The development of geotechnical engineering activities in Southeast Asia

During the period from 1967 to date, geotechnical engineering activities in Southeast Asia increased exponentially in terms of research, continuing education and project work. A very large number of challenging major projects have been completed or are in progress for infrastructure and resources development, as well as the prevention of natural hazards.

In Malaysia, the construction of several tall buildings, roads and expressways, airports and ports and dams and reservoirs for hydropower and irrigation, the Penang Bridge one of the longest bridges is now fully utilized and over crowded. A second bridge south of the present bridge is currently being implemented and expected to be completed by 2010. Increasing use of tunnels in the transportation, power and water supply and notably the recently completed combined traffic diversion and flood water bypass SMART project has attracted much interest internationally as can be seen at the international conference and exhibition on Tunnelling and Trenchless Technology held in Kuala Lumpur last year.

Excellent progress has also been made in offshore engineering related to the exploration and extraction of oil and gas and the mining of tin. Prof. Chin Fung Kee has contributed much to the understanding of the behaviour of pile foundations and road embankments. He developed the concept of Inverse slope method for the prediction of pile ultimate bearing capacity in 1972. This method is now known and acknowledged internationally as the ‘Chin Method’. Besides geotechnical engineering, he is also well known for his works in buildings, bridges and others. Other stars in geotechnics include Dr. Ting Wen Hui, Dr. Ooi Teik Aun, Dr. Chan Sin Fatt, Tang Tin Sing, Dr. C.T. Toh, Neoh Cheng Aik, Dr. S.S. Gue, Kenny Yee, Tan Yean Chin, Simon Tan Siow Meng, Yee Yew Weng and others. Large scale projects have been completed or are under construction in other member countries of the Society.

In Singapore, the number of highrise buildings has greatly increased. Further, the novel construction of the Changi International Airport on reclaimed land and other reclamation projects posed challenging geotechnical problems in ground improvement techniques. The large land reclamation projects carried out in the past include the East Coast Reclamation Project, the Tuas Reclamation Project, the Jurong Island Reclamation Project, and the Changi East Reclamation Projects. The Singapore Mass Rail Transit (MRT) System and new underground expressways that pass through areas in which highrise or preserved historical buildings are located has been constructed. Recent projects include the Northeast MRT Line, the Kallang/Paya Lebar Expressway, and the Deep Tunnel Sewage System.

Dr. Tan Swan Beng, Prof. S. L. Lee and Prof. B. Broms have contributed much to the advancement of practical geotechnics in Singapore. Mention should also be made of the valuable contributions by Prof. Victor Choa, Prof. S. D. Ramaswamy, Dr. G. P. Karunaratne, Prof. K. Y. Yong, Dr. C. F. Leung, Dr. Chew Soon Hoe, Dr. Harry Tan Siew Ann, Dr. Zhao Jian, Dr. J. Chu and others.

Geotechnical engineering activities in Hong Kong have also been dynamic. Despite its small size, Hong Kong is of international significance as the world’s third most important financial center, as its third largest port and as a leading manufacturing and exporting center. The Territory’s phenomenal economic expansion over the past few decades has been accompanied by extensive civil engineering and building in both the public and private sectors.

The combination of extremely hilly terrain, deeply weathered rock profiles and high seasoned rainfall has in the past resulted in severe landslide problems in Hong Kong’s intensely developed urban areas. To combat the landslide problem, a dedicated body was formed by the government in 1977 – now the Geotechnical Engineering Office (GEO). Under the leadership of Dr. E. W. Brand, Dr. A.W. Malone and Ir Raymond K.S. Chan, the GEO made significant contribution in reducing landslide risk in Hong Kong. The effort of local practitioners and researchers in enhancing slope safety and the quality of geotechnical works in developments also cannot be ignored. In particular, the late Prof. Peter Lumb pioneered geotechnical research, e.g. in the application of statistical and probabilistic analyses to geotechnics. A country report on topics of slopes, landslides, geotechnical breakthrough, tunnels and reclamation in Hong Kong can be found in the 40th anniversary commemorative special volume published together with the 16th Southeast Asia Geotechnical Conference.

Geotechnical engineering activities in Taiwan were well summarized in lectures given by Dr. Za Chieh Moh, the founder President of the Society. Taiwan, with an area of 36,000 sq km, has more than 18 million people living mostly on lands which are alluvial plains or basins underlain by soft clays and recent deposits of sands and gravels. Many of the recently completed major projects in Taiwan have incorporated research and development in ground improvement with the use of compaction sand piles, preloading with and without drains and grouting.

In addition, Taiwan is located in the active Pacific seismic zone and experiences over a thousand earthquakes and tremors every year. Dr. Za Chieh Moh, Prof. J.J. Hung, Dr. Chin Der Ou, Dr. Woo Siu Mun and other researchers in Taiwan must be congratulated for the enormous progress they have made in geotechnical engineering in Taiwan.The Mass Transit System in Taipei has been completed as well as the Rapid Railway System from Taipei in the North to Khaosiung in the South.

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