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16 Insane Construction Projects That Will Be Completed in 2016

In 2015, the world’s second-tallest building, the Shanghai Tower, opened its doors. The gleaming, spiral-shaped behemoth is 2073 feet tall and has a computer-controlled damper weighing 1200 tons to prevent it from swaying in the wind. As countries—particularly those with surging economies—complete to outdo each other, 2016 will see the completion of more than a few insane construction projects.

1. Agora Garden // Taipei, Taiwan

Modeled after a DNA double helix, the floors of this eye-popping 20-story condominium  are built to make it look as if the tower itself is twisting at a 90-degree angle around a central cylinder. French architect Vincent Callebaut envisioned it with lush plant life spilling from every deck, and the building is “green,” as in eco-friendly, too. It was built from non-toxic, sustainable materials with low energy usage in mind.  “The concept is to build a true fragment of vertical landscape with low energetic consumption,” says Callebaut. "The project represents a built ecosystem that repatriates the fauna and the flora in the heart of the city and generates a new box of subtropical biodiversity.”

2. WorldOne // Mumbai, India

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WorldOne will stand at 117 stories and 1450 feet, making it the tallest strictly residential building in the world. Marketed towards the globe-trotting upper class of this Indian mega-city, the skyscraper will have swimming pools, gyms and health clubs, as well a cricket pitch and pavilion. The interiors were designed by none other than Giorgio Armani. Promoters are promising each buyer a “generously sized reception room, kitchen/breakfast room, luxurious bedroom suites and beautifully appointed bathrooms.” Prices for WorldOne’s 300 units start at the equivalent of $2.1 million.

3. The Dawang Mountain Resort Deep Pit Ice and Snow World // near Changsha, China

Imagine a race of giant molten metal blobs from outer space invading the Chinese countryside. That might give you a picture of the Dawang Mountain Resort Deep Pit Ice and Snow World. Concocted by Austrian architectural firm Coophimmelb(l)au, the multi-building complex is all metallic curves that sliver and sprawl over 90 square miles. The development will house an indoor water park and ski slope. The rock quarry at its center will become a reflecting pool, loomed over by a circular, metallic building with a 200-foot artificial waterfall shooting off to its side. One slug-shaped structure is actually a hotel with 270 rooms. The shiny surfaces will reflect the mountains of Hunan Province in the background.

4. Ping An Financial Center // Shenzhen, China

The latest addition to China’s super skyscraper club, the Pin An Financial Center will be the world’s fourth tallest building, at 1965 feet. The original plan by American architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates was to install an antenna at the top of the 115-story tower and surpass the Shanghai Tower as China’s tallest building, but apparently that would interfere with flight paths. Construction started in 2010 and was rapid; at one point, crews built a floor every four days. Once complete, it will house office, hotel and retail spaces—including a luxury mall—and, of course, the headquarters of Ping An Insurance. The building has proven irresistible to daredevils. Malaysia’s Keow Wee Loong and Russia’s Vitaly Raskalov and Vadim Makhorov have made unauthorized climbs and uploaded nauseating video footage.

5. i360 // Brighton, United Kingdom 

Come summer, visitors to this seaside resort town can gaze at the English Channel and the Sussex Coast from a revolving, donut-shaped vessel that travels from the ground to a height of 450 feet. The i360 will be the tallest observatory deck in the world. The viewing pod is 10 times the size of that of the London Eye and will hold 200 people at a time. Rides will cost £15 (about $20) and last 20 minutes in the day and 30 in the evening. Engaged? You can book a wedding on the i360 any time after February 2017.

6. 220 Central Park South // New York City, United States

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After a decade of legal fights and construction, 220 Central Park South is poised to open. In 2005, Vornado Realty Trust and the Clarett Group bought a modest (by midtown Manhattan standards) 20-story condo building, intending to demolish it and build a citadel for the one percent over Central Park. The tenants had stabilized rent agreements and developers eventually paid holdouts $1.3 to $1.56 million each to vacate. It was a small expense in the grand scheme. Designed by Roger A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, 220 will be the 10th tallest building in New York (at 1031 feet) and home of some of the most expensive condos on the planet. Two-bedrooms in the French fry-shaped building are reportedly going for $12 million, three-bedrooms for $32 million, four-bedrooms for $60 million and penthouses for $150 to $175 million. The prices are not slowing down sales; half of the 188 units are reportedly under contract.

7. Najiehe Railway Bridge // Guizhou, China

Due to the steep slopes that surround the waterway, there are already some impressive bridges along the Wu River, a southern tributary of the Yangtze. The newest, the Najieche Railway Bridge, is set to become the world’s highest railway span and the 13th highest bridge overall, according to the most recent Handbook of International Bridge Engineering. It’s a 1017-foot drop from the bridge to the Wu below. The bridge’s hulking, bright red arch spans 1154 feet. It will connect Guizhou to neighboring cities via a high-speed rail line. 

8. Lotte World Tower // Seoul, South Korea

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Resembling a cocoon that might nurture the pupa of Mothra, the Lotte World Tower has sleek, curved, silvery sides and, at 1821 feet, is the tallest building on the Korean peninsula and sixth-tallest in the world. Lotte, a food, chemical, and retail conglomerate, started petitioning the government for a permit for the supertall skyscraper in 1995 and got one after agreeing to shoulder the costs of realigning the air traffic patterns of a military base south of Seoul. The $3.3 billion mixed-use project has been plagued by construction issues, including water seepage, sinkholes nearby, falling debris, and three worker fatalities, causing city residents to view it with a mix of awe and anxiety.

