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APM's anniversary 50 Projects for a Better Future
As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations, APM has published a list of the 50 most inspiring projects from the past 50 years, showcasing the impact and positive benefit that projects and the profession have had on society. ‘50 Projects for a Better Future’, features iconic projects from around the globe and across the fields of construction and engineering, technology, healthcare and education, sports and nature, arts and media.
More than 600 projects were nominated for inclusion in the list by a panel made up of APM members, APM branches, board members and industry experts. Projects were selected based on the transformative impact they have had on society, the economy and environment since their launch within the past 50 years.
The Channel Tunnel, London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, the Eden Project, Wikipedia, the World Wide Web, the UK Covid-19 vaccine rollout, In vitro fertilisation (IVF), the Hubble Space Telescope, the Large Hadron Collider and the Mars Perseverance Rover all make it onto the list.
The full list can be viewed here and individual pages with links below.
Professor Adam Boddison, Chief Executive of APM, says: “To mark our 50th anniversary we wanted to celebrate and recognise the impact that projects have had on the world, and the important role that project professionals play in embracing change and opportunity. The 50 projects on this list all have their own legacy in the impact they have had on society, the economy and environment, as well as acting as a catalyst for other projects which followed and will follow them in the future.”
In APM's 50th year, as part of their celebrations, they have produced a list of 50 inspiring projects from the last five decades to showcase the impact and positive benefit that projects and the project profession have on society.
In the Autumn of last year the profession was asked to nominate projects that had inspired them from the last 50 years. From that list of over 600 projects, our expert panel selected 50 based on the long-term and transformative impact the projects have had on society, the economy and environment.
Canary Wharf on east London’s Isle of Dogs consists of former historic docklands reimagined as one of the world’s most iconic business, residential and leisure districts. Known for housing the European headquarters of many international banks, Canary Wharf’s imposing skyscrapers are both an assertion of London’s strength as a global financial centre and a powerful symbol of urban regeneration.
At 25 miles, the Channel Tunnel is the longest undersea tunnel in the world. It is also one of the biggest engineering projects ever undertaken in the UK, employing more than 13,000 workers from England and France. Boring commenced in 1987, and in 1994 the finished tunnel was unveiled by the Queen and President François Mitterrand.
Constructed from 1991 to 1997, the Maeslant Barrier (Maeslantkering in Dutch) is a storm surge barrier on the Netherlands’ Nieuwe Waterweg ship canal. Operated entirely automatically, the structure responds to predicted flooding and so protects the residents of the province of South Holland.
Situated in the US city of Silver Spring, Maryland, the 210,000 square-foot, ellipse-shaped Unisphere is the world’s largest commercial net-zero building. Completed in 2018, it houses biotech corporation United Therapeutics’ clinical operations and virtual drug development lab. The building has no operational carbon footprint because the amount of electrical and thermal energy used is renewably generated on-site.
Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) opened in 1998 at a critical moment for the city and region, just one year following the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to China. Construction of the airport began in 1991, part of a programme that also included a new high-speed airport railway and a third cross-harbour tunnel to Kowloon.
For those who regularly endure the discomfort of London’s narrow, overcrowded Tube trains, a journey on the modern sections of the Madrid Metro will be just the tonic. Praised for its emphasis on functional, passenger-friendly design – with no unnecessary bells and whistles – the metro underwent a major extension programme in two phases between 1995 and 2003.
Fans of Nordic noir drama The Bridge will recognise this iconic feat of civil engineering. A 16km rail and road link that connects Sweden and Denmark, the Øresund project comprises a bridge, a manmade island and a tunnel. Crossing the bridge, which connects the cities of Copenhagen and Malmö, takes a mere 10 minutes by car.
The cost impact of a major flood in central London is estimated to be in the tens of billions. With Europe’s main financial centre underwater, the effects would ripple far beyond these shores, too. After a storm surge in 1953 inundated areas surrounding the Thames Estuary, the UK government began looking to bolster its defences. Eventually opening in 1984, the Thames Barrier spans 520m across the Thames near Woolwich.
