With close links to civil engineering, geology, and the natural sciences, geotechnical engineering is a highly complex science which requires many years of study to fully understand. In layman's terms, however, the role of a geotechnical engineer is to establish an accurate account of the composition and properties of the various levels of substrates, such as soil, sand, clay and rock, which make up the earth beneath a given location.
For the construction industry, engaging the services of a skilled geotechnical engineer should form an essential component of the initial planning stages of any major project. Quite simply, without first having a clear idea of what lies beneath the land on which they intend to build, developers are unable to identify what type of materials and techniques will be necessary in order to establish groundworks which will be capable of supporting the intended building or other structure robustly enough for it to be able to fulfill its intended purpose.
As such, a geotechnical engineer conceivably has the ability to prevent major events such as building collapses or sink holes. Clearly, then, the importance of their role — while very rarely recognised by the public at large — is fundamental to the success of any major development and should be a high priority for anyone responsible for overseeing a project of this kind.
However, it is not only major projects such as municipal infrastructure, transport networks or large housing developments which have a necessity to call on the services of a qualified geotechnical engineer. On the contrary, even independent builders or self-build homeowners can benefit from drawing on this fascinating and potentially life-saving field of expertise.
For example, planning applications are often declined due to uncertainties about the composition of the earth beneath the site of the intended development, perhaps due to suspected contamination or a possibility that the ground might contain a layer of unstable rock. In circumstances such as these, planning applicants would be well advised to hire a geotechnical engineer who would then be able to gather scientific evidence for submission as part of a subsequent planning appeal.
Another instance in which a geotechnical engineer might be able to assist a private individual as opposed to an entity such as a major property developer or a public body is when their property has suffered damage due to an inadequate assessment of the land on which it was built. In these cases, geotechnical engineers can present evidence as part of an insurance claim or when a client is engaging in litigation with a negligent property developer.