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Contact Pressure

On the underside of the footing, the soil reaction produce a upward pressure which is assumed
uniform in deriving different relationship for soil-structure interaction problem. This pressure is
called contact pressure. But actually a footing are not flexible as well as contact pressure is not
uniform, necessitating more investigation for actual contact pressure distribution.
Factor Influencing Contact Pressure
The actual distribution of contact pressure depends upon a number of factors such as
1) Elastic properties of footing
2) Elastic properties of soil
3) Thickness of footing
Different characteristics of contact pressure distribution under flexible and rigid footings are
described below:
Contact Pressure On Saturated Clay
Flexible Footing
When a footing is flexible, it deforms into shape of bowel, with the maximum deflection at the
center. The contact pressure distribution is uniform.
Rigid Footing
When a footing is rigid, the settlement is uniform. The contact pressure distribution is minimum
at the center and the maximum at the edges. The stresses at the edges in real soils can not be
infinite as theoretically determined for an elastic mass. In real soils, beyond a certain limiting
value of stress, the plastic flow occurs and the pressure becomes finite.

Fig: Qualitative contact pressure distribution under flexible and rigid footing resting on
saturated clay and subjected to a uniformly distributed load q.
Contact pressure on sand
Flexible footing
In this case, the edges of flexible footing undergo a large settlement than at the centre. The
soil at the centre is confined and, therefore, has a high modulus of elasticity and deflects less
for the same contact pressure. The contact pressure is uniform.

Rigid footing
If the footing is rigid, the settlement is uniform. The contact pressure increases from zero at
the edges to a maximum at the centre. The soil, being unconfined at edges, has low modulus of
elasticity. However, if the footing is embedded, there would be finite contact pressure at edges.

Fig: Qualitative contact pressure distribution under flexible and rigid footing resting on sandy
soil and subjected to a uniformly distributed load q.
Thus it is observed that the contact pressure distribution for flexible footing is uniform for both
clay and sand. The contact pressure for rigid footing is maximum at the edges for footing on
clay, but for rigid footings on sand, it is minimum at the edges.
Consequence of assuming uniformity in pressure
For convenience, the contact pressure is assumed to be uniform fpr all types of footings and all
types of soils if load is symmetric.

The above assumption of uniform pressure distribution will result in a slightly unsafe design for
rigid footing on clays, as the maximum bending moment at centre is underestimated. It will
give a conservative design for rigid footings on sandy (cohessionless) soils, as the maximum
bending moment is overestimated. However, at the ultimate stage just before failure, the soil
behaves as an elasto-plastic material ( and not an elastic material) and the contact pressure is
uniform and the assumption is justified at the ultimate stage.
Foundation Design: Theory and Practice
By N. S. V. Kameswara Rao