Canal engineering might not seem like an obvious priority in 21st century Britain, but it can still have a transformative effect on the communities it serves. The Falkirk Wheel, which opened in 2002, reconnected Glasgow and Edinburgh by canal for the first time since the 1930s, opening up central Scotland’s canal network to leisure boaters and enabling a regeneration of the surrounding spaces.
The Netherlands’ status as a cyclists’ paradise is now firmly entrenched – but it wasn’t always so. In the postwar years, as in most nations, urban development was oriented towards the growing number of motorists. But by the 1970s, cycling campaign groups had sprung up and began to push back, transforming the attitude of both local and national governments.
While COVID-19 has been the dominant public health concern of the 2020s, in the 1980s, it was the devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic that caught the world’s attention. HIV is a retrovirus, which means it is able to make copies of itself within the body. Treatment focuses on suppressing this ability of HIV to copy itself, reducing the viral load and thus keeping the immune system strong, preventing the onset of AIDS in HIV-positive patients. Antiretroviral treatments for HIV first emerged in the US in the mid 1990s, and from 1996 a combination therapy known as HAART became the new standard of care for HIV.
In spring 2015, two devastating earthquakes struck Nepal, killing 8,000 people, injuring more than 21,000 and leaving many without shelter. Project management and consultancy group WYG was approached by a UK NGO, Community Action Nepal, to provide technical assistance with the reconstruction of over 30 buildings, including health facilities, schools and shelters in remote, difficult-to-access Himalayan locations.
NHS prescriptions used to be filled out on green paper forms that the patient then took to a pharmacy. The system was admin-heavy and carried the risk that the form might get lost or damaged before medicine could be dispensed. Beginning its roll-out in 2013, the NHS Electronic Prescription Service has done away with paper forms for most prescriptions. Developed by NHS Digital, the service allows GP surgeries to send prescriptions directly to pharmacies, so they’ll be waiting there for the patient to collect.
Once a global scourge, polio is now close to total elimination, with only a handful of cases reported worldwide every year. Although a vaccine has been available since the 1950s, the drive to finally wipe out the disease began in 1988 with the formation of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name given to a common group of sexually transmitted viruses. Introduced in 2008 for girls aged 12 to 13, and extended to boys in 2019, the UK’s HPV immunisation programme aims to reduce morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV by routinely offering vaccines to Year 8 schoolchildren.
Take three billion ‘letters’ and assemble them in the right order. That is a much-simplified description of the endeavour completed by global researchers between 1990 and 2003 known as the Human Genome Project. The project aimed to map the ‘base pairs’ – a type of code represented by the letters A, G, C and T – that make up human DNA.
The birth of Louise Brown in 1978 was a watershed moment in medical history. Brown was the first baby born through in vitro fertilisation (IVF), an experimental treatment developed by British doctors Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe. IVF involves the removal of an egg from a woman’s ovaries for fertilisation in a laboratory.
In the Scottish county of Renfrewshire, over one in five children live in poverty. In 2014, Renfrewshire Council set up its Tackling Poverty Commission, whose recommendations led to an ambitious programme seeking to tackle the root causes of deprivation and disadvantage, and break the links that connect low educational attainment, unemployment, poor health, anti-social behaviour and crime.
As of April 2022, almost 80% of the UK population have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine – almost 53 million people. Few projects touch so many lives in such a short space of time, but the UK’s vaccine rollout is no normal project. The Vaccine Taskforce was set up in April 2020 to secure access to promising Covid-19 vaccines as quickly as possible and strengthen the country’s capability in vaccine development and manufacturing.
On rare occasions, a bold new public building or monument can help spur a kind of cultural rebirth for a town or region. In the case of Gateshead, north-east England, and its surrounding region, the Angel of the North had just such an effect after its unveiling in 1998.
A yellow teddy bear with an injured right eye might seem an unlikely hero. But as mascot of BBC’s Children in Need charity, Pudsey Bear has become a symbol for over £1bn of donations to help change the lives of disadvantaged children in the UK.
