four huge piers that carry the weight of the cupola. The pendentives made it possible to place the dome over a square compartment,” writes researcher Victoria Hammond.
The Hagia Sophia is a perfect example of a muti-use building, adapting to new purpose and functionality having once been a cathedral, being converted into a mosque and now a very popular tourist attraction. Because of the these changes in purpose, the building aesthetics and design has had to adapt and change over time too. Four minarets that stand at 200ft tall, were added and mosaics were at one point covered with paint. The iconic style of the Hagia Sophia would later influence the architectural style of other mosques of the Ottoman Empire. (Image courtesy of Andrew E Larson/Flickr)
THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA (2,410 YEARS)
It is made up of 3 main components; passes, signal towers and walls. ‘Walls were made of tamped earth sandwiched between wooden boards, adobe bricks, a brick and stone mixture, rocks, or pilings and planks. Some sections made use of existing river dikes; others used rugged mountain terrain such as cliffs and gorges to take the place of man-made walls.’ (Engineering.com)
The wall itself was successful for its purpose of defense, and only failed when there was rebellion from within. Whilst parts of the wall have now deteriorated through neglect, it is still hailed as being the only man-made structure visible from the orbit. (Image courtesy of Azhan/Wikipedia)