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George Tharakan Idiculla1 and Satyanarayana Murty Dasaka 2

1 Research Scholar, Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai;
2 Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay,
Mumbai; e-mail:


The use of contiguous pile walls for deep excavation supporting system has become common in
geotechnical engineering practice around the world. The implementation of contiguous piles (piles with a
gap between them) for deep excavation support is most suitable for cohesive soil, where ground water table
is located below the base of excavation. The Soil Arching plays an important role in stabilizing the soil in
between the adjacent piles. The Mohr-Coulomb model is routinely used in the numerical analysis of deep
excavations, due to its simplicity. Use of an advanced soil model may be prudent to capture realistic soil
response during the excavation process. The Hardening Soil model is an effective and better model to
simulate the real soil behavior in terms of stress dependency, non-linearity and inelasticity. The present
study highlights salient advantages of Hardening Soil model over Mohr-Coulomb model in the numerical
modelling of deep excavation supporting system using discrete piles with a gap between them.


The demand of deep excavations in the case of basements of high-rise buildings, tunnel stations,
underground parking and other underground structures is progressively increasing over the years. Sheet pile
walls and concrete diaphragm walls are popular forms for deep excavation supports in soft soil.
Furthermore, soldier pile and lagging walls, reinforced concrete (cast-in-situ or prefabricated) retaining
walls and jet-grout walls (or deep soil mixing) with anchors or struts are also being used as deep excavation
support system. Various factors affecting the selection of deep excavation support system are size of
excavation, ground water level, settlement of adjacent ground, soil properties and displacement criterion.
Recent advancement in area of deep excavations is the replacement of traditional deep excavation support
systems with contiguous piles (Keawsawasvong and Ukritchon 2017; Gaba et. al. 2003). This application
of contiguous pile walls for deep excavation support is most suitable for cohesive soil where ground water
table is below the excavation level. The wall consists of discrete column piles with a gap between them and
these piles are typically installed into the ground before the excavation.

The phenomenon of soil arching contributes to the stability of soil mass between the adjacent piles in
contiguous pile wall system. Application of piles for deep excavation support resembles the active trapdoor
mechanism, but in the horizontal direction. Many researchers (Evans 1983; Costa et al. 2009; Smith 2012;
Iglesia et al. 2013; Wang et al. 2017) had carried out experimental studies on soil arching mechanism to
understand the transfer of stress from yielding portion of geo-material to the stationary portion using
conventional trapdoors. The deformation characteristics at the soil gap between the laterally loaded piles
used in slope stabilization and deep excavation support were studied in the past few decades (Ito and Matsui

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1975; Vermeer et al. 2001; Haema and Tanseng 2010; Richards et al. 2016; Keawsawasvong and Ukritchon
2017). The aim of the present study is to further understand the behaviour of anchored contiguous pile wall
used for deep excavation support, by employing numerical modelling using PLAXIS 3D. Two constitutive
models, viz. Mohr-Coulomb and Hardening Soil models have been used in the present study. The study
also aims to highlight salient advantages of Hardening Soil model over Mohr-Coulomb model in numerical
modelling of the particular problem.


The Mohr-Coulomb is a linear elastic-perfectly plastic model, which can be used as first approximation of
soil behavior. The soil behavior will be elastic and obeys Hook’s law for isotropic linear elasticity for the
stress states within yield surface. Hence, the real soil behaviour of stress dependency on the elastic stiffness
cannot be depicted using Mohr-Coulomb model.
Figure 1 shows the stress-strain behavior of real soil and the patterns, which can be observed using Mohr-
Coulomb and Hardening Soil models.

