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S.S. Gue 1 & Y.C. Tan2

ABSTRACT The success of geotechnical works on soft ground relies on important factors such as proper planning, analysis, design, construction control and supervision. However, this is usually easier said than done and therefore there are still repeated failures of geotechnical works such as embankment, foundation and excavation. Most of the failures are quite similar in nature that they are caused by failing to comply with one or a combination of the above factors. This paper presents case histories of geotechnical failures investigated by the Authors. The causes of failures, remedial works proposed and lessons learned are discussed. Finally, some simple guidelines to prevent failures related to geotechnical works on soft ground are presented. Keywords: Failure; Soft Ground; Embankment; Excavation; Foundation; Bridge

1. INTRODUCTION The success of geotechnical works on soft ground relies on important factors of proper planning, analysis, design, construction control and supervision. However, most of the geotechnical failures investigated by the Authors are usually quite similar in nature that they are caused by failing to comply with one or a combination of the factors stated above. This paper presents the statistic of the geotechnical failures investigated by the Authors over the recent four years. Case histories of geotechnical failures of embankments, foundations and excavations are also presented together with the causes of failures, remedial works proposed and lessons learned. Finally, some simple guidelines to prevent failures are also discussed.

2. CATEGORY OF GEOTECHNICAL FAILURES Failures of projects on soft ground in this paper can be broadly classified into two broad categories. The first category includes those of total or partial collapse of embankments, excavations, foundations, etc. This category often needs reconstruction and/or strengthening measures. The second category of failures is those due to lateral and vertical movements resulting to severe distortion to completed or adjacent structures causing loss of serviceability. The affected structures usually need expensive repairs or strengthening works. The Authors have reviewed 55 cases of failures investigated over the recent four years. The results of the investigations are shown in Table 1 which indicates nearly 50% of the failures are largely due to inadequacy in design. The inadequacy is generally the result of lack of understanding and appreciation of the subsoil and geotechical issues. Hence inadequate assessments, analyses and checks on various modes of failures are the main causes. Failures due to construction either of workmanship, materials and/or lack
1 2

Managing Director, Gue & Partners Sdn Bhd, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Director, Gue & Partners Sdn Bhd, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

of supervision account for only 15%. The remaining 40% of the failures are attributed to combination of both design and construction. Table 1 : Cases of Failures due to Design and Construction Category Number of Cases Percentage (%) Design only 25 45% Construction only 8 15% Both Design and Construction 22 40%

From the 55 cases of failures investigated, two third of them are due to differential settlements causing distortion to completed and/or adjacent structures as presented in Table 2. The results also reveal that all these failures are avoidable if extra care and input from engineers having the relevant experience in geotechnical engineering were consulted. Table 2 : Mode of Failures Mode of Failures Number of Cases Percentage (%) Complete or Partial Failure 18 33% Damage due to Differential Settlement 37 67%

2. EMBANKMENT FAILURES Two case histories of embankment failures investigated by the Authors are presented with causes of failures and lessons learned. The failures of two embankments (namely Embankment A and Embankment B) occurred during the construction and are situated at the same expressway but at different locations. 2.1 Failures of Embankment A Embankment A was initially constructed using vacuum preloading method with prefabricated vertical drains. Figure 1 shows the cross-section of the proposed embankment. After the 1st failure, the remedial works of stone columns were proposed and constructed. The embankment with stone columns failed when the embankment reached 3.2m of the planned 5.5m fill height. Figure 2 shows the embankment after 2nd failure. .
Embankment Fill (Failed Area) (Vacuum Preloading with Vertical Drains) Embankment Fill (Without Vacuum Preloading)

Liner and Sand Layer for Vacuum System

Very Soft Silty CLAY Soft Sandy CLAY

Vertical Drains

Very Loose Clayey SAND

The embankment is sitting on very soft silty Clay of 4.5m thick and follows by a layer of soft sandy Clay to a depth of 12m. Beneath these very soft to soft cohesive soils is a layer of loose clayey Sand follows by layers of medium to stiff silty Clay. Figure 3 shows the undrained shear strength (su) profile of the subsoil obtained from field vane tests.

