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Research engine

Geotechnical activity at the BRE clocked up its 75th year in 2004.

It all started in late 1929 when Professor Charles Jenkin, retiring from Oxford University, came to the then Building Research Station at Garston, north of London, to further his research on lateral pressures behind retaining walls.

He worked first with dilating granular materials, following up with studies of cohesive soils. Dr Leonard Cooling carried on his work, leading the Soil Mechanics Section.

Pioneering work into site investigation, sampling, compaction and the measurement of soil properties was directly related to embankment and earthworks performance.

After the Second World War research activities broadened to cover low rise construction, coastal protection and flood banks. A number of failures of earth dams, retaining walls and quay walls were investigated.

Developments in field instrumentation, insitu testing and monitoring of structures followed. Offshore work started in the 1970s.

Research has often been carried out alongside high profile projects using full scale testing, insitu test techniques and the measurement of ground and structural movements and earth pressures, contributing greatly to the understanding of soil behaviour.

Many well known geotechnical engineers who have shaped the profession have worked for a time at Garston. Now, as then, BRE contributes through training, research, and the application of knowledge.

More than 40 BRE geotechnical reports and guidance documents have been published, with a even larger number of contributions in journals and conferences.

In the pipeline are publications on safety aspects of design, novel ground treatment and piles, Eurocode 7 and brownfield land. Projects mix applied research, guidance and consultancy, but underpinning it all is the careful measurement of soil behaviour and the understanding this brings.

Hilary Skinner is principal consultant, and leader of BRE's Geotechnics Group.

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