σ σ σ

ε ε ε

(a) Real Soil (b) Mohr-Coulomb (c) Hardening Soil

model model
Figure 1. Stress-strain behaviour of real soil, MC soil and HS soil

Mohr-Coulomb yield criterion comprises of six yield functions (Equations 1-6), which are derived in the
form of principal stresses and the model parameters cohesion, C and friction angle, Φ (Smith and Griffiths

f = σ̕ − σ̕ + σ̕ + σ̕ sin Φ − C cos Φ ≤ 0 (1)

f = σ̕ − σ̕ + σ̕ + σ̕ sin Φ − C cos Φ ≤ 0 (2)

f = σ̕ − σ̕ + σ̕ + σ̕ sin Φ − C cos Φ ≤ 0 (3)

f = σ̕ − σ̕ + σ̕ + σ̕ sin Φ − C cos Φ ≤ 0 (4)

f = σ̕ − σ̕ + σ̕ + σ̕ sin Φ − C cos Φ ≤ 0 (5)

f = σ̕ − σ̕ + σ̕ + σ̕ sin Φ − C cos Φ ≤ 0 (6)

The criteria, fi = 0 for all yield functions together represents a hexagonal cone on principal stress space as
shown in Figure 2a.
Hardening Soil model is an advanced soil model to simulate the behaviour of different types of soil, both
stiff soils and soft soils (Schanz 1998, Brinkgreve et al. 2004). Nonlinear, inelastic and stress dependent
behaviour of soil can be captured using Hardening soil model. The variation of elastic stiffness with the
stress is taken into account in the Hardening Soil model, whereas the elastic stiffness is considered as
constant value in Mohr-Coulomb model. The yield surfaces are not fixed on principal stress space, but can
expand as the soil undergoes plastic straining. The Hardening Soil model supersedes the Mohr-Coulomb
model: firstly by using the theory of plasticity rather than theory of elasticity; secondly by including soil
dilatancy; and thirdly by introducing a yield cap. Some basic characteristics of the Hardening Soil model
and its input parameters for the numerical modelling are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Basic characteristics of HS model

Basic characteristics Input parameters
Stress dependent stiffness according to a power law m
Plastic straining due to primary deviatoric loading E
Plastic straining due to primary compression E
Elastic unloading / reloading E ,
Failure according to Mohr-Coulomb failure criterion C, Φ, ψ

The hyperbolic relationship (Figure 3) between the vertical strain, ε1, and the deviatoric stress, q, in primary
triaxial loading is the basic idea for the formulation of Hardening Soil model. The yield curves obtained
from a standard triaxial test can be described by:

−ε = ⁄
for q < q (7)

qa is asymptotic value of shear strength and Ei is the initial stiffness which is related to E50 by:

E = (8)

E =E (9)

E is a reference stiffness modulus corresponding to a reference confining pressure, pref. The ultimate
deviatoric stress, qf and the quantity qa in Equation 7 are defined as:

q = C cot Φ −σ̕ (10)

q = (11)

Rf is the failure ratio which is lesser than 1.

For unloading and the reloading stress paths, another stress dependent stiffness modulus is used:
E =E (12)

Eur is the reference Young’s modulus for unloading and reloading, corresponding to reference pressure, pref.
In many practical cases, it is appropriate to set E equal to 3E .

The Hardening Soil model has two yielding surfaces as shown in Figure 4. The first one deals with the
yielding due to shear stress and the second one handles the expansion of the cap due to changes in mean
effective stress, p΄. The 3-dimensional yield surface is shown in Figure 2b.

(a) (b)
Figure 2. Yield surface in principal stress space:
(a) Mohr-Coulomb model (After Smith and Griffiths 1982)
(b) Hardening Soil model (After Brinkgreve et al. 2004)

Figure 3. Hyperbolic stress-strain behaviour in primary loading for a standard drained triaxial test (After
Duncan and Chung 1970)

Figure 4. Illustration of double yield surfaces of HS model (After Brinkgreve et al. 2004)


