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The paper gives a comprehensive overview about the application and

design of mat foundations. SAFE software has been used extensively
throughout the paper for analysis of mat foundation. Rightful importance
has been given to modulus of subgrade reaction, its measurement and
relation to various soil properties have been discussed. The Transcona
grain elevator has been a subject of extensive case study. The foundation
is treated in specific as a mat foundation and not just as a shallow
foundation. The foundation failure has been discussed from not only the
bearing capacity point of view, but taking into account settlement
considerations as well. Various limitations of SAFE and possible ways of
overcoming them have been discussed. The numerous methods of
averaging ks to get a single representative value has also been discussed.


The Transcona elevator construction began in 1911, by the Canadian
Pacific Railway company to provide easy means for grain shipment. The
grain elevator was designed to carry a million bushels of grain. It basically
consisted of a reinforced work house and a bin house for storing grain.
Site investigation was conducted before construction to ensure that the
soil could withstand the load of the grain elevator. This included some
small diameter plate bearing tests at foundation level. The tests indicated
that the soil should be able to handle a pressure of 383479 kPa (45
ton/ft2). It was calculated that the total pressure with the elevator filled
with grain would be a maximum of 316 kPa(3.3 ton/ft2)
However, these tests only stress the ground to a small depth and would
have only tested the upper firmer clay. Subsequent boreholes showed the
soil in that area comprised of an upper layer of highly plastic
clay,overlying a layer of soft gray clay.
Work house:
The work house was 21.34 by 29.26 m (70 by 96 ft) in plan, and 54.86 m
(180 ft) high, with a raft foundation 3.66 m (12 ft) below the surface.

Bin house:
The bin house comprised of 65 bins (five rows of 13 bins), each
approximately 28.04 m (92 ft) high and 4.27 m (14 ft) in diameter. The
bins were supported by a reinforced concrete raft foundation, 0.61m (2 ft)
thick, 23.47 m (77 ft) wide and 59.45 m (195 ft) long and at a depth 3.66
m (12 ft) below ground level.

Construction of the Transcona Grain Elevator was completed in September

of 1913. It was the bin house that underwent failure. It began to be filled
with grain as uniformly as possible. On October 18, 1913, the bins
contained 31,500 cubic meters (875,000 bushels) of grain and settlement
was observed, increasing within an hour to a uniform 305 mm (1 ft). The
foundation of the building was supported by a line of boulders on its east
side which then permitted the grain elevator to sink more so on the west
side.Over the next 24 hours, the structure tilted to the west until it made
an angle 26 53' to the vertical. The earth on the west side bulged up as
the structure moved towards it and this slowed down the movement. The
east side of the bin house moved away from the soil surrounding it,
leaving a gap to the depth of the raft foundation.The clay below the
foundation was 8.84m (29 feet) below its starting level on the west side
and on the east side it had risen 1.5 m (5 feet) above.

Figure 1 :Transcona grain elevator failure (Courtesy : UMA Engineering Ltd., Manitoba,

Several wash-borings were made immediately after the failure. The

elevator was underlain by layers of uniform deposits of clay.

Figure 2(a) : Wash boring of site after failure (Courtesy : Peck and Bryant, 1953)

Figure 2(b) : Wash boring of site after failure (Courtesy : Peck and Bryant, 1953)

Testing of soil at site:

In 1951, relatively undisturbed samples of subsoil, were obtained and
bearing capacity calculations were made. The materials were obtained far
enough from the failure zone, so that the soil is undisturbed by
displacements and settlements. From the borings, samples 2 inch thick
and 6 inches in length were chosen. The natural water content and index
properties such as liquid limit and plastic limit were determined from
these samples.
For computation of unconfined compressive strength, the 6 inch
specimens were trimmed to a length of 3.5 inches and were tested until
failure in unconfined compression. The material was then remoulded at
unaltered water content. This time the dimensions of the specimen were
17/8 inch diameter and 3.5 inches length. The unconfined compression
test was repeated to these specimens.
The index properties are represented in the figures 3(a) and 3(b) below.
The ground level is taken at an elevation around 772 feet. Upto an
elevation of 745,ie, upto a depth of 8.23 m, the soil is tan and
grayslickensided clay. The average water content is this layer is about
45% and the average unconfined compressive strength is about 105.34
kPa(1.1 ton/square foot), with a sensitivity of about 2.The values of liquid
limit and plastic limit are around 105% and 35% respectively. According to
Casagrande plasticity chart,thesevzlues correspond to inorganic clay of
high plasticity.
Between the elevations 745 and 737 in boring 1, there is graysilty clay
layer of thickness 2.44 m. It has an average water content of 57%, an
unconfined compressive strength of about 62.24 kPa (0.65 ton/square
foot) and a sensitivity of 2. The Atterberg limits are approximately the
same as before. Below this layer,lies tan silty gravel, containing limestone
chips and clay pockets.
Undrainedtriaxial tests were also conducted on specimens and they were
exposed to lateral pressure of 277.7 kPa (2.9 tons/square foot). These are
marked by on fig. 2(b). The confining pressure has almost no effect on
the compressive strength. So we treat the soil as having angle of internal
friction, = 0.

