Geotechnical engineering is a significant discipline in the modern world. This branch of civil engineering that deals with the behavior of earth materials ensure that the structures we build today are able to stick over the surface of the earth, without tilting or sinking into the soil. Without geotechnical engineering principles, our roads, homes, dams and many other structures would literally be swallowed into the ground.
Geotechnical engineers study the soil as well as rock layers that make up the earth in order to establish their physical and chemical characteristics. With this information, they can design foundations and earthworks structures for roads, buildings, and many other types of projects. But where exactly did this significant branch of construction engineering come from? Here is a brief history of geotechnical engineering;
1. The Primitive Era of Soil Usage
The history of geotechnical engineering is long and quite interesting. Our ancestors in the olden days used soil for an extensive variety of activities from building and creation of construction materials to irrigation and flood control. However, the earliest applications were not very much advanced. It was simply related to flood control as well as irrigation as exhibited by traces of dykes, dams, and canals that have been discovered in some parts of ancient Egypt, Greece and other parts of the world dating back to not less than 2000 BCE.
2. The Perception of Soil Design as an Art Rather than Science
As these areas developed, construction of structures which were supported by formalized foundations begun. For instance, the people of Greece notably built pad footings as well as strip-and-raft foundations during this time. However, the science of soil design was still a non existing phenomenon.
3. Foundation-Related Engineering Issues
By the 18th century as civilization advanced further, numerous engineering problems related to building foundations began to emerge. The Leaning Tower of Pisa which is a tourist attraction today for example presented a very unique challenge at that time.
What happened is that the tower had been constructed on soft ground composed mostly of clay, fine sand, and shells without using enough stones to make a strong foundation. Due to the heavy weight without enough base support, the structure had no option but to sink a little bit into the earth. One side happened to go further deeper into the ground than the other causing the tower to lean to one side. The Leaning Tower of Pisa actually makes an important part of the history of geotechnical engineering.
4. The Emergence of the Principles of Soil Mechanics (Geotechnical Engineering)
The Leaning Tower experience is what prompted engineers to start taking a more scientific approach to setting up foundations of buildings with respect to soil design and structure. Significant soil theories guiding the construction of building foundations began to emerge. A French engineer by the name Henri Gautier recognized “natural slope” of different soils an idea which later on developed into something known as soil’s angle of repose. And then more principles of soil mechanics came into existence.
From the primitive era of soil usage and the time when buildings would be erected without paying much attention to soil structure as well as design to the 18th century building challenges and the emergence of the principles of soil mechanics, the history of geotechnical engineering is a long and quite interesting one.
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