Third Edition

Joseph E. Bowles
Consulting Engineer/Software Consultant Engineering Computer Software Peoria, Illinois

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The soil must be capable of carrying the loads from any engineered structure placed upon it without a shear failure and with the resulting settlements being tolerable for that structure. This chapter will be concerned with evaluation of the limiting shear resistance, or ultimate bearing capacity qull' of the soil to foundation load. Chapter 5 wil1be concerned with estimation of settlements. A soil shear failure can result in excessive building distortion and even collapse. Excessive settlements can result in structural damage to a building frame, nuisances such as sticking doors and windows, cracks in tile and plaster, and excessive wear or equipment failure from misalignment resulting from foundation settlements. ' Seldom has a structure collapsed or tilted over from a base shear failure in recent times. Most reported base failures have occurred under embankments or similar structures where a low factor of safety was deemed acceptable .. Most structural distress attributed to poor foundation design is from excessive settlements. Even here, however, structural collapse seldom occurs. This may in part be due to settlements being time-dependent so that when cracks or other evidence first appears, there is sufficient time to take remedial measures. It is necessary to investigate both base shear resistance and settlements for any structure. In many cases settlement criteria wil1control the allowable bearing capacity; however, there are also a number of cases where base shear dictates the recommended bearing capacity. For example, the allowable bearing capacity for footings on unsaturated cohesive soil is often based on the unconfined compression strength, which in turn is a simplified version of the bearing-capacity equations presented in this chapter. Structures founded on soft soils such as liquid storage tanks and mats may be more susceptible to a base shear failure

...._...----------------BEARING CAPACI1Y OF FOUNDATIONS


than to settlements, particularly if the structure has such a loading that it settles uniformly and where a large amount of settlement can be tolerated. We should note that while primary focus is on bearing capacity for framed structures and equipment foundations, the same principles apply to obtain the bearing capacity for other structures such as tower bases, dams, and fills. The ultimate bearing capacity becomes somewhat more difficult to estimate for layered soils, foundations located on or near slopes, and foundations subjected to tension as the primary force. These several bearing-capacity problems will also be considered in this chapter. A recommendation for the allowable bearing capacity qa to be used for design is based either on settlement considerations or on the ultimate bearing capacity as computed in the following sections. The ultimate bearing capacity is divided by a suitable factor of safety based on the type of soil, accuracy of input data-both structural information and soil parameters-and consultant caution. Possible factors of safety which may be used are outlined in Sec. 4-13.




ng :he la~ar ive . as or :10 ; or Iost ttlepart

; for ring ; the {for .omacity h as ilure

One of the early sets of bearing-capacity equations was proposed by Terzaghi (1943). He modified a bearing-capacity equation developed for an infinite strip by Prandtl (about 1920) based on a theory of plasticity. These equations and those subsequent by Meyerhof (1951, 1963) and later those of Hansen (1957, 1970) make use of the general foundation configuration, base conditions, and approximate failure surfaces for a unit length of an infinitely long strip shown in Fig. 4-1b so that a plane-strain soil condition can be assumed. In Fig .. 4-1 b a zone I with a contact footing pressure of q{J from load V, footing weight, and backfilled soil acts on line cb. At incipient shear failure the wedge will be verging on a state of constant penetration and the resisting soil pressure quit = qo' This quit is the ultimate bearing capacity of interest. In most of the mathematical models the angle fJ is taken as 45 + <p/2. When this wedge is forced into the ground, shear resistance is developed on planes ab and ac from the soil cohesion and a friction resistance (P p tan 1» develops along the slip surfaces. When the footing is not an infinite strip, the plane wedge becomes a cone for round footings and somewhat pyramid-shaped for square and rectangular footings so that plane strain is not applicable. For these cases shape factors are commonly introduced to account for the difference between plane strain and actual soil response. Most researchers, based on some model studies where this zone has been photographed [e.g., Ko and Davidson (1973)], agree that zone II is approximately a logarithmic spiral for 1> > 0 and a circle for 1> = O. Shear resistance is developed along arc ad ofzone II and along de of zone III to produce the passive force P p (of Chap. 11) acting on zone 1. If bee defines the ground surface (footing on surface), pushing zone I into the soil results in the soil in zone III rising (called "bulging") somewhat. This phenomenon can be readily observed in a number of






..•... ~....
':.:~ .•. / .: ... ,rl



B ~ Dr




.. . •
.. ..• ' :: '. : ,·.4 ...•


: ., ..





