One Engineer's Crazy Plan to Drain the Mediterranean

Ittiz at en.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Ittiz at en.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

In the 1930s, German architect and engineer Herman Sörgel hatched an ambitious plan that he believed could unify post-World War I Europe: partially drain the Mediterranean Sea and create a new super-continent called "Atlantropa."

First outlined in a 1929 book, Sörgel's "Atlantropa Project" planned to lower the Mediterranean's water level by as much as 650 feet, generating hydroelectricity and creating thousands of square miles of arable coastline. The project demanded some of the most ambitious dams ever constructed, including a 21-mile dam at the Strait of Gibraltar that would create 50,000 megawatts of electricity—conservatively, enough power to supply least 8.2 million homes. Overall, the drop in water would free up nearly 373,000 square miles of coastal land for farming or colonization. (For comparison, the entire country of France is just over 248,000 square miles!) In the process, Europe and Africa would be linked.

Despite the project's grand scale, Sörgel believed creating a new super-continent would be relatively easy. The plan was modeled after smaller engineering projects that were already in the works. In the 1920s, the Netherlands had begun erecting dams and dikes in and around the North Sea, a project that eventually helped the country reclaim thousands of acres of land once covered by the Zuiderzee bay. Some of that new land would become the province of Flevoland, now home to 400,000 people.

Damming the Mediterranean seemed easy by comparison. Water enters the sea from two major arteries, with the Atlantic pouring in from the Strait of Gibraltar in the west and the Black Sea rushing in from the Dardanelles in the east. By pinching the flow at those two straits, the Mediterranean would plummet almost immediately.

A pacifist and dreamer, Sörgel believed the project could help Europe recover from its post-World War I economic woes, bringing the continent's countries together to share resources and vital infrastructure. Writing at Atlas Obscura, Toon Lambrechts says, "Because of its scale, Atlantropa required cooperation between countries, creating an interdependence that would rule out future armed conflicts."

The Atlantropa Project, however, had a few big blind spots. Over at the Big Think, Frank Jacobs argues that Sörgel's plan was too Eurocentric, with this new "Euro-African continent entirely run by and for the benefit of Europe(eans), [and] Africa(ns) being reduced to supplying raw materials." Indeed, Sörgel didn't appear to think very hard about how Africans might be affected by his project—along with draining the Mediterranean, he also planned to flood the Congo Basin and submerge most of the country of Chad. According to Cabinet Magazine, Sörgel saw "Africa as an empty continent void of history and culture." (The engineer went so far as to say that Atlantropa would make Africa a "territory actually useful to Europe"—a remarkably tone-deaf thing to say considering Europe's colonial role on the continent at the time.)

While Sörgel's idea received a lot of press during his lifetime, the leaders of the Weimar Republic did little to make the blueprints for Atlantropa a reality. And when the Nazi party came to power, it dismissed Sörgel's ideas altogether. Sörgel would fight for his vision until his death in 1952. Eight years later, the Atlantropa Institute—an organization dedicated to keeping his dream alive—dried up.

Shanghai Is Now Home to the World’s Longest 3D-Printed Bridge

World's largest 3D-printed bridge in Shanghai, China.
World's largest 3D-printed bridge in Shanghai, China.
Tsinghua University

Small items like toys and shoes aren't the only things 3D printers can make. As a team of architects from China's Tsinghua University School of Architecture recently demonstrated, the machines can be used to print sturdy bridges large enough to span waterways.

As dezeen reports, at 86 feet in length, the new pedestrian bridge on a canal in Shanghai's Baoshan District is the longest 3D-printed bridge on Earth. Designed by the university's Zoina Land Joint Research Center for Digital Architecture (JCDA) and constructed by Shanghai Wisdom Bay Investment Management Company, it consists of 176 concrete units. The parts were printed from two robotic-arm 3D-printing systems over 19 days.

The 3D-printing technology cut down on costs as well as construction time. According to Tsinghua University, the project cost just two-thirds of what it would have using conventional materials and engineering methods.

Even though their approach was futuristic, the architecture team paid homage to a much older bridge in a different part of the country. The new bridge's arched structure is inspired by that of the 1400-year-old Anji Bridge in Zhaoxian, the oldest standing bridge in China (and the world's oldest open-spandrel arch bridge).

The bridge in Shanghai may be the longest 3D-printed bridge in the world, but it isn't the first. Last year, a 3D-printed steel bridge was unveiled in Amsterdam.

[h/t dezeen]

A Clue on the Ceiling of Grand Central Terminal Shows How Dirty It Was 30 Years Ago

iStock.com/undercrimson
iStock.com/undercrimson

The mural above the concourse at Grand Central Terminal is one of the most gawked-at ceilings in New York City, but even daily commuters may have missed a peculiar feature. Tucked at the edge of the green and gold constellations is a rectangular black mark. The apparent blemish didn't get there by mistake: As Gothamist explains in its new series WHY?, it was left there by restorers when the ceiling was cleaned more than 20 years ago.

Prior to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's renovation of Grand Central in the 1990s, the concourse was a lot dirtier. The station itself was constructed in Manhattan in the early 1900s, and the celestial scene that's on the ceiling today was painted there in the 1940s. It took only a few decades for tobacco smoke and other pollutants to stain the mural so badly that it needed to be restored.

Using Simple Green-brand cleaning solution and cotton rags, conservators spent two years scrubbing nearly every inch of the ceiling back to its former glory; the one part they skipped was a 9-inch-by-18-inch patch in the northwest corner. Sometimes, when doing a major cleaning project, preservationists will leave a small sample of the art or artifact untouched. If the cleaning products did any damage to the paint, the patch gives future preservationists something to compare it to. It also acts as a snapshot of what the mural looked like in its old condition.

To hear more about the mural and its dirty secret, watch the video from Gothamist below.

[h/t Gothamist]

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