The effectiveness of the vacuum preloading method is dependent on many factors like the pump capacity, the airtight Figure 1 Cross-section of Embankment A. seal between the edge of the geomembrane and the subsoil; integrity of the geomembrane at the ground surface, effectiveness of the vertical drains and etc. This method requires close monitoring of the pore water pressures in the subsoil during filling to prevent failure.
0 5 10

Medium to Stiff Silty CLAY and Clayey SILT

Scale (m)

Heave Up

Sheer Drop and Cracks

Figure 2 Failure of Embankment A treated with Stone Columns.

F ill H e ig h t (m )
0 0 Su = 10 kPa 2 4 6 D e p th (m ) 8 Su = 19 kPa Su = 8 kPa Su = 13 kPa Su = 17 kPa Undrained Shear Strength, Su (kPa) 10 20 30 40 50 600 Sensitivity, St 10 20
Stage E Stage F


4 2 0 0 50
Stage B

Stage D Stage C

Fist Crack Observed on Day 162 100 150 Days 200 250 300 350


P ie z o m e te r H e a d (m )

10 Designed Water Head is 8m at PZ-A3 8 Designed Water Head 6 is 6m at PZ-A2. 4 2 0 -2

Excess Pore Water Pressure generated at PZ-A3, U = + ve

10 12 14 16

Designed Water Head is 3m at PZ-A1

Excess Pore Water Pressure generated at PZ-A2, U = + ve

Piezometers at Location A
at 3.0m depth at 6.0m depth at 8.0m depth

Su-Undisturbed from VS-A Su-Remolded from VS-A Su-Undisturbed from VS-B Su-Remolded from VS-B

In-Situ Vane Shear Test VS-A VS-B

Figure 3 Undrained Shear Strength Profile.

Figure 4 Construction Sequence and Monitored Pore Water Pressure Changes.

In view of this, instruments like piezometers, settlement gauges and vacuum meters have been installed at site with the intention to monitor the performance of the embankment treated with vertical drains and vacuum preloading. The construction sequence of Embankment A and changes of pore water pressure of the piezometers in the subsoil at depths 3m, 6m and 8m throughout the construction are shown in Figure 4. Embankment A failed not long after reaching the final fill height of 5.5m. As shown in Figure 4, from Stage C filling onwards, the pore water pressure measured from piezometers PZ-A2 and PZ-A3 at depths of 6m and 8m respectively increased beyond the design pore pressure until failure at Day162 after reaching the final fill height. Piezometer PZ-A1 at 3m deep did not show increase in pore water pressure until it was out of order after Day 130. In brief, the measurement from piezometers PZ-A2 and PZ-A3 at Embankment A had indicated that the vacuum suction at these depths were not functioning properly and was unable to prevent the increase of pore water pressures in the cohesive subsoil with respect to the embankment loads. The trend of increase in pore water pressures have been observed for more than one month but no contingency action was taken by the Contractor and the Consultant, who was also responsible for the design, to investigate the causes and to stop the filling until the pore water pressure in the subsoil drops

below the allowable design values. Details of back-analyses and methodology of monitoring using observational method are presented by Gue et al. (2001) and Tan & Liew (2000) respectively. From the monitoring results, it is clear that 1st failure of Embankment A could have been avoided if observational method (Peck, 1969) was employed properly. After the 1st Failure, stone columns were proposed and constructed by the Contractor using vibroreplacement process as remedial measures to support the re-construction of the new embankment. The stone columns are of 1m diameter with grid spacing of 2.5m centre-to-centre up to a depth of 20m. Crushed stones of size 15mm to 100mm were used as backfill medium for the stone columns. During reconstruction of the embankment on top of the stone columns, the embankment failed with large cracks (as shown in Figure 2) when the fill height reached 3.2m which is 2.3m lower than the required fill height of 5.5m. Table 3 : Methods for Estimation of Ultimate Bearing Capacity of Stone Columns Mode of Failures Bulging General Shear References Greenwood (1970); Vesic (1972); Datye & Nagaraju (1975); Hughes and Withers (1974); Madhav et al. (1979). Madhav & Vitkar (1978); Wong (1975); Barksdale and Bachus (1983).

