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Session 7/5

A General Earth Pressure Theory

Une théorie générale de la poussée de terre

by J. B r i n c h H an sen , C hief Engineer, Christiani & N ielsen, Copenhagen, D enm ark

Summary Sommaire

In this paper the author describes the main principles o f a new Dans cet article l’auteur décrit les principes fondamentaux d’une
method for calculation of the earth pressure, which is based on nouvelle méthode de calcul de la pression des terres basée sur l’équa­
Kotter's equation and on a special boundary condition developed tion de Kôtter et sur une condition à la limite spéciale, développée
by himself. This renders it possible to deal with more or less com­ par l’auteur. Cette méthode permet de traiter des « figures de rupture »
plicated “ rupture-figures” involving curved rupture-lines. As ex­ plus ou moins compliquées, comprenant des lignes de glissement
amples of the application o f the new method to practical design courbes. A titre d’exemple d’application de la nouvelle méthode à
problems the author finally presents the calculations for an anchored la solution de problèmes pratiques, l’auteur présente les calculs d’un
sheet wall and a cellular cofferdam. rideau de palplanches ancrées et d’un bâtardeau cellulaire.

The author has recently developed a new earth pressure The equilibrium -condition (for an earth wedge bounded by
theory, which he has applied to the majority o f plane earth the surface, the wall and a rupture-line) m ust be one in which
pressure problem s ( Brinch Hansen, 1953). The main features the unknown stresses in the rupture-line do not enter. In
o f this m ethod are described as follow s:— general, this requirement is satisfied by choosing, as rtipture-
line, a logarithm ic spiral and taking the m om ents about the
pole (Rendulic, 1940). From this m om ent equation, the earth
Known Methods o f Calculation pressure can be found (as a function o f the geometrical para­
meters o f the spiral), provided that the location o f the pressure
The author divides the know n m ethods in the follow ing
centre and the direction o f the pressure are known.
grou ps:
The extrem e-condition requires that the earth pressure
(1) Extrem e-m ethods ( Coulomb , Fellenius, Rendulic );
should be a maximum (active pressure) or a minimum (passive
(2) Theories o f plasticity ( Rankine , Prandtl, Kotter, v. Karman,
pressure) respectively. This condition makes possible the
Frontard, Ohde) ;
determination o f the geom etrical parameters o f the critical
(3) Theories o f elasticity ( Boussinesq , Rifaat, Bretting );
(4) Empirical m ethods ( Danish Rules, Tschebotarioff, Rowe,
Generally the location o f the centre o f rotation for a rigid wall
cannot be determined by this m ethod. For kinem atical reasons
After a survey o f these m ethods the author com es to the
this w ould require the rupture-line to be a circle, in which case
conclusions that none o f them satisfies the requirements for
the centre o f rotation w ould be located on the norm al to the wall
a general earth pressure theory. H e finds, however, that the
passing through the centre o f the circle. H ow ever, for statical
solution lies in a com bination o f the extrem e-m ethod ( Rendulic )
reasons, a circular rupture-line cannot be used in the extreme-
and the so-called equilibrium -m ethod (Ohde).
m ethod, except in the special case o f frictionless earth (Fel­
The Extreme-Method The calculation m ethod m ost com m only used viz. Cou­
lomb's, is also a special case o f the extrem e-m ethod. A s it con­
In the extrem e-method the earth pressure is determined siders straight rupture-lines only, its useful application is, how ­
using one condition o f equilibrium in com bination with an ever, limited to such structures for which the actual rupture-
extrem e-condition. lines are approxim ately straight, e.g. retaining walls.

