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24th Nov 2012 4:28pm | By Alasdair Morton
The presenter of BBC’s hit doco Supersized Earth on mankind’s ambitious feats of engineering, ghost towns and ‘shit diving’
What’s the series about?
The scale of what humans have been able to achieve in engineering – looking at the biggest engineering projects on the planet.
The first episode’s about cities and buildings; the second is about how we move things around the world; and the third is about food and fuel.
Have we mastered our environment?
As human beings, we’ve become a force of nature in our own right.
We now have the technology to build aqueducts that stretch the entire length of China and we can build cities a kilometre high.
And we’ve done this in the blink of an eye, the last 100 years, and radically transformed the planet in ways our ancestors would have been unable to comprehend.
What was the most daunting project you visited?
The Burj Khalifa [in Dubai]. The tallest building for 4000 years was the Pyramid of Giza. It was just a big pile or rock and had no internal space.
In the Middle Ages these great cathedrals went up and then steel, glass and concrete transformed building. In my lifetime the height record has changed five times.
It was the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center, and now the Burj, which is twice the Empire State. And I’ve stood on the very top of it.
What goes through your mind there?
Don’t fall off! The deserts of Dubai get very windy and it blows a hooly up there.
What’s the next development to change the height buildings can reach?
It will probably be elevator technology, as that limits you. Now they’re planning the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, which will be even higher.
Does ambition or function drive it?
Both – social, technological, economic and political factors. In my lifetime the population has doubled, which is ridiculous, so we have a need for our technology to work, to feed and move all these people around.
What has surprised you the most?
The sheer scale. As well as the Burj, we visited a Boeing factory in Seattle, where they’re building the Dreamliners [world’s largest jumbo jets], and the world’s biggest container vessel.
We were in the Gulf of Mexico standing on this ship that sinks itself, then goes underwater and picks up an oil rig. We were standing on deck and it just defies imagination.