Figure 5 (a) Stresses on Stone Column . (b) Comparison of Different Methods (after Madhav & Miura, 1994) Our review indicates, the design by the Specialist Contractor only used Priebes methods (1995) to check on the stability and settlement of the subsoils treated with stone columns. There was no evidence of separate calculations using other methods to check on the bulging and general shear failures of the stone columns when determining the ultimate bearing capacity; these failure modes are not sufficiently covered in Priebes method. Table 3 lists some of the methodologies available for bulging and general shear failure check. From the investigation by the Authors using disturbed strength of the subsoil on the methods listed in Table 3, the results show that generally bulging failure is not a concern but general shear failure is grossly inadequate.

Most of the methods listed in Table 3 are reproduced in a graph by Madhav & Miura (1994) together with their proposed method as shown in Figure 5. It is observed that there is a large range of possible ultimate bearing capacity when using different methods and this tends to cause confusion to design engineers. Therefore, it is recommended that when using stone columns in very soft ground (e.g. su < 15kPa) or as remedial measures for reconstruction of failed embankments, attention shall be given to probable failure due to general shear. In addition, load tests and close monitoring of the instrumentation should be carried out to verify the design. 2.1 Failures of Embankment B Embankment B is located about 2km away from Embankment A. It was initially treated with prefabricated vertical drains. Cracks were observed at the embankment after reaching the surcharge level with fill height of 3.9m and immediate action was taken to lower down the embankment height to Finish Road Level (FRL) which is 1.5m lower. The embankment was observed for 2 months and since no further cracks developed, the Consultant agreed to refill the embankment to surcharge level. Slip failure occurred during the filling of the surcharge. After the 1st Failure, the Contractor decided to use stone columns as remedial measures to strengthen the subsoil so that the embankment can be reconstructed. However, the embankment supported by stone columns failed again after reaching the fill height of 3.9m. The subsoil at Embankment B area generally consists of organic soil with a thickness of about 4m. Underlying the organic soil is a layer of very soft to soft silty Clay with thickness of about 10m follow by stiff to very stiff clayey Silt. Similar to 2nd failure of Embankment A, the stone columns for Embankment B were also being design using Priebes method (1995) only without other separate checks on the bulging and general shear failures as listed in Table 3. The investigation carried out by the Authors indicate that the stone columns bearing capacity against general shear failure is grossly inadequate; resulting to the failure of the embankment. 2.3 Lessons Learned from the Embankment Failures The 1st failure of the Embankment A treated with vacuum preloading method and prefabricated vertical drains was monitored but no action was taken to review the monitoring results and prompt for preventive action. The failure could have been prevented if the Contractor or Consultant had reviewed the monitoring results regularly and taken the necessary preventive action. The failures of Embankment A and Embankment B treated with stone columns were mainly due to inadequate design. The Authors are of the opinion that when designing stone columns to treat very soft ground (e.g. su <15kPa) or as remedial measures for an embankment, attention should be given to probable general shear failure instead of over relying on single method. For remedial measure, it is also important to determine the representative disturbed (remoulded and regaining of strength through thixotropy effects) strength of the subsoil to be used in the analyses. In addition, load test shall be carried out on stone columns to verify the design assumptions as there are large differences among methods of analysis. In brief, further works are necessary before a reliable unified and comprehensive design method is available for stone columns supporting embankment on very soft ground. When stone columns are used to treat very soft ground, it is recommended that observational method (Peck, 1969) be used with proper instrumentation and closer monitoring to prevent failure if there is a slight doubt on the design methodology. Many embankments on very soft ground treated with stone columns have been successfully constructed with the help of observational method. Failures of embankment due to design are commonly caused by the following inadequacies :(A) Settlement Analysis (B) Stability of Embankment


Settlement Analysis It is very important to evaluate both the magnitude and rate of settlements of the subsoil supporting an embankment. This is to ensure the settlement in the long term will not affect the serviceability and safety of the embankment. In carrying out stability analysis, it is important to correctly estimate the magnitude of settlement during construction so that the correct thickness of the fill can be incorporated in the design to ensure stability. An iterative process is required in the estimation of settlement because the extra fill (higher pressure) that is required to compensate for settlement will lead to additional magnitude of settlement.

