n Civil Engineering = Siviele Ingenieurswese - The need for 'hands-on' geotechnical engineering : geotechnical engineering

Volume 23, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1021-2000



From the tallest building and the largest dam or harbour wall to the most humble cottage, there is a foundation where the structure interacts with the earth. If that foundation does not perform satisfactorily the structure above it will not perform as it should, and failure to some degree will occur. It was largely the impact of a series of spectacular failures in Europe (such as the railway embankment at Weesp in the Netherlands) which led to the development of soil mechanics as a civil engineering discipline nearly a hundred years ago. One of the prime movers of this development, Carl Terzargi, set soil mechanics on a scientific footing with his insights into effective stress. Terzaghi moved from Germany, eventually settling in America, where his successes helped to set soil mechanics in high regard, and a generation of greatly respected personalities in the field of geotechnical engineering emerged. One of Terzaghi's pupils, Jeremiah Jennings, was perhaps South Africa's best known example of the giants in this field. A notable feature of this generation of soils engineers was their 'hands-on' approach. They appreciated the necessity of personally interacting with the materials involved - going down test holes to examine those materials under field conditions, collecting and testing their own samples. They also appreciated the necessity of personally monitoring the performance of their designs to check that their calculations matched reality within acceptable limits.

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