For football fans, the matchday pie and pint is a ritual as old as the hills – reassuring in its perennial sameness. Well, not at Gloucestershire club Forest Green Rovers, where instead of tucking into a steak and kidney pudding, fans can treat themselves to a Quorn and leek pie washed down with a pint of vegan beer.
Perhaps too few projects set out to inspire a sense of wonder in the end user. But then there are very few projects like the Eden Project. Built in a neglected china-clay pit outside the town of St Austell, Cornwall, the Eden Project’s twin biomes rise out of the earth like some mysterious alien architecture.
A hip-hop musical about one of America’s more obscure Founding Fathers may not have been an obvious hit, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical project Hamilton has stormed Broadway and the West End – and also changed attitudes to racial casting, showing the way in the wake of #OscarsSoWhite.
The deadline is fixed. The entire world will be watching. And the UK’s reputation hangs in the balance. That was the challenge facing the London Organising Committee and the Olympic Delivery Agency ahead of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. From transforming an industrial site in East London into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, through to delivering the unforgettable Opening Ceremony, London 2012 was a huge undertaking – and ultimately a huge success.
It all started with 13 friends going for a run in Bushy Park, West London, back in 2004. Since then, parkrun has become an international phenomenon, transforming fitness and wellbeing for the millions of amateur runners around the world – of all ages and fitness levels – who take part in its regular 5km time trials.
Carried out in complete secrecy, and with the key sponsor unable to visit the site for security reasons, this project to get – and, importantly, keep – girls in school in rural Pakistan was the first undertaking by the Malala Fund, the charity set up by Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai as she recovered from being shot by the Taliban.
What do you do when you’ve run out of room to show off your priceless collection of modern art? Well, you could do what Tate did in 1994 and snap up a prime piece of central London real estate – in this case an iconic but crumbling former power station – commission Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, and set to work on a £134m rebuild and restoration.
 Science and Nature
Building a sprawling space station while it’s in orbit around the Earth was never going to be easy, and co-ordinating six different space agencies to commission, launch and install the various exceptionally complex modules over a period of more than 20 years probably made things more challenging. Since 2000, the International Space Station (ISS) has hosted a constant human presence in low orbit.
It may not be the most appealing idea but using anaerobic digestion to turn sewage into biogas – and then electricity – is potentially an important part of the transition to net zero. It’s a concept that Northumbrian Water has successfully put to the test at two so-called Gas to Grid plants in the North East.
As the crowning achievement in NASA’s Great Observatories programme, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has identified the exact age of the universe, demonstrated the role of black holes and dark matter in the formation of galaxies, and discovered two previously unknown moons orbiting Pluto.
If you go down to the woods today, you might just find 200 billion litres of water. Kielder Water, a reservoir built in the late 1970s near the Scottish border, is the largest man-made lake in Northern Europe and has played an important role in securing water supplies for the growing cities of North-East England.
Deep beneath rolling hills on the outskirts of Geneva lies the 27km ring of superconducting magnets powering the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Since 2010, physicists have been firing subatomic particles around the collider, crashing them into each other to learn more about their composition and behaviour.
Launched in July 2020, NASA’s unmanned Perseverance Rover overcame the threat of budget cuts to collect unprecedented data about the surface of Mars. Drill samples and ground scans have taught scientists more about Mars’s geological past and provided further evidence that water may once have been present.
In an abandoned coal mine deep within the Arctic Circle lies the world’s largest collection of seeds. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an international project financed and run by the Norwegian government and NGO The Crop Trust. It’s all in an effort to protect the genetic diversity of key plant species from around the world against the threats posed by climate change, natural disasters, disease, drought and human mismanagement.
As the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell – previous attempts at cloning had used embryonic cells – Dolly shocked the world and opened up a whole range of exciting possibilities in medicine, including the development of personalised stem-cell treatments. The cloning process was the product of experiments led by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute, with a team made up of scientists, embryologists, surgeons, vets and farm staff, and backed by biotech firm PPL Therapeutics.