The Equilibrium-Method (3) Composite ruptures, which consist o f more than one rup-
ture-zone or -line. T w o rupture-lines m ay either meet each
In the equilibrium -m ethod, the earth pressure is determined other flush ( / ) or at an angle (a) o f 90° ± q>, or at the wall (w),
by m eans o f all three conditions o f equilibrium in com bination or they may be com pletely separated (s). The m ost im portant
with K ö tter's equation (K ö tter, 1903) and a boundary co n ­ com posite ruptures are shown in Fig. 1, together with the simple
dition. zone- and line-ruptures.
K ötter's equation determines the internal stresses at any M ost theories o f plasticity deal exclusively with zone-rup-
point o f a given rupture-line, provided that the stresses are tures, and proper line-ruptures are considered only in a few
know n at one point, for instance at the soil surface. T he latter cases (e. g. Ohde). C om posite ruptures have practically never
condition, however, is fulfilled only when the rupture-line been dealt with before.
m akes a certain angle with the surface, or in the special case
o f cohesionless earth with an unloaded surface.
In the special cases m entioned above, the three equilibrium
conditions for the earth wedge suffice to determine tw o geo­
metrical parameters o f the rupture-line and the m agnitude o f
[ 7 F
the earth pressure, provided that its direction and the location
o f the pressure centre, is known (Ohde, 1938).
If a circle is chosen as the rupture-line, the calculation de­
scribed determines also the centre o f rotation for the wall.
Conversely, if the rotation centre is given, the location o f the AaP PfA
pressure centre can be determined.

The A uthor’s M ethod f

A n essential requirement for a general earth pressure theory
is that it should render possible the determ ination o f the earth Fig. 1 M ost Important “ Figures o f Rupture’
pressure and its pressure centre, corresponding to any given Principales «Figures de rupture»
rotation centre for a rigid wall. A s we have seen, neither the
extrem e-m ethod nor the equilibrium -m ethod satisfies this re­
quirem ent except in special cases. T he author, however, has
Internai Forces in Rupture-Circle
succeeded in developing a generally applicable m ethod by com ­ Fig. 2 show s a circular rupture-line with radius r and central
bining the tw o m ethods in the follow ing way: angle 2 a. Its chord has a length k and m akes an angle P with
L et us consider a problem which can be solved with the the horizon. A t a point, to which the radius makes an angle v
extrem e-m ethod, using a spiral rupture-line. The sam e problem with the vertical, the stresses in the circle are a and t . A ccording
m ight be solved using the equilibrium -m ethod, if the boundary to Coulomb's failure-condition we have:
stress at one end o f the spiral were known. N o w the author
has show n that both m ethods w ill lead to the sam e results, if T = c + pio = c + o tan <p (1)
the boundary stress is determined by a special boundary con ­ W hen this is com bined with the conditions o f equilibrium
dition. Through the aid o f this condition the equilibrium- for a sm all earth elem ent, the so-called K ôtter's equation can
m ethod can be used, if the rupture-line is a spiral. be derived in the follow ing form:
Further the sam e boundary condition can be used as an
approxim ation, when the spiral rupture-line is substituted by dt . . .

a circular one. This gives very nearly the sam e result, and in
------ 1- 2[it + yr sin <p sin (v + <p) = 0 (2)
this w ay a general application o f the equilibrium -m ethod is
m ade possible. For r = constant (circle) the solution is:
M oreover, as this m ethod gives practically the sam e results
r = C e -2''1’ + y r sin <p cos y cos (v + <p + y>) (3)
as the extrem e-m ethod, it m ust be just as reliable, and the
reliability o f the extrem e-m ethods (notably the so-called where :
“ <P = 0 ” -analysis) has been repeatedly demonstrated (S kem p-
ton, 1948).
yi = arc tan 2 /i .. (4)
and C is a constant which can be determined when a set o f
Figures of Rupture corresponding values (vt and rt) are known.
Instead o f t and a it is more convenient to introduce the
W ith regard to the state o f rupture in the soil the author stresses c and t, o f which the latter m akes an angle <p with the
distinguishes between the follow ing different types o f rupture
(see Fig. 1):
(1) Zone-ruptures, in w hich the stresses at any point within
a certain area satisfy the condition o f failure. Z ones w ithout
any singular points are termed Rankine-zones (R), and zones
w ith at least one singular point, Prandtl-zones (P ).
(2) Line-ruptures, in which only the stresses at points on a
Fig. 2 Stresses and Forces in Circular
certain curve satisfy the condition o f failure. For kinem atical Rupture-Line
reasons this curve must be a circle, either concave (A ) or con ­ Contraintes et efforts dans une
vex (X ). ligne de rupture circulaire

