50 years of International Construction part 4 - the 1970s

By Helen Wright17 July 2012

The 1970's was a busy decade for major infrastructure projects around the world as governments sought to meet soaring energy and transport demand in both developed countries and emerging economies.

The pages of iC detailed a range of projects from huge hydroelectric schemes like the Dworshak Dam in the US, which was the second largest in the country when it was completed in 1972, to construction of the Changai Airport in Singapore - a US$ 300 million project in 1979 prices - about US$ 1.4 billion in today's money.

The rapid development of computers helped to shape what was possible during the decade. An iC feature in 1971, for instance, lamented the fact that it was hard to find an economic advantage to using computers at that point in time - technology for civil engineering projects that could help with road and building design was being developed, but even small data processing computers were not cheap, and a large computer installation could take up a whole room.

If the industry needed more convincing proof of the viability of computer technology, this had certainly arrived by the end of the decade. By 1979 costs had come down and systems were getting better, opening the door for computers and software to play a part in planning, modelling and design.

The 1970s was also a prime decade for the construction of iconic buildings as developers experimented with new materials, concepts and structural systems. Pioneering designs emerged, including the completion of the Sydney Opera House in Australia, which was covered in the December 1973 issue, to the construction of the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York, US.

Poignantly no longer part of the Manhattan skyline, the iconic twin towers were the tallest buildings in the world when they were completed in 1973 at 411 m high. iC documented the project from start to finish, including the fact that eight Favco STD 2700 internal climbing tower cranes were manufactured specially to work on the twin structures, each lifting 22.5 tonnes in a single fall.
"Never before have climbing tower cranes been tested so thoroughly and at such great heights," Favco said at the time.


The decade also saw widespread interest in new types of high-speed ground transportation systems as governments sought to tackle increasing traffic problems around the world caused by phenomenal growth of both car ownership and of freight transportation.

The June 1972 issue of iC, for instance, detailed an innovative new mode of transport that would use magnetic levitation (maglev) to propel carriages at up to 500 km/h along overhead tracks. This idea from the Krupp Research Institute was revealed at that year's Hanover Fair, six years before the first maglev train licensed for passenger transportation opened in Hamburg in 1979.

Even more forward-thinking was the world's first automatic personal rapid transport system - the Morgantown project in the US, which was detailed in the June 1974 issue of iC. Concerned with the problem of congestion and pollution in urban areas, compounded by a shortage in world oil supplies, the US Department of Transportation funded the project, which provided transport for students going to and from West Virginia University using 71 cars and six stations along a 13.9 km track.

The cars were designed to operate on a fixed schedule during peak hours and as demand-activated vehicles at other times.
Truly ground-breaking, the Morgantown system is still operational today, although take-up of similar transport networks has not been wide spread. But the fact that the 3.9 km 'POD' personal rapid transit system at Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 in London, UK, was considered revolutionary when it opened last year demonstrates how ahead of its time the Morgantown idea was.

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Andy Brown Editor, International Construction Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786 224 E-mail: andy.brown@khl.com
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