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Discuss the design and construction of retaining walls.

1. Introduction
Since the 6.18 disaster in 1972, Hong Kong has been paying more and more attention to
the stability of slopes. In order to upgrade the old design to achieve a reasonable standard of
safety, many slopes are required to be trimmed to a safe gradient or else retaining walls will be
required to ensure the stability of the slopes. There are many considerations in the design as
well as in the construction of retaining walls, and they will be discussed in this essay.

2. Land Matters
Land matters are important factors for construction particularly when the proposed site
has encroached upon private lots. The ownership and usage of lands and buildings surrounding
the proposed works should also be identified. Land acquisition, which is a time consuming
process, should be avoided as far as possible, otherwise more time should be allowed before the
commencement of the project.

3. Environmental Impact
The environmental impact due to the construction of retaining walls should be assessed.
Because of its proximity to other land users, a public consultation may be required. A number
of alternatives and layouts should be proposed for consideration so that a final choice acceptable
to all concerned parties can be arrived at.

4. Timing of Construction
In determining the most appropriate timing for the construction of retaining walls, the
most important factors to be considered are the availability of funds, the priority status of the
project, and its integration with other projects. However, the timing of construction is
sometimes influenced by the difficulty to resume land, the complaints from the public and the
redevelopment planning of the area.

5. Cost and Period of Construction

The construction cost and period of the project should make sufficient provisions for the
site investigation, detailed design and construction. Furthermore, allowance for land
resumption, utilities diversion and traffic diversion should be made.

6. Aesthetics
The emphasis is to achieve a structure which presents a stable, simple and elegant facade
harmonizing with the surroundings and presenting no distracting features. In the appraisal of
the aesthetics of retaining walls, several considerations should be made. There should be visual
harmony between the retaining walls and its surroundings. The walls should also have an
impression of visual stability. Furthermore, the surface texture and the colour of the finish
should produce pleasant feelings. Usually, the retaining walls are designed to have extruding
ribs to give better aesthetics.

7. Choice of Retaining Walls

In general, the site topography has a dominant effect on the choice of retaining walls.
The heights of retained earth may rule out some particular forms of construction. Available
working space may limit the choice as where the walls are close to lot boundaries or roadway.
Stringent site access may rule out the option which requires heavy construction plant.
Furthermore, the speed of construction should be considered. This is particularly important in
emergency situation, where minimum disturbance to neighbours and traffic is required or during
storm seasons. Besides, foundation soil condition has a significant influence on the choice of
wall type. For example, when soft soil is encountered, reinforced earth walls and crib walls may
be appropriate, and when shallow bedrock is expected, socketed caisson walls may be suitable
for high retaining heights.

8. Site Investigation
It is necessary to plan and carry out site investigation to obtain geotechnical information
of the ground condition. Existing geotechnical records of adjacent areas may be available,
which would be useful in providing information for planning the details of site investigation
work. The site investigation should reveal groundwater level, soil properties and bedrock level
for designing the foundation of the retaining walls.

9. Detailing
In detailing retaining walls, special attention should be paid to joints and drainage
provisions. Joints are required to minimize the effects of temperature changes and shrinkage,
and because of construction stages. Adequate drainage provisions behind the retaining walls are
also important to lower the groundwater level and hence the hydrostatic pressure. Apart from
these, access for maintenance of the retaining walls and instrumentation for monitoring
movement or groundwater level should also be provided.

10. Conclusion
There are many factors needed to be considered in the design and construction of
retaining walls. An engineer should make good use of his engineering knowledge and
experience in planning and designing the retaining walls so as to minimize the amount of
difficulties during construction. Furthermore, special consideration should be made during
construction of the retaining walls to facilitate a smooth running of the contract.

Construction of retaining walls

1. Traffic Diversion
When the construction of retaining walls affects the existing traffic, appropriate traffic
diversions will have to be devised to cope with the traffic affected. The traffic diversions
proposed by the Contractor should be approved by the Transport Department, the Highways
Department and the Police. Such schemes should aim at minimizing disturbance and must be
safe. Therefore, the diverted routes must be wide enough for vehicles to pass without
endangering road users and pedestrians. Adequate lighting and warning signs must also be
provided and maintained. Furthermore, all existing public or private right of way must be

2. Utility Diversion
Underground utilities often pose problems to construction and these problems always
hamper the progress of works. Utility diversions may be necessary to cater for foundation
construction of the retaining walls. During construction, the exact locations and routes of the
utilities should be identified by trial pits and great care should be exercised in handling the
utilities which are easily damaged. In order to minimize conflicts, good coordination and close
liaison are required between the Contractor and the utility undertakers.

