This article was published in the October 2002, GEO-STRATA magazine of the ASCE and was writen by Professor Richard Goodman. We have considered that the article was very interesting and should be read by all geotechs and we requested to host the article in the Geoengineer website. Permission for its use was granted by ASCE on November 19th. For more information about the publications of the ASCE you can click here and for information about the GEOINSTITUTE click here
Karl Terzaghi's legacy in Geotechnical Engineering
By Richard E. Goodman*
Karl Terzaghi (1883-1963) was the first to elaborate a comprehensive mechanics of soils with his publication of Erdbaumechanik in 1925. His recognition and formulation of the effective stress principle and its influence on settlement analysis, strength, permeability and erosion of soils was his most prodigious contribution. But Terzaghi also pioneered a great range of methods and procedures for investigation, analysis, testing, instrumentation, and practice that defined much of the field we currently know as geotechnical engineering.
Among Terzaghi’s publications, reports and lectures, one finds seminal contributions across a wide terrain, including: classification methods for soils and rocks; capillary phenomena in soils; the theory and documentation of consolidation and settlement; piping and its prevention; design and construction of earth, rock and concrete dams on all kinds of foundations; anchorages for suspension bridges in soils; field and laboratory measurement of pore pressures and soil properties; use of flow nets in two and three dimensions; design of drainage wells and tunnels; design to avoid scour of river and waterfront structures; earth pressure variations on walls and bulkheads; engineering in terrain underlain by permafrost; pile foundations; soil improvement by compaction, pile-driving, grouting and incorporation of geotextiles; soil and rock tunneling; engineering geology; sinkhole formation and collapse; regional subsidence due to oil-field operations; and landslides.
He was the great professor of geotechnical engineering of his day, with regular appointments first in Istanbul, then at MIT, Vienna, and Harvard, as well as courses of lectures in Berlin, Texas and Illinois. Through hisvoluminous correspondence with engineers and scientists, his lifelong devotion to publishing both research findings and practical experiences, his numerous public lectures, and his authorship of clear and complete procedures in many engineering reports, Terzaghi disseminated advances in soils engineering that influenced the entire civil engineering world.
Ironically, although he was a great educator, Terzaghi grew to entertain a suspicion of formal education, which he thought had the capacity to obscure observation of new phenomena. He reserved his greater admiration for “self-
made men” who learned from their open eyes and minds.
TERZAGHI’S PERSONALITY AND INTERESTS
In reviewing the range of accomplishments and his domination of the field, it is interesting to examine Terzaghi’s background and interests as well as his philosophy and methods of working. His upbringing and education combined Austrian rigor and military training and a passion for observation of natural science and the contemplative beauty of nature. His attractions ranged widely: construction, geology, mathematics, philosophy and ethics, architecture, flowers, swimming, conversation, travel, literature, music, art, women, men and writing.
He was certainly a remarkable listener as well as a reader and an observer. He was also an exceptionally faithful diarist and prolific correspondent, and through his correspondence he revealed a penchant for classifying almost everything in his experience; people, ideas, objects and of course, rocks and soils. Terzaghi could be a severe critic, especially of those who tended to be blinded by their own theories, or worse, those utterly devoid of theories. He accused some of hiding inarticulately, behind a pensive exterior.
Terzaghi’s goals, which were set like sails to drive his life, changed dramatically at about age 43 (1926). As a younger man he had striven t formulate a rational analytical or empirical methodology, properly embracing geological constraints, for designing works founded on soils (and, to a lesser extent, rocks). But as a mature man, having achieved his first target, he pursued the practice of engineering passionately to test and temper the emerging methods by physical realities.
In this he became increasingly concerned wit the difficulty or knowing enough of a site’s morphology and properties to determine a design solution before construction had started. This worry committed him ever further to the observation of soil and structural response throughout the construction period in order to inform a constant updating of the designs, transforming him into a proponent and practitioner (with coworker Ralph Peck) of the "observational method". Thus, despite Terzaghi’s considerable achievement in advancing the theory of soil mechanics, he repeatedly counseled the profession to stay connected with the behavior of the actual soil in engineering practice.
TERZAGHI’S PRAGMATIC PHILOSOPHY AND METHOD
As his own method of accomplishment became formed, Karl Terzaghi expressed his personal beliefs about the practice of engineering to others. The key components included the following points:
These items from Terzaghi’s personal creed colored his attitude as an engineering consultant, the methods he adopted in working with others to solve engineering problems, and the way he wrote his own engineering reports. The following describes some key facets of his system.
Karl Terzaghi was a remarkable mad and an impassioned engineer. As he put it himself, “All the modest achievements which I have to my credit can be described by a simple formula… Guided by common sense and casual observations, I recognized weak points in traditional procedures and tried to make them less weak. Sometimes I failed, but usually I succeeded.”
*Richard Goodman, M.ASCE, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is Cahill Professor Emeritus in Geotechnical Engineering at the University ofCalifornia, Berkeley, and a regular visiting Professor in the Technical University of Graz, Austria. His research in applied rock mechanics led to development of the joint element for finite element analysis (with Robert Taylor), introduction of the base friction model test, and the development of block theory (with Gen hua Shi). He is the author of five books, including Karl Terzaghi, the Engineer as Artist available through ASCE. He can be reached at [email protected].
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