The number of case studies available on the application of contiguous pile wall for deep excavation support
reported is very limited. However, its successful implementation as deep excavation support system is
frequently done in Santiago, Chile (Saez and Ledezma 2011; Prado et al. 2012). Deep excavation of 26
meters depth supported by contiguous piles of 0.8 m diameter and 0.5 m clear gap between them is
numerically modelled in the present study using Plaxis 3D. The soil profiles are modeled using both Mohr-
Coulomb and Hardening Soil model and the results are compared. The contiguous piles are modelled as
linearly elastic non-porous material. Piles are supported by three layers of anchors at depths 6 m, 13 m and
20 m. These supporting anchors are modelled using embedded pile element for the grouted part and node-
to-node anchor element for un-grouted part. A fines content of 3%, with a plastic index between 5 and 20
and coarse grains of up to 30 cm of nominal size (Rodriguez-Roa 2000) characterize the Santiago gravel.
A 1.5–3.0 m thick deposit of low-plasticity clay of medium to high consistency overlies this gravel deposit.
From the ground surface down to a depth of 5–7 m, the gravel contains low-plasticity silty fines, with a
cohesion of about 20 kPa, and an angle of internal friction of 45º. The upper gravel layer is known as the
second deposit of the Mapocho River. Below this stratum, there is a denser gravelly deposit with a very
similar particle-size distribution. Many authors (Kort et al. 1979; Ortigosa et al. 1982; Rodríguez-Roa 2000;
De la Hoz 2007) studied the mechanical properties of this material. The ground water table observed at the
site is at a depth of around 22 m. Soil layers and piles are modelled by 10-node tetrahedral elements and
12-node interface elements to model pile-soil interface. 302921 elements and 425303 nodes were generated
to model the site of dimensions 30 m x 14 m x 40 m (length x width x depth) and is shown in Figure 5a.

(a) (b)
Figure 5. Numerical modeling:
(a) Finite element meshing;
(b) 13 phases of 26 m deep excavation (soil layers are hidden to show the contiguous pile wall and supporting

Excavation process is replicated numerically by a thirteen-phase process:

Phase 0 – Application of initial soil conditions.

Phase 1 – Installation of piles.
Phase 2 – Excavating up to 3 m depth.
Phase 3 – Excavating up to 6 m depth.
Phase 4 – Installation of first layer of anchors at 6 m depth.
Phase 5 – Excavating up to 9 m depth.
Phase 6 – Excavating up to 12 m depth.
Phase 7 – Excavating up to 15 m depth.
Phase 8 – Installation of second layer of anchors at 13 m depth.
Phase 9 – Excavating up to 18 m depth.
Phase 10 – Excavating up to 21 m depth.
Phase 11 – Installation of third layer of anchors at 20 m depth.
Phase 12 – Excavating up to 24 m depth.
Phase 13 – Excavating up to 26 m depth.


Soil elements (Points P1, P2 and P3) at the midway between the piles at different depths (5 m, 10 m and 20
m), which are adjacent to the exposed face of excavation are taken into consideration (Figure 6). The
variation of lateral stresses in the direction of flow of soil (σxx) and the variation of Young’s modulus (E)
with the phases of excavation are illustrated in Figure 7.

Figure 6. Points considered for the comparative study

Significance of modelling nonlinear behaviour before failure

In the Mohr-Coulomb model, soil remains elastic until the stress state of the soil reaches yield surface.
Upon reaching the yield surface, it switches to plastic state. However, the real soil behaviour is elastic-
plastic (i.e. nonlinear) even before approaching the yield surface. The Hardening Soil model captures this
nonlinear behaviour by varying the Young’s modulus during primary loading. Figure 7 depicts the variation
in stiffness in Hardening Soil model whereas the stiffness is constant in the Mohr-Coulomb model.