/ I

~ _ _..L!.

shear (Terzaghi, Hansen) (b)





--- -----fs '
ex ob + Pp tan.;p








and Hansen

o <ace or -s obd' 'If -<ocd or..qohd' ad or ad', log spir ol for rp>O

Figure 4-1 (a) Shallow foundation with rough base defined. Terzaghi and Hansen equations of Table 4-1 neglect shear along cd; (b) zone 1 depth for f3 angle. Terzaghi used f1 = ¢; others used 45 + fJ/2 shown; (c) general footing-soil interaction for bearing-capacity equations for strip footing-left side for Terzaghi (1943), Hansen (1970), and right side Meyerhof (1951).

"footings," e.g., as vehicle wheels form ruts in wet cohesive soil when the contact pressure exceeds the ultimate bearing capacity and the adjacent soil "bulges." Walking on a soft soil results in a bearing-capacity failure as the foot sinks into the mud and the surrounding soil bulges slightly. A shallow foundation is usually defined as DJ


When the footing base is below the ground surface, the surcharge q = »D f on plane ce or bd' provides a significant confining effect on the underlying soil to resist zone I penetration and the ultimate soil resistance is greatly increased but not without limit. We should note that the surcharge q is an effective pressure and the appropriate unit weight corresponding to effective pressure computations should be used in all of zones I, II, and III. There is some variance or opinion of how to compute the ultimate bearing capacity correctly. Over the past 40 years a. Jarge number of equations/proce-





dures have been proposed (none in the most recent 10 years), but at present only the three sets of equations given in Table 4-1 with the authors identified have received enough use to say they have survived. All three of these surviving equation sets are similar and have a common origin; however, most persons agree that the equations tend to violate statics by not satisfying moment equilibrium in the model of Fig. 4-1 b. This is not a serious error, since statics is obviously satisfied in actual conditions of ultimate loading but, of course, the model may no longer be similar. At working loads and a contact pressure q; ~ qu' the soil stress state in zones 1, II, and ITT is indeterminate. The best test for the bearing-capacity equations is comparison with full-scale footing tests. Unfortunately not enough full-scale footing tests have been made to draw statistically valid conclusions. Most of the tests have been model studies, and while dimensional similitude can be used for hydraulic. models, there is no methodology to reduce the scale effect in soil-model studies. Fortunately, the bearing-capacity equations are conservative most of the time and in almost all instances conservative soil parameter estimates are used, so that the resu1ting computed ultimate bearing capacity is very likely to be quite underestimated. In addition to this, a factor of safety is now applied to the conservatively computed bearing capacity so that the final recommended allowable value C/a has a very low probability of not being amply adequate. Some of the variations in bearing capacity come from assumptions made for angles Ij; and of Fig. 4-1b. Terzaghi and Hansen considered line be 'to be horizontal. Meyerhof varied angle e for a "minimum" qull and line bd' to ground surface as shown. Both Meyerhof and Hansen used depth and shape factors when the footing was not infinitely long. Terzaghi also used shape factors as shown in Table 4-1 on two of the general terms, but they were substantially simplified to those of Meyerhof and Hansen. The Terzaghi equations have been very widely used, since they were the first proposals and were quite conservative, so that a successful use history was obtained. The Meyerhof and Hansen equations have also been widely used+-more so outside the United States. At present, the Meyerhof and Hansen equations are probably more used than the Terzaghi equations. This is because the former is more able to allow for shape and depth factors but more importantly to include inclined load effects. Many foundations for industrial equipment are subjected to both vertical and horizontal forces with the resultant some inclined with the vertical, and inclination factors allow for this effect in reducing the bearing capacity. A small number of full-scale footing tests (see Table 4-6 fol1owing) indicate that the Hansen and Meyerhof equations appear to give the best correlation. The Terzaghi equations tend to be consistently very conservative; however, the Hansen and Meyerhof equations are also rather conservative for cohesionless soils unless some adj ustment is made for plane-strain conditions. Since each of the three forms of the bearing-capacity equations has an extensive following, they are all presented in Table 4-1. Table 4-2 is a reader aid to rapidly obtain the N factors for use in the





