Are we witnessing the emergence of the Third Era in Geotechnical Engineering Practice?

Are we witnessing the emergence of the Third Era in Geotechnical Engineering Practice?

Traces of geotechnical engineering practice is abundant in history and dates back to at least 2000 BC. The Worlds rich heritage reflects the undertakings of skilled civilizations who expanded their cities infrastructure and erected monuments with no formal science and design procedure in hand. This experience-based practice remained for centuries. One can describe this long period as an Experimental Era that had its own successes and unfortunate failures.

In the 18th century, when science started evolving, geotechnical engineering practitioners adopted a scientific-based approach to study soil behavior. Modern day geotechnical engineering practice began in the past century with the publication of Erdbaumechanik by Karl Terzaghi. The second half of the century brought forward the use of codes and standards. This Scientific Era allowed the identification and control of geotechnical failures.

Codes and standards have been adopted in engineering as they document recommended practices and procedures to ensure stability and safety. Although codes generally have legal bearing, adherence to them is not always mandatory in design and construction. Yet, engineers not adhering to the codes will face liability charges if the structure fails. Public and Private Authorities have recently began establishing their own regulations relevant to the geotechnical engineering practice. We are currently witnessing an Era of Regulation with gradual implementation of protocols and rules on how to perform geotechnical investigations, which design method(s) to apply, and how to proceed during construction.

The emergence of regulations in geotechnical engineering practice is surely not equal across countries and engineering companies. We can generally distinguish between three categories:

  • Regulation with Permit: where public/private authorities impose, via their regulations and specifications, defined procedures to be applied in geotechnical engineering practice and further impose pre-approval via a Permit procedure.
  • Regulation without Permit: where public/private authorities impose, via their regulations and specifications, defined procedures but do not impose any Permit. It is worth noting, that in some markets, Clients tend to engage third party reviewers to ensure proper implementation of these regulations.
  • No Regulation - No Permit: where geotechnical engineers simply apply their best practice procedures and deliberately follow a professional standard of care and ethics without being exposed to any Permit procedure.

As this third Era of geotechnical engineering practice is emerging, the imposed regulation will lead to an evolution in the practice. Share with us your experience in the countries where you practice geotechnical engineering by clicking on this link.

About the authors:

Roger Estephan is Director of the Geotechnical and Heavy Civil Engineering Department at Dar. He follows up on the geotechnical aspects of Dars projects in more than 40 countries (Middle East, Gulf, Africa and India). Roger is member of ISSMGEs CAPG & IDC.

Grace Abou-Jaoude Estephan is Associate Professor in Civil Engineering at the Lebanese American University (LAU). She has a combined geotechnical experience is the industry and academic fields. Grace led geotechnical research projects funded by international agencies including NAS/USAID PEER programs.

Outside the geotechnical field, Roger and Grace are the parents of 4 kids.

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