When asked his reason for becoming a member of IASM Khanh responded “In Vietnam, with no modern devices, no guide books and no resources, structural movers have to teach themselves the methods of moving houses. It proves that people can do everything with a strong will. But, it also reflects the fact that the structural moving technology in Vietnam is still unprofessional.”
“A circuitous route”
“It all began in 1973. Khanh was the top high school graduate of Minh Khai School in Tu Liem, Hanoi and was sent to Czechoslovakia to study internal mechanics. Five years into studies, he realized it was a wrong calling. He switched to mechanical automation and wrote a research paper about designing an automatic-control energy system. The Vietnamese student was subsequently accepted for graduate studies without even completing his undergraduate courses. After that, he worked as researcher of SKODA Holding for 4 years.”
“Things got complicated”
“After 11 years of studying mechanical automation in Czechoslovakia, Khanh returned to Vietnam in 1984 and found himself unemployed. “I had so much trouble finding a job during 1984-1985 because no one really knew what my degree was about,” Khanh said.
“Refocusing his job search, Khanh then embarked on a six-year career with the Academy of Construction Technology. His first assignment in moving construction was working on a state project to prevent a hotel from sinking. Saving sagging buildings has occupied him ever since.”
“Genie’s hard work”
“In 1994, Khanh was offered a consulting post at the Foundation Center under the University of Civil Engineering, thanks to his successful experience in saving sagging houses in the Thao Ha apartments. “Those years, I found myself able to handle any task,” Khanh recalled. Khanh said he didn’t want to go to graduate school. “I had my pride,” he said. “How could I go to graduate school and be my own colleagues’ student?”
“He chose instead to sharpen his “drooping and sagging” techniques in real-life situations rather than through schooling. When he had reached a high level of expertise in the field, Khanh decided to open a company in 1998. For years he operated his business fixing local residents’ houses with much success and little fanfare. “At that time, it was still difficult for a construction company to obtain a license,” he said.”
“Without a license or a [proper] degree, Khanh was precluded from participating in government construction works. His big opportunity came in 2003 when a eight-floor building in Ha Giang Province sagged and drooped with its pillars collapsing within several hours. The provincial authorities decided to demolish the building after the Ministry of Construction pronounced no practical way to save it.”
“When I first heard about this building, I felt like a hunter spotting a big game,” Khanh recalled. “I asked the Ha Giang Province People’s Committee to let me try.” Khanh later saved the building by using a hoisting technique that had never been carried out in Vietnam before. “After the job was done, Vietnam Televison made a documentary about it,” Khanh said. “This was the first time I went public.”
Khanh gained further reputation after saving other buildings, including an ancient house on Nguyen Huu Huan Street and the Vietnam Traditional Folk Theater. But his second biggest achievement, after the success with the 3,000-ton building, was to save Bui Xuan Cuong’s leaning house in Hoa Binh Province.
“The owner didn’t tell me how bad the house’s condition was out of fear I wouldn’t take on the challenge,” Khanh said. Khanh said he was shocked upon seeing the house. “It slanted 29.5 degrees, which is six times the slant angle of the leaning Tower of Pisa,” he said. The house was ultimately saved and Khanh was awarded the prestigious Vietnam Science-Technology Award [VIFOTEC] in 2003 for his salvaging triumph.”
The Hanoi Department of Construction has publicly applauded his business’ successes, but falls short of granting him a license. Khanh, however, said the absence of a license didn’t prevent government authorities from seeking him out when the need arises.
The 3,000-ton building was the genie’s first major removal work. Khanh said, “The Ha Tay authorities gave us an ultimatum: either move it within 30 days or else they would demolish it.” “As the deadline was approaching, it was nerve-wracking. All would have been lost if we hadn’t stayed calm.”
“In a letter to the Vietnamese structural engineers’ forum at www.ketcau.com Khanh wrote that the greatest challenge in moving the 3,000-ton building was “what needed to be measured couldn’t be measured, what needed to be tried couldn’t be tried, and only when the work was actually carried out did he know whether his equipment and techniques really worked.”
“Money can’t replace time and intelligence in such a difficult situation,” Khanh explained. So the only thing I could do was to try to use whatever I had learned from books and experience to predict what might happen and plan accordingly.”
“Khanh said he wanted to share with the public the techniques he used in moving the building. “People may call me a “genie” but I am actually a scientist,” he said. And anyone who wants to contribute to scientific advances should make public their research and findings. If my techniques inspire any more “genies” in the future, I will consider that my contribution to science.”