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Why Foundations Fail: Not Understanding Soil Basics

Soil mechanics, a cornerstone of geotechnical engineering, is essential for comprehending the behavior of soil under load and environmental factors. It encompasses the study of soil properties, such as strength, stiffness, and permeability, which influence foundation performance. Understanding soil mechanics is crucial for evaluating soil-structure interaction and optimizing foundation design to mitigate the risk of failure.

Top 5 Geotechnical Causes of Foundation Failure

Several geotechnical factors can contribute to foundation failure, including inadequate soil strength leading to bearing capacity failure, differential settlement due to soil heterogeneity, the detrimental effects of expansive soils, and geotechnical hazards such as landslides and liquefaction. Understanding the top causes of foundation failure is essential for engineers and stakeholders alike, as it provides valuable insights into the challenges faced in maintaining structural stability.

Inadequate Soil Strength Leading to Bearing Capacity Failure:

When the soil beneath a foundation lacks the necessary strength to support the structure's weight, it can result in bearing capacity failure. This can lead to settlement of the foundation, causing uneven stress distribution across the structure. Therefore, structural damage such as cracks in walls, floors, and ceilings may occur. In severe cases, the structure may collapse entirely, posing safety hazards and requiring extensive repairs or even reconstruction.

Differential Settlement Due to Soil Heterogeneity:

Soil heterogeneity refers to variations in soil composition and properties across a site. When foundations are built on such heterogeneous soil, differential settlement can occur, causing different parts of the structure to settle at different rates. This can lead to distortion, misalignment, and cracking in the building, compromising its structural integrity. Uneven distribution of loads on the foundation exacerbates settlement over time, further exacerbating the issue.

Detrimental Effects of Expansive Soils:

Expansive soils, such as clay, undergo significant volume changes with variations in moisture content. During wet periods, these soils swell, exerting upward pressure on the foundation (heave). Conversely, during dry periods, they shrink, leading to foundation settlement (subsidence). The cyclic nature of this swelling and shrinking can cause upheaval of the structure, resulting in substantial structural damage, including cracks and distortion. Additionally, utilities and infrastructure embedded in the soil may be displaced, further complicating the situation.

Geotechnical Hazards Such as Landslides and Liquefaction:

Certain geotechnical hazards, such as landslides and liquefaction, can pose significant risks to foundations. Landslides occur when unstable soil masses move downhill, potentially impacting structures built in their path. Liquefaction, typically triggered by seismic activity, causes saturated soils to lose their strength and behave like liquids, leading to foundation instability and settlement. Both hazards can result in catastrophic damage to structures, including foundation failure, collapse, and widespread destruction.

Erosion and Undermining of Foundation Support:

Erosion, whether due to water flow, wind action, or other factors, can undermine the support provided to a foundation. This can weaken the foundation's bearing capacity and stability, increasing the risk of settlement or even collapse. Additionally, erosion may expose foundations to other geotechnical hazards, such as soil erosion leading to slope instability or scouring around bridge foundations, further compromising their integrity.

Case Study of Foundation Failure

In a recent construction project for a mid-rise residential building in the Midwest, USA, foundation failure ensued from overlooking fundamental soil dynamics. Despite initial geotechnical investigations, cracks began to appear in walls, floors, and ceilings as construction progressed, revealing widespread differential settlement. Further examination by structural engineers confirmed the presence of expansive clay soils beneath the site, which had not been adequately accounted for in the design phase.

This case highlights the critical importance of comprehending soil basics and conducting thorough geotechnical analysis to prevent costly repercussions in construction projects. The oversight in accounting for expansive clay soils underscores the need for meticulous attention to soil composition and behavior in foundation design and implementation.

Importance of Geotechnical Site Investigation and Emerging Technologies:

Geotechnical site investigation plays a pivotal role in understanding soil behavior and informing foundation design and construction. By conducting comprehensive site investigations, engineers gather crucial data on soil properties, groundwater conditions, and potential geotechnical hazards. As technology continues to advance, so too does our ability to explore and understand the complexities of soil mechanics. Emerging technologies offer innovative solutions for conducting geotechnical site investigations with greater precision and efficiency than ever before.

With the advent of cutting-edge technologies as Daarwin, we stand at the threshold of a new era in soil exploration and understanding. Daarwin's advancements offer invaluable features for mitigating risks and ensuring the stability of future construction projects. By harnessing the power of machine learning and AI algorithms, engineers can leverage Daarwin's technology to enhance the accuracy and efficiency of geotechnical site investigations. Through real-time monitoring, data digitization, and predictive modeling, Daarwin equips engineers with the insights needed to navigate the complexities of soil behavior and achieve optimal foundation designs tailored to the specific characteristics of the terrain.




European Innovation Council
Creand and Scalelab
Mott Macdonald
Cemex Ventures
Mobile World Capital
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