35 1.80E+05

Young's Modulus, E (kN/m2)

Stress in x-direction, σxx (kN/m2)

25 1.20E+05
20 1.00E+05
15 6.00E+04
10 4.00E+04
0 0 5 10 15
0 5 10 15 Phase of Excavation
Phase of Excavation


100 2.50E+05
Stress in x-direction, σxx (kN/m2)

Young's Modulus, E (kN/m2)

80 2.00E+05
0 5.00E+04
0 5 10 15
Phase of Excavation
0 5 10 15
Phase of Excavation


200.00 2.50E+05
Young's Modulus, E (kN/m2)
Stress in x-direction, σxx (kN/m2)

150.00 2.00E+05

0 5 10 15
0 5 10 15
Phase of Excavation
Phase of Excavation


Mohr- Coulomb model Hardening Soil model

Figure 7. Variation of lateral stress (σxx) and Young’s modulus (E) at the soil gap between the piles
with the phases of excavation: (a) at 5 meter depth; (b) at 10 m depth; and (c) at 20 m depth.

Modelling of Stress-dependent stiffness in HS model

The nonlinearity in stress-strain behaviour in the Hardening Soil model in turn depicts the stress dependency
of Young’s modulus. As the stage wise excavation is progressed, the lateral stresses on the soil elements at
the gaps between the adjacent piles get relieved from top to bottom, up to the depth of excavation. This
reduction in the lateral stresses in the direction of soil flow, with the stages of excavation is illustrated in
Figure 7. The stress dependency of the soil stiffness in the Hardening Soil model can be evidenced in the
graph, whereas the Young’s modulus remains constant when Mohr-Coulomb model is adopted.

Modelling of Unloading-reloading behaviour using HS model

An elastic Mohr-Coulomb soil sample may produce improper response for certain stress paths. From Figure
8b, it can be noted that the strain in the direction of deformation of soil at 10 m depth increases from
excavation stage 2 to 4 and then drastically decreases to a negative value in excavation stage 5. This
behaviour is not observed in numerical model with the Hardening Soil model and in the field as well. Also,
more heaving is observed at the excavation side when the Mohr-Coulomb model is used.

0.0004 0.001
Strain in x-direction, εxx

Strain in x-direction, εxx

0.0003 0.0005
0.0002 0
0.00015 0 5 10 15
0.0001 -0.0005
-0.00005 0 5 10 15
Phase of Excavation
Phase of Excavation

(a) (b)

Strain in x-direction, εxx

0.0008 Mohr- Coulomb model
0.0004 Hardening Soil model
-0.0002 0 5 10 15
Phase of Excavation


Figure 8. Variation of lateral strain (εxx) at the soil gap between the piles with the phases of excavation:
(a) at 5 meter depth; (b) at 10 m depth; and (c) at 20 m depth.

Mohr-Coulomb model - Effect of Poisson’s ratio

The uncertainty in the value of Poisson’s ratio may not affect the results to a larger extent in numerical
model with Hardening Soil model. As the Hardening Soil model is nonlinear elastic-plastic model, the
plastic strain component is not affected by the Poission’s ratio. Poisson’s ratio affects only the elastic strain
component. By varying the Poisson’s ratio from 0.2 to 0.4, the lateral deflection of contiguous pile wall is

Influence of Soil model on the deformations on soil

In numerical modelling, the deformations are obtained from the ratio of stress to soil stiffness. The soil
stiffness may increase or decrease with the nature of stress path. This variation in stiffness which happens
in reality will not be taken into consideration for computing the deformations of soil when Mohr-Coulomb
model is used. The Hardening Soil model accounts for this variation in stiffness and hence give more
accurate values of deformations.


Discontinuous piles are frequently being used for deep excavation support, mainly for cohesive soils with
water level deep below the ground surface. Numerical modelling is carried out in the present work
replicating contiguous pile wall system used in Santiago, Chile. The Mohr-Coulomb and the Hardening
Soil models are used to model the soil layers and a comparative study is presented. The Mohr Coulomb
model assumes soil to be elastic perfectly plastic and is commonly used to model soil behaviour. The
Hardening Soil model is a second order nonlinear, elastic-plastic model which nearly predicts the real soil
behaviour. As stress-dependency of stiffness is taken into account in the Hardening Soil model, it
overcomes many of the shortcomings of Mohr-Coulomb model.


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