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What is a retaining wall?

Retaining walls are structures that are commonly used in civil engineering to hold back soil or other materials, creating a vertical or near-vertical face. They are designed to resist the lateral pressure of the soil or other materials they retain. The design of retaining walls must consider the weight of the soil or other material being retained, the angle of repose of the material, and the water pressure that can build up behind the wall.



The design of a retaining wall depends on several factors, including the height of the wall, the type of soil or material being retained, and the soil conditions at the site. There are several types of retaining walls that can be used in civil engineering, including gravity walls, cantilever walls, sheet pile walls, anchored walls, and reinforced soil walls.


Gravity walls rely on their own weight to resist the lateral pressure of the soil or other material being retained. These walls are typically constructed of concrete or masonry and require a wide base to distribute the weight of the wall evenly. Cantilever walls use a base slab that extends back from the face of the wall, creating a lever arm that resists the lateral pressure. Sheet pile walls use interlocking steel, concrete or timber piles to resist the pressure of the soil. Anchored walls use cables or other supports to anchor the wall to the soil behind it, while reinforced soil walls use soil reinforcements or geosynthetics to increase the strength of the soil.


The design of a retaining wall must also consider the drainage of water behind the wall. Water pressure can build up behind a retaining wall, causing it to fail. Drainage systems are typically installed behind retaining walls to relieve the water pressure and prevent the wall from failing.


The construction of a retaining wall can vary depending on the type of wall being built. Gravity walls are typically built on a wide, level base and then constructed upwards using concrete or masonry. Cantilever walls are constructed in a similar way but require a base slab that extends back from the wall. Sheet pile walls are constructed by driving piles into the ground and then interlocking them together. Anchored walls are typically constructed in stages, with the anchorages installed first and then the wall built in sections. Reinforced soil walls involve the construction of a reinforced soil mass by the placement of alternating layers of soil and geosynthetics or other reinforcing materials.


In summary, retaining walls are critical components of many civil engineering projects, and their design and construction require careful consideration of the site conditions, soil conditions, and the type of retaining wall being used. By selecting the appropriate type of retaining wall and designing it properly, civil engineers can ensure the long-term stability and safety of the structure.

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