The 2008 Summer Olympics and the booming Chinese economy have created a frantic pace of construction in China. That provided a perfect laboratory for 18 Brigham Young University civil engineering students earlier this month to study megastructures – super-tall skyscrapers, extra-long bridges and giant arenas.
The group visited Olympic facilities and other megastructures throughout the country to supplement their classroom studies on major construction projects. In Beijing, they saw the Beijing National Stadium – nicknamed the “Bird's Nest” for its unique architecture – where the opening ceremonies will be held in August. They also visited the Beijing National Aquatics Center, which resembles a giant water cube.
Before the trip, each student was assigned a specific skyscraper and bridge in China. Half of the world’s tallest buildings and half of its longest bridges are in that country. The students researched and then presented to their classmates the conceptual designs, analysis calculations and the societal impact of their subjects.
“We got to learn about how they construct innovative structures and then see them with our own eyes,” said civil engineering senior Erica Tanner.
Tanner studied the China Central Television skyscraper under construction in Beijing. The 54-floor building, declared to be the world’s most expensive, should be completed in time for the Olympics. Dubbed the “Twisted Donut” because of its radical shape, the building has two high-rise sections that are linked to form an unusual “Z” shape.
“It looks impressive on paper, but it doesn’t seem real until you actually see it for yourself and feel how massive and crazy it is,” said Tanner, who will apply this first-hand experience in her graduate studies at UC-Berkeley in the fall.
The Olympic sites were part of a two-week trip focused on megastructures in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Yong and Yichang.
The students ranked their on-site tour of Hong Kong’s International Commerce Center Tower a favorite. When it opens in 2009, the building will be the third-tallest building in the world. Wearing hardhats, the group went to the 86th floor, where they were protected only by temporary railings and enjoyed an expansive view of the city.
“There was no end to the city, just high-rises everywhere,” said Tanner.
They marveled at Yichang’s Three Gorges Dam, which required the relocation of more than a million citizens for its construction and will be the world’s largest dam at nearly 1.5 miles in length. At Stonecutters Bridge in Hong Kong, which will be completed near the end of 2008 and will be the second-longest cable-stayed bridge in the world, the group had a special tour at the construction site with the engineers who designed it.
“It’s one thing to look at a picture, but actually seeing it and hearing the construction with your own senses . . . takes your breath away,” said professor Richard Balling, director of the China Megastructures program. “The best part was watching the students get excited about everything.”
After visiting China last year, Balling said it was only natural to launch a study abroad program so that civil engineering students could see the innovative structures that have been constructed in the past decade. Balling and his colleagues, David Jensen and Paul Richards, accompanied the students for the department’s first study abroad trip. Catered to upper-division undergrads and graduate students in BYU’s civil engineering program, the class will be held each spring.
Although a Hong Kong native , graduate student Gary Ng learned a lot about engineering from sites in his hometown, as well as other cities on Mainland China he’d never visited before.
“I think it’s good to see the constructions sites—it helps us to picture how things will be done,” said Ng, referring to applying engineering tactics.
Witnessing the engineering feats of the Olympic venues and other buildings made a lasting impression on students.
“Schooling is often limited to knowledge found in books or discovered in labs. Our trip to China didn’t just school us; it educated us,” said civil engineering senior Rob Marsh. “In China, we saw a society that knows how to dream . . . and for two weeks, we became a part of it.”