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The structure of soils that experience large loss of strength or great increase in compressibility with
comparatively small changes in stress or deformations is said to be metastable (Peck et al., 1974).
Metastable soils include (Peck et al., 1974):

1. Extra-sensitive clays such as quick clays,

2. Loose saturated sands susceptible to liquefaction,

3. Unsaturated primarily granular soils in which a loose state is maintained by apparent cohesion,
cohesion due to clays at the intergranular contacts or cohesion associated with the accumulation of
soluble salts as a binder, and

4. Some saprolites either above or below the water table in which a high void ratio has been developed
as a result of leaching that has left a network of resistant minerals capable of transmitting stresses
around zones in which weaker minerals or voids exist.

Footings on quick clays can be designed by the procedures applicable for clays as explained in Chapter
12. Very loose sands should not be used for support of footings. This chapter deals only with soils under
categories 3 and 4 listed above. There are two types of soils that exhibit volume changes under constant
loads with changes in water content. The possibilities are indicated in Fig. 18.1 which represent the
result of a pair of tests in a consolidation apparatus on identical undisturbed samples. Curve a
represents the e-\og p curve for a test started at the natural moisture content and to which no water is
permitted access. Curves b and c, on the other hand, correspond to tests on samples to which water is
allowed access under all loads until equilibrium is reached. If the resulting e-\og p curve, such as curve b,
lies entirely below curve a, the soil is said to have collapsed. Under field conditions, at present
overburden pressure/?,

Foundation design in collapsible soil is a very difficult task. The results from laboratory or field tests can
be used to predict the likely settlement that may occur under severe conditions. In many cases, deep
foundations, such as piles, piers etc, may be used to transmit foundation loads to deeper bearing strata
below the collapsible soil deposit. In cases where it is feasible to support the structure on shallow
foundations in or above the collapsing soils, the use of continuous strip footings may provide a more
economical and safer foundation than isolated footings (Clemence and Finbarr, 1981). Differential
settlements between columns can be minimized, and a more equitable distribution of stresses may be
achieved with the use of strip footing design as shown in Fig. 18.7 (Clemence and Finbarr, 1981).


It is necessary to note that all parts of a building will not equally be affected by the swelling potential of
the soil. Beneath the center of a building where the soil is protected from sun and rain the moisture
changes are small and the soil movements the least. Beneath outside walls, the movement are greater.
Damage to buildings is greatest on the outside walls due to soil movements. Three general types of
foundations can be considered in expansive soils. They are

1. Structures that can be kept isolated from the swelling effects of the soils

2. Designing of foundations that will remain undamaged in spite of swelling

3. Elimination of swelling potential of soil.

All three methods are in use either singly or in combination, but the first is by far the most widespread.
Fig. 18.20 show a typical type of foundation under an outside wall. The granular fill provided around the
shallow foundation mitigates the effects of expansion of the soils.


Drilled piers are commonly used to resist uplift forces caused by the swelling of soils. Drilled piers, when
made with an enlarged base, are called, belled piers and when made without an enlarged base are
referred to as straight-shaft piers. Woodward, et al., (1972) commented on the empirical design of piers:
"Many piers, particularly where rock bearing is used, have been designed using strictly empirical
considerations which are derived from regional experience". They further stated that "when surface
conditions are well established and are relatively uniform, and the performance of past constructions
well documented, the design by experience approach is usually found to be satisfactory." The principle
of drilled piers is to provide a relatively inexpensive way of transferring the structural loads down to
stable material or to a stable zone where moisture changes are improbable. There should be no direct
contact between the soil and the structure with the exception of the soils supporting the piers.
Straight-shaft Piers in Expansive Soils

Figure 18.21 (a) shows a straight-shaft drilled pier embedded in expansive soil. The following notations
are used. Lj = length of shaft in the unstable zone (active zone) affected by wetting. L2 = length of shaft
in the stable zone unaffected by wetting d = diameter of shaft Q - structural dead load = qAb q - unit
dead load pressure and Ab = base area of pier When the soil in the unstable zone takes water during the
wet season, the soil tries to expand which is partially or wholly prevented by the rough surface of the
pile shaft of length Lj. As a result there will be an upward force developed on the surface of the shaft
which tries to pull the pile out of its position. The upward force can be resisted in the following ways. 1.
The downward dead load Q acting on the pier top 2. The resisting force provided by the shaft length L2
embedded in the stable zone. Two approaches for solving this problem may be considered. They are 1.
The method suggested by Chen (1988) 2. The O'Neill (1988) method with belled pier. Two cases may be
considered. They are 1. The stability of the pier when no downward load Q is acting on the top. For this
condition a factor of safety of 1.2 is normally found sufficient. 2. The stability of the pier when Q is
acting on the top. For this a value of F? = 2.0 is used.