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Help society tackle big issues, Rankine lecturer urges geotechnical community

GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERS have a key role to play in the major issues concerning society, Professor Heinz Brandl said in the British Geotechnical Association's 41st Rankine Lecture last month.

Brandl, from the Technical University of Vienna in Austria, told the 700-strong audience at Imperial College, London, that geotechnical engineering could help solve the problems of conservation and enhancement of the environment, risk assessment and sustainable development.

He emphasised the importance of dialogue with others outside the industry to explain what was 'acceptable' risk, especially in remediation and landfill engineering.

Making ground '100% clean' was very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, he said.

Brandl covered a wide range of subjects in his 'trilogy' on environmental geotechnics, including energy extraction from foundations, diaphragm walls and retaining structures, innovative solutions to slope stability problems and alternative strategies for landfill engineering.

He emphasised the importance of observation and measurement and the need for compatibility of deformations between the ground and structures, showing examples of when rigidity was beneficial and when flexibility and robustness were required, particularly in ground retaining structures.

Aesthetics were a key issue, he said, describing some spectacular Alpine transport infrastructure projects that showed it was possible to build extremely high retaining structures with low environmental and visual impact using novel and varied techniques.

In the vote of thanks, Imperial College's Professor John Burland praised Brandl for his 'thought-provoking and challenging' lecture and the 'remarkable' range of topics covered.

'The idea of energy foundations is exciting and the energy savings look attractive and viable. I believe that the concepts and case histories outlined by Dr Brandl will stimulate study and discussion and hopefully further successful applications worldwide, ' he said.

'The communication of risk in terms that are readily understood, together with informed presentation of the options available, is something that the engineering profession is just beginning to learn. I believe that we should not be reluctant to enter into dialogue with the lay public (the stakeholders) because it is as much about understanding and making opportunities as it is about preventing conflict and mitigating risk.'

Brandl's paper will be published in Geotechnique.

The Rankine Dinner was attended by 400 of the audience, including leading geotechnical engineers from UK industry and academia, as well as previous Rankine lecturers. Guests included next year's Rankine Lecturer, Imperial College's Professor David Potts. A raffle on behalf of the charity RedR (Registered Engineers for Disaster Relief ) raised more than £2100.

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