10 of the World's Largest Construction Projects

World's Largest Construction Projects

Below are 10 of the world's largest construction projects, ranging from airports, dams, subways and industrial complexes to the International Space Station and its contemplated successors. Some of these are much admired, such as architect Zaha Hadid's stunning Terminal 1 in Beijing's International Airport; others, such as Sellafield's huge nuclear reclamation project in England, are widely reviled.

Al Maktoum Airport, Dubai

Middle East, UAE, Dubai, airport new Al Maktoum
Charles Bowman

 Other airports do not prepare you for the scale of Dubai's Al Maktoum International Airport, which extends over more than 21 square miles. Scheduled for completion in 2018, the facility is designed to handle 200 wide-body aircraft at a time. The airport's second expansion phase alone has an estimated cost of more than $32 billion.

Jubail II, Saudi Arabia

Jubail Industry City, Saudi Middle Eastern Cultureia.
Ali Al Mubarak / Getty Images

This 22-year long industrial city project began its second phase in 2014 with an $11 billion expansion.When completed, it will comprise at least 100 industrial plants, an 800,000 cubic meter desalination plant, miles of railways, roads and highways, and an oil refinery producing at least 350,000 barrels per day. The entire project is slated to be finished in 2024. More

Dubailand, Dubai

Dubailand, Dubai, UAE.
Matilde Gattoni / Getty Images

Walt Disney World can fit three times inside this complex. With 278 square kilometers, the $64 billion Dubailand will have six parts: theme parks, sports venues, eco-tourism, health facilities, science attractions, and hotels. It will also have the world's largest hotel with 6,500 rooms and a 10 million square foot mall. The project is scheduled for completion is 2025. More

International Space Station, Space

International Space Station
Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG / Getty Images

The ISS circles the earth every 92 minutes. Created by a consortium of 15 nations and 5 space agencies, the ISS has currently scheduled construction costs exceeding $60 billion. The eventual cost of the space station and its contemplated expansions could exceed $1 trillion, by which point it could become a habitat for up to one million off-planet occupants.  

South-to-North Water Transfer Project, China

China, Qinghai
Christophe Boisvieux / Getty Images

The North of China is home to almost 50 percent of China's population but has only about 20 percent of the country's water resources. To remedy this imbalance, China has funded construction of three huge canals, each more than 600 miles long and carrying water to the North from China's three largest rivers. The project has a 48-year construction schedule. When completed it will supply 44 billion cubic meters of water each year. 

London Crossrail Project

Crossrail subway in London.
Lionel Derimais / Getty Images

 The world's first underground continues to grow, adding 26 miles of tunnel connecting 40 stations. The estimated cost of construction is $23 billion. The project is scheduled for completion in phases, with the first new track going into service in 2018 and all remaining tracks in service by 2020.   More

Three Gorges Dam, China

Construction Site of Three Gorges Dam
Paul A. Souders / Getty Images

 The world's largest dam is a mile and a half long and about 60 stories high. The $59 billion Yangtze River project was completed and put into service in 2003. Most extremely large construction projects have their detractors, but Three Gorges has been particularly criticized for displacing about 1.5 million persons and destroying hundreds of miles of viable farmland.  Its electrical generation capacity is more than eight times greater than Hoover Dam, but still supplies only two or three percent of China's 2016 energy needs. 

Sellafield Nuclear Site, England

Inside Sellafield: Pond 5
Barry Lewis / Getty Images

 Covering over 700 acres, this is the U.K.'s primary nuclear-fuel reprocessing facility. with construction costs exceeding $15 billion. One of its primary activities is the reprocessing of Magnox, a nuclear fuel, from UK nuclear power stations. Not surprisingly, the site has its detractors, among them New Scientist, an anti-nuclear research publication, which has claimed that "huge pools of mystery sludge" and other hazards are potentially explosive, a claim that Sellafield's management disputes.  More

Beijing Airport, China

China, Beijing, Beijing Capital Airport. Part of new Terminal 3 building opened February 2008, second largest building in the world.
Christian Kober / Getty Images

Beijing International Airport will eventually surpass Dubai's Al Maktoum Airport in cost, total square miles, and passenger and plane capacity. The airport's first phase was completed in time for the 2008 Olympiad. Further expansion is scheduled for completion by 2025. Terminal 1, designed by Zaha Hadid, incorporates a number sustainable design concepts in a futuristic building envelope.  

Great Man-Made River Project, Libya

Truck with huge pipe
Friedrich Schmidt / Getty Images

Libya has been working on the "Great Man-Made River" (GMR) project since 1985. It is the largest irrigation project in the world. When completed, it will irrigate more than 350,000 acres of arable land and will substantially increase available drinking water in most of Libya's urban centers.  The water source for the project is the underground Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System. The project is scheduled for completion in 2030.

Necessary Evils?

Most of these gigantic construction projects are held in awe for their unprecedented scale, but also viewed with some suspicion. When a dam supplies a significant amount of electrical power to an expanding China, but displaces a million and a half Chinese and destroys thousands of acres of farmland, is the overall result good or bad? Inevitably, multi-billion dollar construction projects have environmental consequences.