normal. (3) leads then to the follow ing relation between the For the surcharge P on the earth wedge, and for the self­
stresses ^ and t 2 at the ends o f the rupture-circle: weight G o f this wedge the follow ing equations are valid. The
m om ents are taken about the middle point o f the chord:
12 = y k ( t YX sin /9 + t yv cos p) + ( t1 + — ) t ‘ 4 - —A — (5)
\ sin ip / sin q> P = p k cos j MP= 0

where t yx, t 7» and t l are functions o f <p and a only.

By integration the resultant R o f the internal forces in the
w hole rupture-circle can be found or, rather, its vertical com ­
ponent V, horizontal com ponent H and m om ent M n about the
m iddle point o f the chord. The follow ing expressions are ob­
tained :
V = y k 2[V yz + Vyx sin (2 ß + 2<p)] — c k cot <p cos ß
Earth Pressure for Circular
c Rupture-Line
h + — k i V ^ s i n ß + V iy cos ß) (6) Pression de sol pour une ligne
sin <p t
de rupture circulaire
H = y k 2[H vz 4- H vv cos (2 ß + 2<p)\ — c k cot <p sin /
sin 7) k ( H ^ sin/3 + H ty cos ß) G = y k ‘ (<3VZ + j s i n 2/sj .. (13)

m r = y k 3(M R s in ß + M V
r cos ß) + +
sin <p M a = y k 3\ M q sin ß + (14)
where M lR and all the quantities with double superscripts are
functions o f <p and a alone. For q> = 0° and <p = ± 30° the where G yz and M g* are functions o f a only.
author has tabulated all these functions (Brinch Hansen, 1953). The 3 equations o f equilibrium for the earth wedge are ob ­
tained by vertical projection, by horizontal projection, and by
The Special Boundary Condition taking the mom ents about the m iddle point o f the ch ord :

The previously m entioned boundary condition, with which G + P E = H .. (15M 16)

an equilibrium -calculation gives the sam e results as an extreme-
E ( \h — z) = M r + M g .. (17)
calculation, is obtained in the follow ing way:
Let us consider the forces acting upon a sm all earth elem ent W hen x is given, the procedure is to estim ate the value o f a,
between the boundary (e. g. the ground surface), the rup- find the corresponding /S from ( 10 ) as well as k = h : sin (i,
and investigate whether (15) is satisfied. W hen this is obtained
(by changing a), E is found from (16) and, finally, z from (17).
E xam ple: In the case o f p = c = 0, <p = — 30° (active pres­
sure) and x = h (rotation about the top o f the wall) the ou t­
Earth Element Between lined calculation gives a = 21.0°, /i = 69.0°, E = 0.355 • \ y h 2
Ground Surface and and z = 0.48 h.
In principle the pressure distribution is indeterminable, but
Elément de sol entre
la surface du sol et les the author has tentatively suggested approxim ate earth pres­
lignes de rupture sure diagrams o f the types show n in Fig. 7. The upper part
corresponds to ordinary passive (right) or active (left) pressure.
ture-line and a pseudo-rupture-line (Fig. 3), project these forces
on a line perpendicular to the pseudo-rupture-line and put the Earth Pressure Graphs
resultant equal to zero. This gives:
Calculations similar to that described for rupture A can be
p sin (Vj + <p) + c cos O'! + <p — /) m ade for other ruptures such as R , P , A a R , A a P , A w R , PfA
sin (vj — 0 and X /P , thereby permitting the determ ination o f E and z for
any location o f the rotation centre (*). T he follow ing general
where vx = /? + a (see Fig. 2).
equations apply:

Calculation for a Line-Rupture E = i y h 2h + p h g + c h x (18)

U sing the above m ethod the author was able to calculate the E z = \ y h 3Xr) + p h 2g8 + (19)
earth pressures corresponding to zone-ruptures, line-ruptures
For the case o f a vertical wall and a horizontal ground sur­
and the simpler com posite ruptures. The calculation o f a line-
face the author has worked out graphs indicating the values
rupture is described as an example. Here, the ground is as­
o f the different constants in (18)—(19) as functions o f £ = * : h.
sumed as horizontal and the wall as vertical and perfectly
Figs. 5 -6 show the graphs for X a n d »?, corresponding to cp = 30°.
sm ooth, but actually any inclinations o f the wall and the sur­
Curves are indicated for sm ooth and rough walls (in the latter
face can be considered, as well as any relative roughness o f
case with no vertical m ovem ent) and for rotations in both
the wall.
directions. A positive rotation is defined as a m ovem ent (o f
The height o f the rotation centre above the toe o f the wall is
a rigid wall), by which the angle between the original ground
(Fig. 4):
surface and the wall (below the surface) is increased. By a
x = \ h (1 + cot a co t f)) . . ( 10 ) negative rotation this angle is decreased.

CO 3.3 1.0 1.3 tes It IO 0.3 OS 0.1 O.S 03 at 03 0.2 at 0 -0.1-O.IS-O3 -to -1.3 —03

Fig. 5 A as a Function o f f Fig. 6 i) as a Function o f f

A en fonction de { i) en fonction de £

A n c h o r e d S h e e t W a ll W ith these values (23) is very nearly satisfied and (22) yields
A = 14.2 t/m, so that the necessary anchor section is 7.1 cm 2/m.
In order to show the application o f the new method to prac­ By means o f the approxim ate pressure diagrams the greatest
tical design problem s, the case o f an anchored sheet wall will positive m om ent is found to be 7.0 tm/m, and the greatest
be considered (Fig. 7). It is assum ed that p = c = 0 and negative m om ent (at anchor level) — 9.0 tm /m. The necessary
y = 1.8 t/m 3. Further, the actual <p is 36°, but a safety factor section m odulus o f the wall is then 450 cm 3/m.
o f 1.25 (on tan <p) is introduced by carrying out the calculation
with q> = 30°. An additional safety factor o f 1.2 is applied to
the yield stress (2400 kg/cm 2) o f the steel in the wall and the
anchors, making the “ perm issible” stress 20 0 0 kg/cm 2 for
steel 37.
In the state o f failure the wall is assum ed to undergo a
rotation round the anchor point. W hen the design is made
on this basis, no other type o f failure is possible. If, for in­
stance, the anchorage starts yielding, this very m ovem ent will
decrease the pressures on the upper part o f the wall and in­
crease those on the lower part. The yielding o f the anchorage Pressure Diagram for
Anchored Sheet Wall
stops and the fo o t o f the wall starts yielding as assumed in the Diagramme des pres­
design. sions sur écran de pal-
The equations governing the design o f the anchored sheet planches ancrées
wall are found by horizontal projection and by taking the
m om ents at the anchor point:
C e llu la r C o ffe rd a m
£ i- E d q — Zi) = E2(q — z 2) ( 2 0 )—(2 1 )
The new m ethod can also be applied to foundation pressures
W ith an estim ated value o f the driving depth h2, the heights and stability problem s. A s a special exam ple o f the latter, a
^ and q can also be determined as well as f x = q : ht and cellular cofferdam on rock w ill be considered (Fig. 8 ). The
£ 2 = q : h2. From the graphs (Figs. 5 -6 ) the corresponding exterior load Q is a unilateral water pressure. The fill is as­
values o f A and »? are found, and (20)-(21) yield after inser­ sumed to be well-com pacted sand with an actual <p = 36°, but
tion o f (18)—(19): a safety factor 1.25 is introduced by reckoning with <p = 30°.