Table 4-1 Bearing-capacity

equations by the several authors indicated

Terzaghi (see Table 4-2 for typical values and for K sv values) Footing type Continuous: Square: Round: 'luI' = eN,

+ qN + O.SyBN


qui' = I.3cN,

+ qNq + O.4yBNy + qNq + O.3yBNy




Meyerhof Vertical Inclined

(see Table 4-3 Ior shape, depth, and inclination load: load: qui' = eN,s,



+ qNqsqdq + O.5yBNysydy

qui'. = eN r dr i,

+ qN q dq iq + O.5yBN
•• n '"

y dy iy

Nq = en

tan1( 45


Ne=(Nq-l)cot¢ N; = (Nq

I) tan (1.4¢) factors)

Hansen (see Table 4-5 for shape, depth, and inclination General: when use

N q = same as Meyerhof N, = same as Meyerhof above above





1) tan 1>


Terzaghi equations. Kpy was obtained by the author using a curve-fitting process and back-computing two values of N; given by Terzaghi. These can be used to extend Table 4-2 for other values of c/J by making a large-scale plot of Kpy versus <P to obtain intermediate values for computing Ny. . Terzaghi actually considered a general (dense soil) and a local (loose soil) shear failure. He accounted for these by using reduced values of cohesion and <p. It is doubtful that footings would be designed for a soil where a local shear would be obtained; so these values are not included. Table 4-3 gives the Meyerhof shape, depth, and inclination factors. Also shown in this table is the Meyerhof proposal for adjusting the angle of internal friction obtained in a triaxial test (<PI') to ~Q.I!l_ne-strain value._ A number of investigators have found c/Jp., > 4Jt., and the extensive literature survey by Lee





(1970) produced the suggestion that




Meyerhof's adjustment factor is 1.0 for square and round footings and is very nearly 10 percent for very long strip footings. Note that Hansen (see Table 4-4) also makes an adjustment for ¢ps but only as ~ direct _!Q_percent increase. There is undoubtedly a transition from a square (and triaxial stnlmTt6the infinite (and plane strain) strip, making the Meyerhof correction preferable. The author suggests that no correction for 4>ps be made unless the angle is larger than 30°. Table 4-4 gives selected values of the N factors for both the Meyerhof and Hansen equations. Also included in this table are the NiNe ratio and the complicated trigonometric quantity used in the Hansen depth (dq) factor. Table 4-5 gives the very extensive set of shape, depth, inclination, and other factors for use in the Hansen bearing-capacity equations of Table 4-1. The Hansen depth factors can be used together with the computed N factors to obtain reduced bearing-capacity factors for pile capacity of Chap. 16 for



Table 4-6 indicates that both the Meyerhof and Hansen equations give reasonable results for the vertically loaded footings of modest size. We should note the

Table 4-2 Bearing-capacity factors for the Terzaghi equations
Values of N~ for ¢i of 34 and 48" are original Terzaghi values and used to back-compute Kpy for forward computations of N; by author ¢,deg