3. Temporary Works
Usually, open cut method is adopted by the Contractor for the construction of retaining
walls and so adequate protective measures to the temporary slopes must be provided. If the
temporary works are substantial, independent checkings are required where necessary.

4. Settlement Monitoring
The necessity of settlement monitoring of adjacent structures is important because the
construction of foundation of retaining walls may affect the stability of these structures. For
example, excavation in caissons, for the construction of caisson walls, requires dewatering and
settlement of adjacent structures may be resulted due to excessive drawdown. Therefore, the
Contractor should monitor any settlement by setting up survey beacons.

5. Safety
Safety is an important concern for the construction of retaining walls. In order to
maintain a high standard of safety on site, all the people within the site should be safety minded.
In addition, it is important to ensure that site safety procedures are strictly followed because
accidents can be very expensive.

6. Nuisance Control
When the site is close to the public, the Contractor should exercise control on the
nuisance, especially noise and dust, produced during construction. The Contractor should aim
at keeping the noise level to a minimum by silent plants. For dust control, frequent spraying of
water within the works area may be useful.

7. Limited Works Space

In some highly congested areas, working space is limited. The Contractor sometimes
has to make his own arrangement and find his own site for the storage of materials. The method
and sequence of work, and the amount of materials stored on site should be well planned to
avoid conflicts of operations. It is evident that the progress of work can be seriously affected
resulting from lack of planning.
Classification of Retaining Walls

Retaining walls can be classified into two main categories: gravity walls and cantilever
walls. Gravity walls include reinforced concrete walls, mass concrete walls, crib walls and
reinforced earth walls. Cantilever walls include sheet pile walls, soldier pile walls, bored pile
walls and hand-dug caisson walls.

1. Gravity Walls

Reinforced concrete walls are the most common form of construction. Depending on
the height of retained earth, the wall stems may be cantilevered from the base slab or
spanning between counterforts for high walls. Reinforced concrete walls have the
advantage that no special technique is required. Common techniques of earthmoving,
compaction and reinforced concrete construction would be sufficient. However, they
require working space behind the walls for temporary excavation to construct the wall
base. The higher the walls, the wider would generally be the base slab and the wider the
working space is required.

Mass concrete walls are generally suitable for low walls. It is because mass concrete
walls are massive and the cost of concrete is the dominant factor. Nevertheless, they
have been used in some occasions for high walls by using large diameter hand-dug
caissons in situations where no bedrock is encountered at a reasonable depth below
ground, rendering the use of cantilever walls impossible or uneconomical.
Crib walls possess the advantage that no or minimal in-situ concrete work is required.
This is particularly useful in situations where site access is restricted or on site mixing
of concrete is undesirable. Besides the ease and fast speed of construction, crib walls
have the additional advantage that they can absorb movement between the interlocking
elements when differential settlements are anticipated. Furthermore, with provisions of
suitable planting , crib walls can give a very pleasant appearance to match with the
surrounding vegetation.

Reinforced earth walls are more and more popular nowadays. When suitable backfill
materials are available, they can achieve a substantial saving in cost, shorten the
construction period, and provide a generally acceptable appearance. Besides metallic
strip reinforcement, polyester strip and mesh reinforcement are now available to
enhance the service of the structures with regard of corrosion of reinforcement.

2. Cantilever Walls

Sheet pile walls are most commonly used in temporary works. Installation of sheet piles
can be very fast and if anchors are provided, the retaining heights can be quite
substantial. However, adequate drainage provisions must be installed to relieve the
build up of water pressure behind the walls.

Soldier pile walls are similar in function to sheet pile walls, but they have higher
bending stiffness and thus higher retaining heights can be achieved. It is important that
there should not be any gap left between the lagging and the retained soil, otherwise
failure may occur.

Bored pile and hand-dug caisson walls are similar to each other in function, but
hand-dug caisson pile walls have certain advantages over bored pile walls. They do not require
heavy construction plant and construction noise is low, thus ,making them particularly suitable
when site access and working space are limited, and where the site is located at noise sensitive
areas. Furthermore, socket into rock can be achieved relatively easier than bored piles and
detailed visual inspection of the rock socket is also possible.