A = i y i k h i2—A
2V) i —Vi) = —vd

W hen (23) is satisfied, h2 has been estim ated correctly, and

(22) gives then the anchor pull. In order to determine the
m om ents in the wall, the previously m entioned pressure dia­
grams m ust be used.
In the exam ple show n in Fig. 7, the heights given are
/¡i — h2 = 8 m and hx — q = 2 m. After som e trials it is found
that h2 = 1.45 m satisfies (23), when the wall is assumed to
be perfectly rough. This gives:
Fig. 8 Stability o f a Cellular Cof-
hx = 1.45 + 8 = 9.45 m q = 9.45 — 2 = 7.45 m ferdam
= 7 .4 5 ; 9 .4 5 = 0.79 l 2 = 7 .4 5 :1 .4 5 = 5.15 Stabilité d’un batardeau
A, = 0.305 ni = 0.505 A2 = 4.95 n* = 0.295 cellulaire

In order to obtain a total safety factor o f 1.5, the cofferdam actual Q is | • 9 2 = 40.5 t/m, the agreement is satisfactory. It
is designed for a horizontal load 1.2 Q. The fill is also assumed should be noted that value obtained for w : h is very nearly
to be well-drained, so that its average unit weight is y m = equal to the value m ost com m only used in practice (0.85).
1.7 t/m3.
In the state o f failure a convex circular rupture-line is as­
C o n c lu s io n
sumed to develop, so that the overlying earth, together with
the walls o f the cofferdam, rotate about the centre o f the circle. The new m ethod developed by the author can be applied
The 3 equations o f equilibrium for the rotating body give: to problem s such as retaining walls, anchor slabs, free sheet
walls, anchored sheet walls, fixed sheet walls and cellular coffer­
G = V 1.2 Q = H 1.2 Q q = — M R (24)-(26) dams on rock and in earth. T he m ethod is applicable to earth
In the equations ( 6)—(8) a reduced y = 1.0 t/m 3 must be in­ with cohesion or friction, or both, to ground surfaces with any
serted, as the fill in the vicinity o f the rupture-line is probably slope and surcharge, and to walls w ith any inclination and
submerged. Further, c = 0, /9 = 0 and k = w are inserted. roughness. The effects o f water pressures and o f layered earth
For G, the follow ing equation m ay be obtained (G vz is nega­ can also be taken into account, at least approxim ately.
tive here):
G = y mhw + y w 2G yz (27)
Brinch Hansen, J. (1953): Earth Pressure Calculation. Copenhagen (in
From the 3 equations (24)-(26) it is possible to elim inate Q the Press).
Kötter, F. (1903): D ie Bestimmung des Druckes an gekrümmten G leit­
and tu leaving an equation in which the only unknow n quan­ flächen. Sitzungsbericht der Kgl. Preuss. Akad. der W iss., Berlin.
tities are a and w : h. W ith an estim ated (negative) value o f a Ohde, J. (1938): Zur Theorie des Erddruckes unter besonderer Berück­
the corresponding w : h is found, then t1 from (24) and, finally, sichtigung der Erddruckverteilung. D ie Bautechnik, Hefte 10/11, 13,
Q from (25). W hen Q attains the required value, a has been 19, 25, 37, 42, 53/54.
Rendulic, L. (1940): Gleitflächen, Prüfflächen und Erddruck. D ie Bau­
correctly chosen. technik, Heft 13/14.
W itli h = 9 m ,q = 3 m and a = — 32°, the outlined m ethod Skempton, A . W. (1948): Practical Examples o f the <p = 0 Analysis o f
gives w : h = 0.83, tx = 26.8 t/m 2 and Q = 41.1 t/m. A s the Stability o f Clays. Proc. Sec. Int. Conf. Soil Mech., Vol. II, Rotterdam.