Nc 5.7 7.3 9.6 12.9 17.7 25.1 37.2 52.6 57.8 95.7 172.3 258.3 347.5

Nq 1.0 1.6 2.7 4.4 7.4 12.7 22.5 36.5 41.4 81.3 173.3 287.9 415.1

Ny 0.0 0.5 1.2 2.5 5.0 9.7 19.7 36.0 42.4 100.4 297.5 780.1 1153.2

Kpy 10.8 12.2 14.7 18.6 25.0 35.0 52.0 82.0 141.0 298.0 800.0


f ~ ~

0 5 10 15 20 25 30 34 35 40 45 48 50




Table 4-3 Shape, depth, and inclination factors for the Meyerhof equations of Table 4-1



= 1 + O.2K P



de = I

+ O.2JK"


i =i





For ¢ = 0"

For ¢ :2: 10'-

<. =
CI. =

lan (45



angle of resultant measured from vertical axis

When triaxial ¢ is used for plane strain, may adjust to obtain



footings are not quite models but are not completely full-sized as normally encountered in practice. They are probably large enough that scale is not a factor. The data in the tables for the Meyerhof and Hansen equations have been recomputed by the author from the original table and using the equations presented here. Apparently in the original tabJes some of the computations were taken from curves witb some varying considerably from that obtained using the' equations. Based on a comparison of the computed bearing capacity, it appears reasonable to use a plane-strain value of <p when the angle of internal friction measured in a triaxial test is larger than 30°. The Meyerhof adjustment (shown on Table 4-3) is preferred to adjust <p, since it gives no adjustment for square footings and gradually increases the adjustment to to percent for very long footings (small B/ L ratios). .. There is some evidence that the BN)' term does not cause an increase in bearing capacity without bound, and for very large values of B [De Beer (1965), Vesic (1969)J the limiting value of quit approaches that of a deep foundation. A suggested reduction factor is


Rf, = 0.68 lan~1 -




> 10 ft or 3 m)

N f = 100 for fps = 30 for SI

R; applicable to all the bearing-capacity equations is applied as
O.S/IBN .,s},d),Rb




Table 4-4 Bearing-capacity bearing-capacity equations


for the Meyerhof

and Hansen

Note that N, and Nq are same for both equations

q>, deg
5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50


1.0 1.6 2.5 3.9 6.4 10.7 18.4 33.3 64.2 134.9 319.0



2 tan 41(1 - sin 41)2





5,14 6,5 8.3 11.0 14,8 20.7 30.1 46.1 75.3 133.9 266.9


0,1 0.4 L2 2,9


15.1 33.9 79.5


0,19 0,24 0,)0 OJ6 0.43 0.51 0.61 0.72 0.85 1.01 1.20


0,15 0,24 0,29 0,32 OJI 0.29 0.25

0.17 0.13

0.4 1.1 2,9 6.8 15.7 37.1 93.7 262.7 873.7



~ N y(M)


Considerable early discussion of the Terzaghi and later the other bearingcapacity equations centered around whether the footing-soil interface was smooth or rough. The author cannot conceive of a case of a concrete footing poured on soil not producing a rough base from mixing wet cement and soil particles/grains at this interface. This is true whether the base is compacted or noncompacted and whether the compaction produces a "smooth," dense soil surface. A smooth base might be obtained for a metal tank base resting on soil; however, it is not likely that bare metal would be placed directly on the ground without some type of paint (probably asphaltic based and heavy/thick) being put on the metal or sprayed onto the soil. This should produce a base amply" rough" that these several bearing-capacity equations would apply. Further, while a smooth base resting on the ground surface may produce a particular failure, it is somewhat doubtful that a smooth base embedded some depth in the ground and backfilled would have the same response. Where a truly smooth base is used, it may be appropriate to use a reduced ¢ and c with the reduction factor on the order of 1- to compute the bearing capacity. General observations about the bearing-capacity equations may be made as follows:



1. The cohesion


4. 5.

term predominates in cohesive soil. The depth term (qNq) predominates in cohesionless soils. The base width term Q.5yBN y provides some increase in bearing capacity for both cohesive and cohesion less soils. In cases where B < 3 to 4 m this term could be neglected with little error. No one would place a footing on the ground surface of a cohesionless soil mass. It is highly unlikely that one would place a footing on a cohesionless soil with

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