Figure 6 Circular & Non-Circular Slip Failure Surfaces


The three main settlements need to be evaluated are : Initial Settlement Primary Consolidation Settlement Secondary Compression Stability of Embankment It is necessary to design the embankment with consideration for different potential failure surfaces namely circular and non-circular as shown in Figure 6. The thickness, unit weight and strength of the fill need to be properly determined. Minimum design surcharge loading of 10kPa is required for embankment design to represent traffic and unexpected loading during construction. Generally in practice, the factor of safety (FOS) for temporary stage (construction stage) using undrained strength analysis should be 1.2 or higher and the long term FOS for effective stress analysis of embankment is usually 1.4 or higher.

3. FAILURE OF BRIDGE FOUNDATION AND APPROACH EMBANKMENT One case history of bridge failure investigated by the Authors is presented in this paper with the causes of failure and lessons learned illustrated. Although only one case history is presented, a few other case histories of bridge failures investigated by the Authors are quite similar in nature and were mostly induced by bearing capacity and stability of the embankment (Gue, 1988). The investigations also clearly show that construction methods employed at the site also have significant influence on the success of the project. These failures could be prevented if the design consultant and the contractor have Figure7 Overview of Partially Completed Bridge after Failure taken adequate care in

geotechnical considerations in the analysis, design and construction.

Abutment I

Abutment II Pier I Pier II


Figure 8 Layout of Piers and Abutments

The bridge failure presented in this paper is a project of an access road with prestressed concrete beams over a river in Sarawak and the failure occurred during construction. The proposed heights of the approach embankments on both sides of the abutments were about 5m with side slopes of 1v(vertical) to 1.5h(horizontal). Figure 7 shows the partially completed bridge after failure and removal of fill embankment. The layout of the proposed bridge is shown in Figure 8 The approach embankments were constructed over 25m thick of soft coastal and riverine alluvium clay underlain by dense silty Sand and very stiff silty clay. The soft alluvium generally has SPT N value of zero and average moisture content of more than 70% which is near its Liquid Limit. Figure 9 shows the subsoil profile of the site.

The approach embankments were supported by 200x200mm square reinforced concrete (RC) piles and cast with individual pilecaps. In addition, 6m length wood piles were also added between the RC piles for further support of the embankment fill. Figure 9 Subsoil Condition after Failure More wood piles were also installed on the banks of the river trying to stabilize the lateral displacement of the soft alluvium. The abutments and piers were supported by 400mm diameter spun piles driven to set in the hard layer of more than 30m deep. A deep seated slip failure occurred at the approach embankment with a sheer drop at about 25m behind Abutment II. It happened when the fill reached about 3m high. Figure 10 shows the sheer drop after removal of some of the fill behind the abutment. Abutment II has tilted away from the river with a magnitude of about 550mm at the top of the abutment at the time of the site inspection by the Authors who were carrying out the geotechnical investigation of the failure. The tilt translates into an angular distortion of 1/6. Due to the excessive angular distortion, the integrity of the spun piles driven to set into the stiffer

