Reinforced earth is a construction material composed of soil fill strengthened by the inclusion of rods, bars, fibers or nets which interact with the soil by means of frictional resistance. The concept of strengthening soil with rods or fibers is not new. Throughout the ages attempts have been made to improve the quality of adobe brick by adding straw. The present practice is to use thin metal strips, geotextiles, and geogrids as reinforcing materials for the construction of reinforced earth retaining walls.

A new era of retaining walls with reinforced earth was introduced by Vidal (1969). Metal strips were used as reinforcing material as shown in Fig. 19.11 (a). Here the metal strips extend from the panel back into the soil to serve the dual role of anchoring the facing units and being restrained through the frictional stresses mobilized between the strips and the backfill soil. The backfill soil creates the lateral pressure and interacts with the strips to resist it. The walls are relatively flexible compared to massive gravity structures. These flexible walls offer many advantages including significant lower cost per square meter of exposed surface.

The variations in the types effacing units, subsequent to Vidal's introduction of the reinforced earth walls, are many. A few of the types that are currently in use are (Koerner, 1999)

1. Facing panels with metal strip reinforcement
2. Facing panels with wire mesh reinforcement
3. Solid panels with tie back anchors
4. Anchored gabion walls
5. Anchored crib walls
6. Geotextile reinforced walls
7. Geogrid reinforced walls

In all cases, the soil behind the wall facing is said to be mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) and the wall system is generally called an MSE wall.

The three components of a MSE wall are the facing unit, the backfill and the reinforcing material. Figure 19.11(b) shows a side view of a wall with metal strip reinforcement and Fig. 19.1 l(c) the front face of a wall under construction (Bowles, 1996).

Modular concrete blocks, currently called segmental retaining walls (SRWS, Fig. 19.12(a)) are most common as facing units. Some of the facing units are shown in Fig. 19.12. Most interesting in regard to SRWS are the emerging block systems with openings, pouches, or planting areas within them. These openings are soil-filled and planted with vegetation that is indigenous to the area (Fig. 19.12(b)). Further possibilities in the area of reinforced wall systems could be in the use of polymer rope, straps, or anchor ties to the facing in units or to geosynthetic layers, and extending them into the retained earth zone as shown in Fig. 19.12(c).

A recent study (Koerner 2000) has indicated that geosynthetic reinforced walls are the least expensive of any wall type and for all wall height categories (Fig. 19.13).

Figure 19.11 (a) Component parts and key dimensions of reinforced earth wall
(Vidal, 1969)

(c) Front face of a reinforced earth wall under construction for a bridge approach fill using patented precast
concrete wall face units

Figure 19.11 b) and (c) Reinforced earth walls (Bowles, 1996)

Figure 19.12 Geosynthetic use for reinforced walls and bulkheads (Koerner, 2000)

 Figure 19.13 Mean values of various categories of retaining wall costs
(Koerner, 2000)

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