9. Marina 101 // Dubai, United Arab Emirates 

At the start of the millennium, Dubai was growing like a SimCity. In 2007, Sheffield Holdings broke ground on what they foresaw as the emerging global finance hub’s second-tallest building, Marina 101, a hotel/condo complex on the Persian Gulf shoreline (shadowed in the city only by the global record holder, Burj Khalifa). The 2007/08 financial crisis slowed down Dubai’s development and put the project into stasis. Now that developers have found a buyer for complex’s hotel component, the Hard Rock Café, construction has resumed and Marina 101 is now just a few inches shy of 1400 feet. It’s become another conquest of Keow Wee Loong.

10. Houston Marriott Marquis // Houston, United States

The Houston Marriott Marquis will add 1000 hotel rooms to the city’s downtown, in time for its 2017 Super Bowl date. Construction companies have hauled 1500 truckloads of dirt, erected 7.5 million pounds of steel and finished 53,000 cubic yards of concrete for the L-shaped building. The hotel will feature a 3500-square-foot event pavilion, five restaurants, and a ballroom of 40,000 square feet (the largest in Houston). The flashiest feature will be a swimming pool and lazy river on the hotel’s lower roof. They will be shaped like Texas, of course.

11. MGM-AEG Las Vegas Arena // Las Vegas, United States

The supposed “entertainment capital of the world,” Las Vegas will finally get an arena on par with Madison Square Garden, in terms of size and capacity, in 2016. Located on the Strip, between New York-New York and the Monte Carlo, the 650,000-square-foot, puck-shaped MGM-AEG Las Vegas Arena will hold up to 20,000 people and sit across 16 acres. The $350 million project has been years in the making. Various partners came and went before the two entertainment mega-corps teamed up and brought in Populous, a firm whose credits include London’s O2 Arena and Kansas City’s Sprint Center. A construction crew of 700 is readying it for an April opening.

12. Lokhandwala Minerva // Mumbai, India

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Lokhandwala Minerva is casting a huge, two-pronged shadow over Mumbai. The 1000-foot, 82-story building looks like the Dark Tower from Lord of the Rings redesigned by a glass-obsessed architect in the International Style. Most units have a deck, and condos of more than five bedrooms come with a private pool. The curve of the U shape at the top houses a “sky lounge” where one can gaze at a panoramic view of the city at 700 feet. The developers claim the materials and design can withstand 500 years of intense climate change, so Mumbai should get used to its distinct shape.

13. CTF Finance Centre // Guangzhou, China

The 1740-foot CTF Finance Centre is the second of the Guangzhou Twin Towers, joining the 1439-foot Guangzhou International Finance Center. Its owner and namesake is Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, the conglomerate that grew out of a successful watch and jewelry retailer. The building will include offices, residences, a hotel, and helipad. Though neither reaches the heights of the city’s TV broadcast/sightseeing structure, Canton Tower, the CTF and GINFC will be the tallest and second-tallest inhabited buildings in Guangzhou, respectively, and also the seventh and 16th tallest in the world.

14. Lamar Towers // Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

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Speaking of dual towers, 2016 is also the estimated completion date for the Lamar Towers, two connected buildings rising 1056 and 961 feet, respectively, making them the second and the fifth tallest buildings in Saudi Arabia. The two behemoths are poised to be reflected in the Red Sea and have diamond-shaped frames. They will serve as a base for conglomerates doing business in Jeddah. The project was launched in 2007 but stalled due to financing problems. In 2013, British firm Drake and Scull was called in to complete the project. As of last May, the job has required 24,000 cubic meters of concrete and 6500 tons of steel.

15. Złota 44 // Warsaw, Poland

With its jumpy, uneven lines of white and dark grey window tint, the developers of Złota 44 have put a huge, zebra-striped façade in the middle of Warsaw. The 630-foot, 52-story residential tower is the third-tallest building in the Polish capital and the brainchild of Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind, whose deconstructionist touch can be seen in Manchester’s Imperial War Museum North and the Jewish Museum Berlin. Each of its 287 apartments has central software that controls the lighting, temperature, blinds, and window panels (which can be accessed remotely). Other amenities include massage rooms, an outdoor Jacuzzi, a gym, a wine cellar, a sauna and steam room, a private movie theater with a golf simulator, and a 25-meter swimming pool.

16. National Museum of Qatar // Doha, Qatar

A series of disk-shaped pavilions, French architect Jean Nouvel’s design for the new home of the National Museum of Qatar was inspired by the petals of the desert rose. From overhead, it might look more like a UFO junkyard. The unique design is also functional: It will shield visitors from the heat. With 430,000 square feet of indoor space, the museum is designed to take visitors through a series of interlocking, circular structures. Exhibit space will be dedicated to both modern art and to artifacts from Qatar’s history and heritage. The building will house a 220-seat auditorium, retail outlets, two restaurants, a café, and a park filled with indigenous plants. Nouvel couldn’t have asked for a more premium space to show off the building; planes landing at the city’s airport will take passengers over it. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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