Pilecaps Sheer Drop

Figure 10 Sheer Drop at about 25m behind the Tilted Abutment

Tilt from Vertical

Opening Opening between bridge decks at between bridge Pier II decks at Pier II

Figure 11 Tilted Abutment and Observed Gap between Bridge Decks stratum has also been affected as it exceeds the normal structural failure threshold of about 1/75. Due to the tilt of the Abutment II away from Pier II, a gap of about 300mm wide was observed between the two bridge decks at the pier. Figure 11 shows the photograph of the tilt at the Abutment II and the gap between two bridge decks at Pier II. The failure also caused Pier II to tilt slightly. Figure 12 shows the schematic diagram of the possible slip plane relative to the deformed structures. These observations infer that the slip failure of the Approach Embankment near Abutment II is deep seated and is consistent with the depth of the soft alluvium. The cause of the rotational slip failure was due to the weak subsoil unable to support the weight of the approach embankment. The use of the RC piles and wood piles offered little lateral resistance and instead, extended the rotational slip deeper into the soft subsoil. At the pier, the bridge deck, being simply supported and fixed to the Abutment II via bearing pads, moved along with the displacement of the Abutment. At the start of the construction, the supervisor of the contractor had observed that their workers could not walk on the riverbanks without their feet sinking into the soft subsoil to a depth of about a foot. This

observation infers that the upper subsoil had an undrained shear strength of about 10kPa. As a quick preliminary check using simplified bearing capacity equation stated in Section 3.1, the ultimate bearing capacity was about 50 to 60kPa. The estimated maximum height of fill that could be supported at failure is about 3m which is consistent with the observed failure when the embankment reached 3m high. Therefore, if the designer and contractor had carried out simple bearing capacity checks, failure could have been prevented. The results of the additional subsurface investigation after the failure show that the undrained shear strength from the vane shear tests range from 18kPa to 51kPa with remoulded strength of 7kPa to 12kPa. The higher su obtained from the S.I. carried out after failure is due to the gain in strength from the imposed embankment fill over time.

Figure 12 Schematic of Slip Failure 3.1 Lessons Learned from Bridge Failures The failures were caused by the following factors :Inadequacy of geotechnical design for the approach embankments and abutments. Lack of understanding of the subsoil condition and awareness on the possible problems/failures that could happen during construction. Lack of construction control and site supervision by the Consultant. As highlighted in Section 2.3 of this paper, embankment stability shall be checked for both possible circular and non-circular (wedge) failure surfaces using limit equilibrium method. It is wrong to assume that as long as the structural design of an abutment has considered both vertical and lateral earth pressures behind the abutment, slip failure would not occur. Figure 12 is a good example of abutment instability with deep seated failure seriously affecting the stability of the abutment. The most critical condition that of an embankment on soft ground is during filling where the stability of an embankment should be analysed based on undrained shear strength (su) of the subsoil. Sufficient in-situ field vane shear tests should be carried out to provide representative moderately conservative undrained shear strength profile of the subsoil for stability analysis.

A quick preliminary check on the stability of the embankment is possible using simplified bearing capacity equation below : qallow = (su. Nc / FOS) where : qallow = allowable bearing pressure = (fill.H + 10) (kN/m2) fill = bulk unit weight of the compacted fill (kN/m3) H = allowable height of embankment (m) su = undrained shear strength of the subsoil (kPa) Nc = 5 (suggested by Authors for ease of hand calculation) FOS = Factor of Safety (e.g. minimum of 1.2 for short term using moderately conservative su) Note : The 10kPa allowance in the qallow is to cater for the minimum vehicle load. It is also important to check for the loading on the abutment piles from lateral soil pressure imposed by the embankment fill behind an abutment. This is to prevent failure of the pile group supporting the abutment. Methods that can be used are Tschebotarioff (1973), Stewart, et al. (1994), Springman (1989), DeBeer and Wallays (1972). For more complicated structures, Finite Element Method (FEM) should also be used. When constructing bridges on very soft ground, design consultant, consultants site engineer(s) and contractor should have some fundamental geotechnical knowledge which include understanding of the subsoil condition and awareness on the possible problems or failures that could happen during construction. A good example is shown in Section 3.0 where the contractor were aware that their workers could not walk on the very soft riverbank and could have used the simple bearing capacity equation to check on the allowable height of the fill that the subsoil can support. Quite often, failures were due to bad temporary works that were never considered in the design. One serious problem that usually occurs for bridge project is the temporary fill placed by the contractor to form a temporary platform to facilitate their piling or other construction works. If not careful, slip failure in subsoil could occur by the load imposed by the temporary fill. Therefore, it is recommended that the design consultant should consider the possible construction method to be used by the contractor and designed for it or check the stability when the method statement is submitted for approval or record. The design consultant shall also ensure that during construction, the contractor must carry out works according to the approved method statement to prevent failure. Finally, proper full-time site supervision by the consultants representatives who have adequate site experience and knowledge are also very important to prevent failure due to temporary works and ensure permanent works are constructed according to the drawings and specifications. Another common problem caused by temporary fill over soft ground is the failure to remove the temporary fill after construction. The temporary fill would cause the compressible subsoil to settle with time (consolidation settlement). If temporary fill area has piles, then the piles will be subjected to down drag (negative skin friction) due to the settling subsoil and reduce the capacity of the piles. If the down drag is not catered for in the design, the piles will have lower allowable capacity and larger settlement causing distortion to the structures. Therefore, the design consultant shall ensure the removal of temporary fill after construction by the contractor or to design the piles to accommodate negative skin friction.

