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Design and Construction of the Deepest Diaphragm Walls in

Ashraf Abu-Krisha

National Authority for Tunnels (NAT), Cairo, Egypt


El-Azhar Road tunnels project in Cairo is the first urban underground road tunnel in Africa. It has four
ventilation stations along 2.7-Km of the tunnels route. The location of the third station was positioned at
Port Said street, west of an existing flyover and CWO sewer tunnel. This station was the deepest one due
to the crossing of the road tunnels under the sewer tunnel. The total depth of the diaphragm walls of the
station was 87.3 m while the station was 37.3 m deep.

Advanced diaphragm wall drilling machines, Hydro-phrase machine, was used for the installation of the
diaphragm wall of Port Said ventilation station. The thickness of the RC wall was 1.5 m. To reduce the
lateral deformations of the wall, RC horizontal slabs were adopted at different levels to be a monolithic
structure. The ground deformations associated with the construction of the diaphragm walls of the
underground stations can be divided into two components, one due to excavation and installation of the
diaphragm walls and the other due to wall movements. These deformations are functions of many factors
such as depth and shape of walls, soil properties, depth of excavation around the walls, type and stiffness
of supporting system, surrounding structures, surcharge loads and time of construction.

A realistic numerical modelling of the deepest diaphragm walls is considered for evaluating the effect of
construction sequence and the associated changes in the characteristics of the surrounding ground. This
finite element modelling avoids the main drawbacks that usually appear in empirical or statical design
methods. A non-linear stress-strain constitutive model is adopted to represent the ground deformations.
This paper presents an evaluation of the results of the numerical study for the ventilation station
diaphragm walls and comparison with actual in-situ measurements. Results of this study indicate that a
realistic modelling of soil-structure interaction was performed.


Urban development often requires the construction of deep excavations using diaphragm walls such as
the cut-and-cover underground transportation systems, (El-Nahhas et al., 1994). The soil deformations
and wall displacements induced by the excavation should be controlled and limited at accepted values,
(Shalaby, 1994 and Ono and Murata, 1994). The El-Azhar Road tunnels project lies in an urban fabric
which is severely congested both at street level and under ground. It has four ventilation stations along
its route.The Port Said ventilation shaft chalked up two world records for being the deepest 87.3 m
retaining wall in urban setting and the thicknest wall of 1.5 m, built in separate panels. Hydro-phrase
machine has been used for the construction of these diaphragm panels, (Ramond and Guillien,

The comparison of the calculation and monitoring results of diaphragm walls have shown that the
traditional methods are not compatible with the field measurements. The reaction modulus relating the

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horizontal displacements to the soil pressure in the linear range is inconvenient, as it is a non
measurable geotechnical parameter and its determination still divides the specialists. Moreover, it does
not describe the arching effect caused by the differential deformations of the surrounding soil. Some
numerical codes that depend on this coefficient in the analyses do not give realistic results and often
marked by divergences. The main shortcomings that usually appear in these analyses are the
simulation of the wall thickness and shape, the strength of ground-structure interface, the construction
phases, the hydraulic conditions and dewatering of the excavation side. The comparsion of some
numerical calculation results performed by the contractor and the author with the in-situ measurements
of the wall deformation and internal forces shall identify the drawbacks. The factor of safety of soil
parameters and geotechnical data which controls the degree of accuracy of the numerical calculation
as compared to the field measurements should be considered.

Recently, several studies have been performed by Schweiger et al., (1999) and Powrie et al., (1999)
for developing numerical analysis and numerical codes in finite element which permit the modelling
of diaphragm wall and construction stages in a more realistic way. Extended to this development, this
paper presents the results of a numerical modelling of the deepest diaphragm wall of the ventilation
station in Cairo supported by strutted slabs and temporary props.