Figure 3(a): Index properties of soil at site (Courtesy : Peck and Bryant, 1953)

Figure 3(b) :Index properties of soil at site (Courtesy : Peck and Bryant, 1953)

Differential thermal analysis was performed to identify the clay minerals

present. About two-thirds of the material was illite and the remaining onethird was montmorillonite. The non-clay portion was almost negligible. The
specific gravity of this was found to be 2.70.

Load at failure:
The load at failure, at the base of the elevator can be easily computed.
The elevator held 875,000 bushels of grain which weighed about 26,000
short tons. The dead load of the structure was calculated as 20,000 tons
(Allaire, 1916). This load was distributed uniformly over the mat area
(23.47 mx59.45 m). This essentially means that a uniform surface load of
293kPa(3.06 ton/square foot) acted over the mat. The mat was positioned
3.66 m below ground level. So there will be a reduction of load acting on
the mat due to this excavation, equal to D, where is the unit weight of
soil equal to 18.85 kN/m3 (120 pounds/cubic foot) and D is depth of
excavation equal to 3.66 m. So the reduction in load will be around 69 kPa
and the net load acting on the mat is equal to224 kPa (2.34 ton/square

The ultimate bearing capacity of any soil is given by Terzaghis equation.

qu = cNc + DNq + 0.5BN
According to Terzaghi, when = 0, N = 0, Nq = 1, Nc =5.7
Skepton, in 1951, proposed that when D/B is less than 2.5, the value of Nc
is given by,
Nc =

5 1+



In case of the bin house, B = 23.47 m, L = 59.45 m and D = 3.66 m.

This gives an Nc value of 5.56. We will use this lower value of Nc for
bearing capacity calculations.
qu can be written as, qu = cNc , since N = 0 and the value of D is
negligible comapred to that of cNc . c value is taken as half of the
compressive strength since = 0. The weighted average of compressive
strength for both the layers is 89 kPa. (We must consider the entire depth
of both the layers, 10.67 m, because it is lesser than B/2 and the influence
of the entire depth is felt on the raft.)
qu = 0.5895.56 =247.42 kPa
This value is greater than the imposed pressure of 224 kPa on the mat.
But, however, this might be an optimistic value, as we do not consider
uncertainities due to slickensides in the upper surface and due to
difference in stiffness between two layers. No factor of safety is adopted.
The worst case scenario would be to consider the lowest value of
compressive strength,ie, of the second layer. This would give us,
qu = 0.562.245.56 = 173 kPa
But it is improbable that bearing capacity would be this low.
Fig.4 shows a represntation of the bin and the underlying soil layers. The
data available is used in SAFE to check for stability.

Figure 4 : Bin house and underlying soil layers

Estimation of modulus of subgrade reaction from the above data:

Since = 0, undrained shear strength is equal to undrained cohesion, by
Mohr Coulomb equation ( s = c + tan )
Bowles relates undrained shear strength to modulus of elasticity as,
Es = 100 to 500 su when plasticity index is greater than 30.
Considering the mid value,
Es1 = 300su = 300 52.67 = 15801 kN/m2
Es2= 300su = 300 31.12 = 9336 kN/m2
From Vesics relation,
ks = Es/B(1-2)
ks1 = 15801/23.47(1-0.32) = 739.83 kN/m3
ks2 = 9336/23.47(1-0.32) = 437.13 kN/m3

ks(weighted) =

739.83 8.23+ 437.13 2.44

=670.61 kN/m3

When this value is used in SAFE it estimates a settlement of 334 mm

which is close to the initially observed settlement of 305 mm.

Aftermath of the failure:

The bin house itself suffered little damage, so it was subsequently
emptied and righted using jacks. It was underpinned with bored pile
foundations taken to the limestone level.The final structure ended up with
a basement at about 10 m below ground level.
This failure shows the importance of proper site investigation and also
that the entire zone which is under the influence of the foundation should
be studied.