4. EXCAVATION FAILURE Excavation in soft ground can be carried out either through open cut or using retaining wall system depending on the site constraint, depth of excavation, groundwater conditions and type of subsoil. Usually failures of retaining wall system for excavation in soft ground can be divided into four major modes of failures :-

Movement of Sheet Pile


Inadequacy of Penetration Depth of wall or Support (Resisting Force) Base Heave Hydraulic Failure Slip Failure

This paper presents a case history of failure of the temporary sheet pile wall near Port Klang. The site was a flat marine deposits with the original ground level at grade with the access road. The site is on a former residential lot with a detached house and planted with various fruit trees.

Figure 13 Failure of Temporary Sheet Pile Wall

Where q = Surcharge Load ~ 10kPa (minimum) Q = = q x D (no prop) q x r (with prop)

Case 1 : No Prop

W = Total Weigh of Soil = HD (no Prop) = Hr (with Prop) r L =D+s = Total Arc Length of Soil Resistance = D (no prop) = r 2s (simplified, with prop)

Case 1 : No Prop
Case 2 : With Prop


su L D (W + Q) D

Case 2 : With Prop FOS =

su L r (W + Q ) r 2

Note : The required FOS is 1.2 where the vertical shear resistance along the retained ground shallower than the excavations is ignored. (Kohsaka & Ishizuka, 1995).

Figure 14 Base Heave Check based on Equilibrium of Moments

The results of the boreholes drilled at site for design indicate that the thickness of the soft marine clay varies from 18m to 20m follows by 25m to 32m of soft to stiff clay with an intermittent layer of dense to very dense sand of less than 3m thick. The top layer of marine clay has an undrained shear strength (su) of about 10kPa near the surface and slowly increases with depth. The project involved the construction of a high rise building with a level of basement carpark. Reinforced concrete (RC) piles were driven from the original ground level. After the installation of the reinforced concrete piles, excavation was carried out for the construction of the basement and pilecaps. A 12m sheet pile (FSC III) acting as temporary cofferdam was installed to facilitate the basement and pilecaps excavation. The sheet pile wall was stable when the excavation reached the proposed basement level of 2.5 m. However, when the excavation for pilecaps in front of the sheet pile, reached 3.5m to 4m, the sheet pile moved excessively towards the excavation site and the base of the excavation also heaved up. The excessive movement of the soil pushed and moved the installed RC piles. Some of the piles moved laterally for more than a meter thus damaging the integrity of the piles. Figure 13 shows the condition of the site after the movement of the sheet pile wall.
Unpropped (10kPa Surcharge) Unpropped (No Surcharge) Propped (10kPa Surcharge) Propped (No Surcharge) Note: Prop assumed at 2.5m below retained level


Factor of Safety (FOS)






Critical depth 2.75m to 3.5m

0.25 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0 4.5 5.0 5.5 6.0

Depth of Excavation (m)

