10 Strange Structural Engineering Marvels

Rolling Bridge
In this shot from Aug. 1, 2006, the rolling bridge looks rather ho-hum, but when a boat needs to pass through the canal, it arches up and curls into a spectacular 3-D octagon. View Pictures/UIG via Getty Images

Building big isn't the only way for engineers to make an impression. The Rolling Bridge, which allows pedestrians to walk over the Grand Union Canal in London, spans just 39 feet (11.8 meters). But its innovative design more than makes up for its diminutive stature. The bridge consists of eight timber-and-steel sections hinged together so that, fully extended, it lies flat. Then, under action of hydraulic pistons, the sections can lift and pivot to allow the entire structure to curl upon itself, much like a pill bug rolling into a ball. While boats pass through the unobstructed canal, the bridge sits on the bank like a piece of sculpture.

The Rolling Bridge is the brainchild of Thomas Heatherwick, who has designed other architectural oddities, such as the giant cauldron that burned during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the B of the Bang starburst sculpture. In 2008, the city of Manchester asked Heatherwick to take down B of the Bang because it kept shedding spikes. So far, the Rolling Bridge has presented no such dangers. In fact, in 2005, it received a Structural Steel Design Award, with the judges noting that the bridge was a "joyful addition to the [Paddington Basin] development area that has all the appearance of a Leonardo sketch when in the 'rolled' position."

Author's Note: 10 Strange Structural Engineering Marvels

When I started researching this topic, I was astonished to find a number of articles about strange engineering, only to find out that "strange" often meant "impressive." In this top 10, I tried to focus on structures that were truly unusual or surprising.

Related Articles


  • "37th structural steel design award winners." Tata Steel. (June 3, 2013) http://www.tatasteelconstruction.com/en/news_and_events/awards/structural_steel_design_award/2005/#10699
  • "CCTV Headquarters, Beijing, China." OMA website. http://oma.eu/projects/2002/cctv-%E2%80%93-headquarters
  • "Community Bookshelf." The Kansas City Public Library. (June 3, 2013) http://www.kclibrary.org/community-bookshelf
  • Dorminey, Bruce. "Liquid Mirror Telescope Technology Finally Going Mainstream." Forbes. Dec. 30, 2012. (June 3, 2013) http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucedorminey/2012/12/30/liquid-mirror-telescope-technology-finally-going-mainstream/
  • Dowdey, Sarah. "Why is the world's largest artificial island in the shape of a palm tree?" HowStuffWorks. (June 3, 2013) https://www.howstuffworks.com/dubai-palm.htm
  • "Farthest Manmade Leaning Building. "Guinness World Records. (June 3, 2013) http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/7000/farthest-manmade-leaning-building
  • Goodier, Rob. "The World's 18 Strangest Man-Made Islands." Popular Mechanics. (June 3, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/engineering/gonzo/the-worlds-18-strangest-man-made-islands#slide-1
  • Gottleib, Zach. "The World's 18 Strangest Factories." Popular Mechanics. (June 3, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/engineering/architecture/the-worlds-18-strangest-factories#slide-1
  • History Channel. "Seven Ancient Wonders of the World." Web site. (June 3, 2013) http://www.history.com/topics/seven-ancient-wonders-of-the-world
  • The Institution of Structural Engineers. "Melbourne Rectangular Stadium: Structural Awards 2010." (June 3, 2013) http://www.istructe.org/awards/2013/categories/sports-or-leisure-structures/2010/melbourne-rectangular-stadium
  • Jones, Jonathan. "Why we may have seen the last of dangerous art." The Guardian. Nov. 18, 2008. (June 3, 2013) http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/nov/19/art-thomas-heatherwick-sculpture-councils
  • "Laerdal Tunnel." Engineering.com Library. Oct. 13, 2006. (June 3, 2013) http://www.engineering.com/Library/ArticlesPage/tabid/85/ArticleID/60/Laerdal-Tunnel.aspx
  • "The Large Zenith Telescope." University of British Columbia. Dec. 5, 2004. (June 3, 2013) http://www.astro.ubc.ca/lmt/lzt/
  • Major Projects Victoria. "Melbourne Rectangular Stadium (AAMI Park)." (June 3, 2013) http://www.majorprojects.vic.gov.au/our-projects/our-past-projects/melbourne-rectangular-stadium
  • Markus, Frank. "VW's Transparent Factory." Car and Driver. Sept. 2003. (June 3, 2013) http://www.caranddriver.com/features/vws-transparent-factory
  • Resnick, Brian. "The World's 18 Strangest Parking Garages." Popular Mechanics. (June 3, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/pictures/worlds-strangest-parking-garages#slide-1
  • Salmi, Laura. "Capital Gate to become Guinness Book of Records' most inclined tower?" World Architecture News. Oct. 28, 2008. (June 3, 2013) http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=10567
  • Stockholm Globe Arenas. "Ericsson Globe." (June 3, 2013) http://www.globearenas.se/en/for_visitors/events_area/ericsson_globe.aspx
  • Sweeney, Chris. "The World's 18 Strangest Bridges." (June 3, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/engineering/architecture/4335705#slide-1
  • Sweeney, Chris. "The World's 18 Strangest Tunnels." Popular Mechanics. (June 3, 2013) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/engineering/architecture/4343590#slide-1
  • Tand, Didi. "China's CCTV Headquarters Completed." Huffington Post. May 16, 2012. (June 3, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/16/china-cctv-headquarters-completed_n_1521377.html
  • Thornhill, Cher. "London Bridge is rolling up: The spectacular Rolling Bridge that unfolds every Friday at noon." The Daily Mail. Sept. 22, 2008. (June 3, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1059777/London-Bridge-rolling-The-spectacular-Rolling-Bridge-unfolds-Friday-noon.html#ixzz2WD7ajcBO
  • University of Stockholm, Department of Astronomy. "The Sweden Solar System." (June 3, 2013) http://www.astro.su.se/english/about-us/the-sweden-solar-system-1.74650


How Removing Public Monuments Works

How Removing Public Monuments Works

Controversy surrounds the removal of public monuments honoring the U.S. Confederacy. HowStuffWorks looks into the building and removing of public monuments.

More to Explore