Launched by NASA in 1977, the two Voyager space probes are currently racing towards the furthest reaches of our solar system, returning unprecedented data about the planets they pass and the composition of interstellar space. The Voyager programme developed out of NASA’s earlier Mariner project, taking advantage of a favourable alignment of planets as a good opportunity to launch.
Seamless, quick cash transfers are now something we take for granted. Sending instant payment to individuals and businesses, both home and abroad, now requires just a few taps on a screen. As simple as this process is for us, underlying the global payment system, hidden from view, is a complex mesh of technologies and service providers that we rarely need to think about. Perhaps foremost is SWIFT – or Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication – a messaging system that enables thousands of banks in over 200 countries to communicate financial transaction information in a standardised way.
Amager Bakke is an innovative waste-to-energy plant which provides a third of Copenhagen’s heating by burning the city’s rubbish. As well as good looks – it won Building of the Year at the 2021 World Architecture Festival – this giant power plant also boasts a year-round artificial ski slope, a climbing wall and a hiking trail, providing a much-needed outlet for fans of mountain sports in this particularly flat part of the world.
First proposed by the US Department of Defense in the 1970s, the Global Positioning System (GPS) has since gone on to revolutionise not just navigation but also communications, timekeeping, meteorology, aviation and defence. The GPS programme began in 1973 when a number of related projects across the US armed forces were combined.
Deep in the rainforests of the Yucatán peninsula, the ruins of the Mayan civilisation have lain hidden among the vegetation for a millennium or more. But thanks to the latest Lidar technology, which uses ground-penetrating lasers to reveal the ancient structures beneath, archaeologists are now building a much more detailed picture of this lost world. Since 2016, the PACUNAM Lidar Initiative has brought together specialists from universities in the US, Guatemala, Slovakia and France to scan 14,000 square kilometres from the air, in one of the largest such projects ever undertaken.
Launched in 1972 and still operational today, the Landsat programme is the longest-running and most ambitious satellite imaging project ever attempted. Nine separate satellite launches to date have sustained this collaboration between NASA and the US Geological Survey, producing a detailed, ongoing record of changes affecting the Earth’s surface.
On 11 October 1982, a crowd of spectators gathered in Portsmouth harbour to watch the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s sunken flagship, rise from the depths after more than 400 years. The wreck had been rediscovered in 1971 by a joint team of Royal Navy divers and amateurs from the British Sub-Aqua Club, but the operation to raise it expanded significantly over the next decade, drawing in support from the Royal Engineers, the National Maritime Museum and even the BBC.
Spanning the River Foyle, the Peace Bridge was built in 2011 ahead of Londonderry’s year as the UK’s inaugural City of Culture in 2013. It symbolises the coming together of the two communities in Northern Ireland, having come as part of the redevelopment of a former army barracks into a public square.
In the closing decades of the 20th century, Britain’s rail network regularly grabbed the headlines for the worst possible reason. Fatal accidents at Purley in 1989, Cowden in 1994, Southall in 1997 and Ladbroke Grove in 1999 were all caused by trains passing through stop signals when not allowed to do so. Concerned by this, British Rail launched a three-year programme to produce a system capable of automatically applying the brakes in these dangerous scenarios. The end product, known as TPWS, was then rolled out to all trains on the network.
The world’s most advanced fighter plane nearly didn’t get off the ground. In 1983, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK launched the Future European Fighter Aircraft (FEFA) programme, collaborating with the likes of BAE, Messerschmitt and Rolls-Royce to design and build an agile fighter capable of responding rapidly to Soviet incursions.
Hailed as the largest and most widely read reference work of all time, Wikipedia has both monopolised and democratised the way we access information in the internet age. Its founders, web entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and philosopher Larry Sanger, broke the mould by immediately turning over editorial control to amateurs around the world from inception in 2001.
These days, the internet requires no introduction, having transformed the way we work, relax, learn, shop and stay in touch in just 30 years. But it was the World Wide Web, developed by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau at CERN in 1989, that made it all possible.
This article appears on the APM news site as "Celebrating five decades of projects making a difference" dated June 22 and also as "50 Projects for a Better Future"
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