How Engineers Move Massive Structures Without Breaking Them

The Move That Took 30 Years

Art and artifacts from around the world adorn the grand hilltop mansion in California known as Hearst Castle. Its original owner, American newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, initially envisioned having another gem among the property’s treasures: an entire 12th-century Spanish monastery. So in 1925, he bought the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, built in the town of Sacramenia, Spain, in 1141. He had workers completely disassemble the building and ship it to the U.S. in 11,000 wooden crates.

Hearst planned to have the monastery reconstructed on his property, but a turn in his financial fortunes forced the businessman to auction off most of his estate. The pieces languished in storage for over two decades. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that the building’s 35,000 stones were purchased and reassembled in Miami Beach, Florida. Today, it serves as an active church.

The Move So Smooth, It Didn’t Spill a Drop

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Romanian government carried out massive development and restructuring projects that shaped many urban centers. When it came to the city of Alba Iulia, however, there was a hitch. Engineers had pinpointed a stretch of land where they would build a grand boulevard. But a 7,600-ton apartment building blocked the path. Instead of demolishing the nearly 330-foot- long building, planners decided to move it — with the residents of its 80 units still inside.

In May 1987, workers cut the building in half and dug underneath each side to install a supportive framework. Then, they used hydraulic jacks to lift the building off its foundation so a temporary railway and wheeled platforms could be placed underneath. The two halves were slid 180 feet apart on the rails, with the building’s utility lines staying connected throughout the six-hour moving process. According to local lore, residents of the building watched the move from their balconies, where one woman set down a glass of water that stayed perfectly balanced during the relocation.

The project’s head engineer, Eugeniu Iordăchescu, is known for using a similar system of rails to save a dozen churches from destruction during Romania’s communist era.

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