Much of the world's essential infrastructure is built along congested coastal belts that are composed of highly compressible and weak soils up to significant depths. Soft alluvial and marine clay deposits have very low bearing capacity and excessive settlement characteristics, with obvious design and maintenance implications on all structures and large commercial buildings, as well as port and transport infrastructure. Stabilising these soft soils before commencing construction is essential for both long term and short term stability. Pre-construction consolidation of soft soils through the application of a surcharge load alone often takes too long, apart from which, the load required to achieve more than 90% consolidation of these mostly low lying, permeable, and very thick clay deposits can be excessively high over a prolonged period. A system of vertical drains combined with vacuum pressure and surcharge preloading has become an attractive ground improvement alternative in terms of both cost and effectiveness. This technique accelerates consolidation by promoting rapid radial flow which decreases the excess pore-pressure while increasing the effective stress. Over the past 15 years, the Author and his co-workers have developed numerous experimental, analytical and numerical approaches that simulate the mechanics of prefabricated vertical drains (PVDs) and vacuum preloading, including two-dimensional and three-dimensional analyses, and more comprehensive design methods. These recent techniques have been applied to various real life projects in Australia and Southeast Asia. Some of the new design concepts include the role of overlapping smear zones due to PVD-mandrel penetration, pore pressure prediction based on the elliptical cavity expansion theory, and the rise and fall of pore pressure via PVD under cyclic loads. These recent advances enable greater accuracy in the prediction of excess pore water pressure, and lateral and vertical displacement of the stabilised ground. This E.H. Davis Memorial Lecture presents an overview of the theoretical and practical developments and salient findings of soft ground improvement via PVDs and vacuum preloading, with applications to selected case studies in Australia, Thailand, and China.