All engineering structures are founded on or within the earth, and such foundations must be structurally sound, stable (safe), serviceable and cost effective. They must not "break the earth", nor exceed reasonable settlement limits. It is important therefore that civil engineering students develop the key skills necessary to analyse and design different types of foundations and other earth-related structures in a range of different soil and rock types so as to satisfy these criteria. Such foundations and structures include both shallow and deep footings, slabs, embankments, and retaining walls of various types. Students should also understand a number of key construction issues such as dewatering, excavation stabilization, and soil improvement, and be able to design systems for same. On-going visits made over several weeks to sites where significant foundation construction work is being undertaken form a key part of this unit and are aimed at helping students acquire skills and understanding as indicated above.

Key topics include: Introduction to foundation design. Bearing capacity of shallow pad and strip foundations on fine and coarse-grained soils. In-ground stress distribution due to applied loads. Foundations on reactive soils. Pile foundations including types and loading conditions. Load capacity of single driven and bored piles, and of pile groups. Immediate settlement. Consolidation theory and consolidation settlement of foundations on fine-grained soils. Settlement rates and allowable settlement. Lateral stresses in the ground. Active and passive stress states. Analysis and design of gravity and cantilever retaining walls. Introduction to construction issues including ground stabilisation and dewatering. Types and uses of geosynthetic materials.

Unit details

Study level:
Credit points:
Unit code:


NEC2202 - Geomechanics

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:
  1. Explain key requirements for safe, serviceable and cost effective foundations for several different types of structures in or on a range of soil and rock types;  
  2. Locate, evaluate and use specific site soil / rock information from websites, geological maps, laboratory / field investigations and reports for design purposes;  
  3. Analyse requirements and design shallow foundations (including pad and strip footings and slabs) and deeper pile foundations for a range of common structures in different earth / rock profiles;  
  4. Explain earth pressure theory and design retaining walls and related structures when subjected to a range of backfill soil types and moisture conditions;  
  5. Explain the principles and carry out basic design work related to dewatering, soil improvement systems and the use of geosynthetic materials;  
  6. Work effectively as a member and/or leader of a small team; and  
  7. Demonstrate good communication skills, based on technical reports and team discussion.  


Assessment type Description Grade
Test In-class test (0.5 hours) 10%
Assignment Assignment 1: Team-based field site visits and report 15%
Assignment Assignment 2: Team-based problem solving / design and report (may be split into 2 parts) 15%
Examination End-of-semester exam (3 hours) 60%
The assignments are undertaken by groups, and assess a student's ability to problem solve and interact in a team situation. The examination focuses upon the individual student's ability to demonstrate his or her in-depth understanding of specialist bodies of knowledge within the engineering discipline and apply established engineering methods to complex engineering problems, as defined in Engineers Australia competencies 1.3 and 2.1. As the examination is the one clear way by which these competencies can be assessed on an individual basis, students must achieve a minimum mark of 50% in the examination (and 50% in the overall unit assessment) in order to pass the unit. In order to be eligible for a supplementary assessment, students must normally achieve an overall mark between 45-49% for the unit.

Required reading

Elements of Soil Mechanics, 9th edn,
Smith, I. (2014)
Wiley Blackwell

A significant number of other texts, websites and other resources are recommended for this unit in addition to the text above. These will be indicated in the unit guide provided to students.

Where to next?

As part of a course

This unit is studied as part of the following courses. Refer to the course page for information on how to apply for the course.

Study a single unit

This unit may be available as a single unit of study.

Find out more about how to apply for single units of study at VU.

VU takes care to ensure the accuracy of this unit information, but reserves the right to change or withdraw courses offered at any time. Please check that unit information is current with the Student Contact Centre.