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Geotechnical Engineering

24 January 2024

Every building, bridge, dam, pipeline, or road, is founded on soil or rock. Geotechnical engineering is an essential discipline of civil engineering that focuses on the mechanical properties of soils, and technologies associated with building in, on, and with soils. Learn more.


The objective of geotechnical engineering is relatively simple: to transfer the loads from the structure, including those from earthquakes, wind or human activities (e.g. traffic) to the ground in a controlled manner, so that the building or particular structure performs as desired, for safe and normal use.

Geotechnical engineers deal with what nature provides (soils at the construction site). The ground conditions at every site are unique, making geotechnical engineering one of the most challenging, but also one of the most interesting engineering disciplines. Every project begins with a careful investigation of the subsurface soil properties using sophisticated technologies and interpretive methods. Geotechnical engineering covers a wide variety of problems - from assessment of residential land, design and construction of man-made earth structures (e.g. earth dams, landfills, or reclaimed land), and design of foundations for large structures on soft ground, to preventing harmful earth slips and soil liquefaction during earthquakes. Earth dams, buildings, urban infrastructure, and critical lifelines need sophisticated testing, analysis, and design by specialised geotechnical engineers. Retaining walls, road embankments, deep excavations, bridges, tunnels, offshore oil platforms, and waterfront structures also require significant geotechnical engineering input to their design and construction.

Geotechnical engineers are specialist civil engineers who have gained significant practical experience and often a postgraduate qualification. More than any other area of civil engineering, geotechnical engineering combines modern technologies with personal skills and experience making it a rewarding and satisfying career.

Find out more

The following academics are teaching and researching in this area:

For more information about our specific research interests and publications, please follow the links above to our respective individual webpages.

The following technical staff contribute to our teaching and research activities:

  • Siale Fiatotonu
  • Sean Rees (Research Engineer)

On the 1st November 2015, our group was proud to host the 6th International Conference on Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering here in Christchurch.  This conference brought together over 500 researching academics and professionals from 37 countries to showcase the latest efforts in geotechnical earthquake engineering.  The complete set of technical papers are available for download through the conference website,

The 25 invited lectures at the 6th International Conference on Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering have recently been published as a special issue in the journal of Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering

Find out more about our research

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