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Technical paper: Failure mechanisms in model reinforced earth walls

By A K C Smith, Travers Morgan, and C P Wroth, University of Cambridge

This paper was first published in GE’s September issue and is based on a lecture given by the authors at last year’s TRRL/Heriot-Watt University symposium on reinforced earth


The last decade has seen the rapid development of the use of reinforced earth in civil engineering. The majority of its applications have been in the construction of temporary or permanent retaining walls. Although this use of reinforced earth has grown relatively rapidly and been highly successful, little is known at present about the interaction between the soil and the reinforcement that it contains. The current methods of design are based on either empirical rules, or ill-founded theories, and because they have been successful, they are likely therefore to be conservative — unusually so in certain instances.

Along with other workers in soil mechanics, the group at the University of Cambridge has been engaged in ‘a study of reinforced earth with the purpose of improving the understanding of this new composite material, and developing more rational methods of design.

An experimental study of model reinforced earth retaining walls has been carried out under controlled conditions to obtain information about failure, and in particular the mechanisms that occur at collapse. In this paper the experimental work is reported, and a method of analysis is assessed in the light of the observed mechanisms. 

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