Design of Geostructural Systems

P. J. Vardanega*, M. D. Bolton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
1417 Downloads (Pure)


This paper begins with an extensive review of the literature covering the development of design rules for geostructural systems, beginning with traditional global safety factors and developing through partial factors for loads and resistances, and then considering the use of mobilization factors to limit soil strains. The paper then aims to distinguish two possible functions for geotechnical factors: to compensate for the uncertainty regarding soil strength, and to limit soil deformations that could compromise the associated structure before the soil strength can be fully mobilized, whatever it is. At present, design procedures generally conflate and confuse ultimate limit state (ULS) checks and serviceability limit state (SLS) deformation checks. Furthermore, most geotechnical engineers wrongly associate ULS with soil failure rather than with structural failure. The paper addresses this fundamental confusion by advocating mobilizable strength design (MSD), which is based on assumed soil-structure deformation mechanisms rather than soil failure mechanisms. It is argued that designs using MSD can guard against damaging structural deformations, either small deformations giving SLS or large structural deformations that must be regarded as ULS even though the associated soil strength may not yet be fully mobilized. This distinction effectively challenges much of the previous literature on limit state design principles for geotechnical applications, even when probabilistic approaches have been proposed. Nevertheless, the paper is informed by the concepts and techniques of decision making under uncertainty, and the paper concludes by considering whether MSD can also be placed in a reliability framework.

Original languageEnglish
Article number04015017
Number of pages12
JournalASCE-ASME Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in Engineering Systems, Part A: Civil Engineering
Issue number1
Early online date16 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Geotechnical design
  • Safety
  • Serviceability
  • Factors of safety
  • Reliability
  • Review


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