Figure 15 Stability of Sheet Pile Penetration Depth

The Authors carried out analyses against base heave failure and also adequacy of the penetration depth using simplified gross-pressure method. Figure 14 shows the method for quick evaluation of base heave which take into consideration of embedded length of the wall and can be modified for varying su. The method is commonly used in Japan (Kohsaka & Ishizuka, 1995) and the Authors have used it successfully for many projects in Malaysia. The required Factor of Safety using moderately conservative strength is not less than 1.2 as the vertical shear resistance along the retained ground shallower than the excavation is ignored. If the vertical shear resistance along the retained ground is considered, then the FOS of not less than 1.4 should be adopted. The back-analyses carried out by the Authors indicate that FOS against base heave is more than 1.2 and therefore it is not the cause of the failure. Hydraulic and slip failures have also been checked and found to be acceptable.

The Authors also carried out back-analyses for the adequacy of the sheet pile penetration depth using the simplified gross pressure method. The results are presented in Figure 15 which indicate that the critical depth of excavation using 12m deep sheet pile in the above site ranges from 2.75m to 3.5m depending whether it is propped and with 10kPa surcharge. The results confirm that the 12m penetration depth of the sheet pile is not adequate to support an excavation depth exceeding 3.5m with props at this site.

4.1 Lessons Learned from Excavation Failure Many case histories investigated by the Authors indicate that excavation failures are usually caused by the following factors :Inadequacy of geotechnical design for various modes of failures listed in Section 4 above. Lack of construction control and site supervision by Consultant such as over-excavation (e.g. excavate deeper than designed depth) and uncontrolled surcharging at retained soil (e.g. stacking of excavated materials or other materials behind the wall at the retained side). When designing retaining structures for excavation, it is necessary to check the following ultimate limit states of the wall :1) Overall Stability : to provide sufficient embedment depth to prevent overturning of the wall and overall slope stability. 2) Basal Failure : the wall penetration depth must be sufficient to prevent basal failure in front of the wall after excavation to the proposed formation level. 3) Hydraulic Failure : the penetration of the wall must be sufficient to avoid piping or blow out in front of the wall after excavation to the proposed formation level. Gue & Tan (1998) summarises many manual methods to design walls to prevent all modes of failures listed above. Normally manual methods are slightly on the conservative side. In order to further optimise the design of retaining wall system for excavation, it is recommended to use Finite Element Method (FEM) with proper input of representative soil parameters, groundwater conditions, and also the construction sequence. As excavation is a complicated soil-structure interaction problem, especially for deep excavation with multiple levels of support, FEM method if used properly is the most suitable. The main advantage of FEM method is its ability to predict wall and ground deformations and allows sensitivity analyses to be carried out for value engineering. The recent Rankine Lecture by Potts (2003) provides good account of the numerical method with case histories. The FEM method is particularly useful for excavations in the urban area with many nearby buildings and services. Another important factor to consider when selecting and designing retaining wall system for excavation adjacent to properties sensitive to ground settlement is the lowering of groundwater at the retained soil due to excavation. Every meter of drop of groundwater level is equivalent to about 10kPa of surcharging on the subsoil below the original groundwater level, hence causing it to consolidate and settle. Recharge wells should be considered and used if settlement of adjacent ground due to lowering of groundwater level likely to cause distortion and damage to adjacent properties.

5. CONCLUSIONS The case histories of failures related to geotechnical works on soft ground have clearly indicated that these failures are generally quite similar in nature and are avoidable. These failures are usually man-made and caused by failing to comply with one or a combination of factors which include planning, analysis, design, construction control and supervision. Observational method should be used to compare design prediction with field performance to ensure safety. From the 55 cases of failures investigated by the Authors over the recent four years, 50% of them are due to inadequacy in design. In order to prevent similar failures, it is important for design consultant,

consultants site representatives and contractor to have some fundamental geotechnical knowledge so that any inconsistencies at site can be spotted and precautionary actions taken before failure occurs. Proper full-time site supervision by the consultants representatives with adequate experiences, knowledge is a must. It is also the obligation of the consultant to properly brief the supervising team on the design and construction requirements.

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