In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Megaprojects

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Book Series
  • Organizations
  • History of Megaprojects
  • Globalization
  • Budgetary Factors, Control, Procurement, and Contractual Matters
  • Governance
  • Innovation
  • Economic Imperatives
  • Complexity, Decision Making, and Risk Management
  • Common Problems
  • Sustainability and Megaprojects
  • Social Imperatives and Non-Financial Benefits
  • Environmental Factors
  • Criticisms and Debates
  • New Arenas
  • Further Areas of Research

Urban Studies Megaprojects
Shankar Sankaran, Daphne Freeder, Alexandra Pitsis, Stewart Clegg, Nathalie Drouin, Marie-Andrée Caron
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0032


“Megaprojects” is a term used to refer to projects and events that encompass large-scale projects in size, cost, space, time, energy, and influence. They are synonymous with large engineering projects, complex projects, large transport or energy projects, and large infrastructure projects, and are often composed of multilayered discrete projects forming a larger scale complex project. Some of the complexity deals with difficulty in quantifying the long-terms costs or benefits or fully realising the whole life cycle of the megaproject prior to commencement. Megaprojects are often shaped by contextual factors. Where complexity is related to technical aspects of the project it also includes organizational aspects and the scope of the project. Some of these projects are multifaceted and relate to science research, engineering infrastructure, or private and public construction of buildings and/or other venues. Megaprojects affect societies that undertake them, urban planning aspects, and social relationships between stakeholders engaged in executing all the elements involved in creating them. They have an impact on a number of areas both locally and globally. This includes extending notions of urban planning to accommodate large-scale construction. These projects can be significant in terms of social and/or economic factors in a positive or negative sense. There have been debates and criticism on the need and function of megaprojects and whether they are beneficial constructs or detrimental to society.

Typology of Megaprojects

Megaprojects most frequently emerge from social, economic, or policy-driven needs. Flyvbjerg 2014 notes that they can manifest in the form of infrastructure and societal needs in the categories of water and energy; information technology; and industrial processing plants, mining, supply chains, enterprise systems, government administrative systems, defense, intelligence, air and space exploration, urban regeneration, and many other major events. Megaprojects span many industries and sectors, and as Flyvbjerg 2014 also identifies that they take on many forms, including aspects of transport on a vast scale, high-speed rail lines, technologically connected airports, seaports, motorways, hospitals, national health or pension information and communications technology (ICT) systems, national broadband, large-scale architecture, dams, wind farms, offshore oil and gas extraction, aluminum smelters, the development of new aircrafts, the largest container and cruise ships, high-energy particle accelerators, the logistics systems used to run large supply-chain-based companies like Amazon, and large-scale events such as Olympics and sporting games. As related to various fields of study, megaprojects have crossed many disciplines due to their pervasive characteristics. Fields of study include business, management, engineering, science, information technology, urban studies, environmental studies, geography, economics, architecture, and public administration. Morris and Hough 1987 outlines the significance of project management, seen as a lens to explore and understand megaprojects. Miller and Lessard 2001 explores large engineering projects presented through cases covering many different geographical locations.

  • Flyvbjerg, Bent. “What You Should Know about Megaprojects and Why: An Overview.” Project Management Journal 45.2 (April 2014): 6–19.

    DOI: 10.1002/pmj.21409

    This paper looks at a number of issues around megaprojects. The paper explores how global megaproject spending represents the biggest spending boom in human history. Aspects such as politics, technology, economics, and aesthetics are identified as “four sublimes” and explored to shed light on the increased size and frequency of megaprojects.

  • Miller, Roger, and Donald R. Lessard. The Strategic Management of Large Engineering Projects: Shaping Institutions, Risks, and Governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/6478.001.0001

    This book covers sixty projects exploring benchmarking and best practice. The focus is mainly on large engineering projects (LEPs) spanning a number of geographical areas. The book is recommended for teachers of project management and engineering management and is also recommended for graduate students.

  • Morris, Peter W. G., and George H. Hough. The Anatomy of Major Projects: A Study of the Reality of Project Management. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1987.

    This book is considered an influential work and presents research from studies on a number of major projects predominantly in the United Kingdom. The book focuses on the “practicalities of implementation” and presents itself as a “study of the reality of project management.”

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