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In order to understand what happens at the base of a retaining wall footing, one must understand

that there will be an axial force (downward) and a moment from the horizontal force of the soil

that is trying to rest at its natural angle.

If one now investigates the base of the footing and one applies the axial load and the bending

moment, one can calculate the pressure on the soil under the footing.

Example: Calculate the pressure under the footing for the following loads.

P = 200 kN

M = 30 kN.m

b ⋅ h 3 1 ⋅ 33

I= = = 3,25 m 4

12 12

h

c = = 1,5 m

2

P 200 M ⋅ c 30 ⋅ 1,5

− =− = −66,667 kPa = = 13,846 kPa

A 1× 3 I 3,25

P M ⋅c

− − = −66,667 − 13,848 = −80,513 kPa

A I

P M ⋅c

− + = −66,667 + 13,848 = −52,821 kPa

A I

The pressure distribution will then look as follows:

The moment can be replaced by moving the axial force, P, through a distance, e, in other words

the moment M = Pxe.

The question that arises is what magnitude e may become before tension occurs under the

footing. As soon as tension occurs under the footing of a retaining wall, water from the natural

water table will have a positive pressure and will help to push the wall over. Wedging may also

occur as small soil particles are washed in under the wall. Remember that as soon as the soil

pressure starts acting on the wall, the wall will move away and if wedging occurs this movement

will become a permanent displacement. With time this will grow.

b ⋅ h3 1⋅ h3

I= =

12 12

h

c=

2

h

Pe ⋅

P P M ⋅c 2 = 6 ⋅ Pe

− =− =

A 1× h I h 3

h3

12

If the pressure at the heel of the footing may not be positive, i.e. tension, then:

P M ⋅c

− + ≤0

A I

Using the values above we find that e may not be greater than h/6. As long as the axial force falls

within the middle third of the footing, there will be no tension under the footing.

This is called the middle third rule.

It is possible that under certain circumstances, tension under the footing can be permitted. As

long as the resistance moment is greater than the moment causing overturning, the wall will not

fall over. If one observes the pressure under the footing, the resultant force of the pressure must

be equal to the axial load and if one takes moments about the toe of the footing, then the

resultant force times the leverarm must be equal to the applied moment.

Note that the effective width has decreased as the soil cannot take any tension.

Example: Determine the pressure under the footing with the given loads.

b ⋅ h3 1⋅ 23 h

I= = = 0,6667 m 4 c= = 1,0 m

12 12 2

P 100 M ⋅ c 40 ⋅ 1,0

− =− = −50,00 kPa = = 60,00 kPa

A 2 I 0,6667

P M ⋅c

− − = −50,00 − 60,00 = −110,00 kPa

A I

P M ⋅c

− + = −50,00 + 60,00 = +10,0 kPa but there may not be a positive pressure, i.e.,

A I

tension.

Move the axial load to the toe of the footing and recalcualte the moment at this point.

M = 100 x 1m – 40 = 60 kN.m.

The moment from the resultant force of the pressure, with a leverarm of h’/3, must be equal to the

applied moment.

h'

Therefore: 100 × = 60 with h’ = 1,8 m.

3

The maximum pressure times h’/2 must be equal to the applied axial load = 100 kN.

Maximum pressure = 111,1 kPa.

What can go wrong with retaining walls and what sort of safety factors

would one require.

The loading on the footing comes from the soil pressure, water behind the wall, the weight of the

wall and anything else that may have a vertical component. The resistance comes from friction

between the soil and the concrete and vertical soil pressure.

The active soil pressure depends on the natural rest slope of the soil and the pressure is given

by:

p = K a ⋅ ρ s ⋅ g ⋅ h where Ka is the active pressure coefficient, h is the height measured from the

surface and ρs is the density of the soil. The active pressure coefficient will be in the region of

0,33 to 0,4 and the passive coefficient will be about equal to the inverse of the active coefficient,

i.e., 3 to 4.

P1 to P4 are the vertical forces. The horisontal forces consist of the passive soil pressure, the

active soil pressure, the water pressure and the friction force between the soil and the concrete.

1 The wall can slide if the friction force and the passive soil pressure are less than the

active soil and water pressure. A safety factor of 1,5 is usually accepted as being the

minimum value.

2 The wall can overturn about the toe if the resistant moment is less than the

overturning moment. A safety factor of 1,5 is usually accepted as being the minimum

value.

3 The soil pressure under the base may become too great. This will depend on the type

of soil.

Example: Determine the maximum height that a double skin brick wall (230 mm thickness) may

be used as a retaining wall so that there is no tension in the brickwork. Also calculate the safety

factor against overturning and the safety factor against slip if the friction coefficient of the wall on

its footing is 0,6.

Assume that the soil has a density of 1800 kg/m2, the wall a density of 2000 kg/m3 and the active

pressure coefficient = 0,3.

Total horisontal load = 5,4 h x h/2 = 2,7 h2.

Moment at the base as a result of horisontal load = 2,7 h2 x h/3 = 0,9 h3.

2000 × 10

Vertical load P = 0,23 × × h = 4,6h

1000

For there to be no tension:

P M ⋅c

− + ≥0

A I

c = 0,115 m

A = 1 x 0,23 = 0,23 m2

1 × 0,233

I= = 1,01392 × 10 −3 m 4

12

4,6h 0,9h 2 × 0,115

− + ≥0

0,23 1,01392 × 10 −3

h < 0,443 m

Take moments about the toe. The moment causing overturning = 7,824 x 10-2 kN.m

0,2344

Safety factor against overturning = = 2,996

7,824 × 10 − 2

Sliding resistance force = friction coefficient x vertical force = 0,6 x 2,038 = 1,223 kN

Horisontal force that causes sliding = 2,7 x h2 = 2,7 x 0,4432 = 0,530 kN

1,223

Safety factor against sliding = = 2,31

0,530

HOMEWORK

A 2 m high tripple skin brickwall has fill behind it. How high may the fill be before tension occurs

under the base of the wall. Also calculate the safety factor against overturning and the safety

factor against slip if the friction coefficient of the wall on its footing is 0,55. Assume that the soil

has a density of 1800 kg/m2, the wall a density of 1800 kg/m3 and the active pressure coefficient

= 0,33.

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