The geotechnical aspect of El-Azhar area and parameters are carried out and presented in the
geotechnical report of the project, (NAT soil report, 1999). The layers of soil in project area are
consisting mainly of fill, clay, sand and sandy gravel. The layers involved in the analysis of the
diaphragm walls of the ventilation station were depending on the minimum toe level necessary to
obtain the minimum safety factor 1.5 of passive mobilized pressure. The poor quality of clayey layer
required the wall to go deeper beyond this layer, into the underlying sand. The ground water level was
found to be at –3.00 m from the ground level. The geotechnical parameters obtained from the
geotechnical report are given in Table 1, (NAT soil report, 1999). Figure 1 illustrates the cross-section
of the geological profile and longitudinal section of the ventilation station.

Table 1: Layers and geotechnical parameters

Soil Layers E γ C Cu
Depth ν Ko φ (o)
(MPa) (KN/m3) (KPa) (KPa)
Fill 22.6 to 12.6 10 18.0 0.40 1.00 - 23 15
Sand 1 12.6 to 7.60 30 18.5 0.35 0.47 0 32 0
Sand 2 7.60 to –3.4 50 19.5 0.33 0.37 0 39 0
Sand Gravel -3.4 to –5.4 80 20.0 0.30 0.33 0 42 0
Sand 3 -5.40 to –21.4 45 19.0 0.35 0.40 0 37 0
Clay -21.4 to –30.4 20 18.5 0.45 1.00 - 20 120
Sand 4 -30.4 to –77.4 50 19.0 0.35 0.40 0 37 0


The Port Said ventilation staft is located near Port Said street and is constructed of two side-by-side
boxes: one for the northern Salah Salem to Attaba tunnel (22 m long and 17.5 m wide) and one for
southern Attaba to Salah Salam one (22 m long and 16.5 m wide), as shown in Figure 2, (NAT
documents, 1999). These boxes are constructed of 1.5 m thick diaphragm walls between which 7 slabs
and a raft are constructed, one by one from the top slab (Roof). The slabs number 6 and 7 are not cast
before the raft, also two levels of temporary struts are installed in the system. The stages of
construction have been performed to save time from the beginning of construction till the tunnel

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boring machine crossed the shaft. The two boxes are about 34.2 m deep. A low permeability grouted
plug is provided at the diaphragm walls toes in the two boxes, (NAT documents, 1999).

Figure 1.Geological profile and longitudinal section. Figure 2. Location the ventilation station.


For the two-dimensional numerical analysis of the diaphragm walls, the developed beam element
(BEAM 6) was used to model the concrete panel in order to simulate the combined action of the wall
panel and the surrounding soil which is modelled by plane strain elements (LST). The advantage of
this beam element is that it can describe the real geometry dimension of wall panel (thickness of wall)
in addition to achieving combined action with LST soil elements. The beam element has six nodes,
each with two degrees of freedom (ui, vi). The element nodes are arranged to form three couples, each
couple with two nodes connected by LST element as shown in Figure 3. Two steps have been assumed
to simulate the diaphragm wall excavation. The first consists of eliminating the horizontal and shear
stresses from the excavated elements by reducing the elasticity modulus. The second step consists of
eliminating the remaining of effective stresses, deleting excavated elements and applying the wall
panel elements.


The excavation of the shaft was simulated by a number of construction stages. Each one represented
an excavation and applying a horizantal prop, slab or passive strut. The excavation of each stage of the
shaft was simulated in two steps. In the first step, the stiffness of the soil inside the shaft was reduced
by a reduction factor. In the second step, the excavated soil was removed and its primary stresses ware
eliminated simultaneously with the installation of the permanent slab or temporary strut. The ground
water pressure was applied at the soil side of the diaphragm wall at each stage. This procedure was
repeated for the subsequent stages of construction. Finally, the uplift ground water pressure was
applied on raft that transfer the concentration effort to the diaphragm wall through the corbel. The raft
was not linked to the diaphragm wall. Before the final excavation, the water table was lowered to 0.5
m below the excavation level. The parameters of the other material are given in Table 2, (NAT
documents, 1999).

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Table 2: Material parameters.

Items - Parameters ν Econstruction (MPa) E long term (MPa)

Slabs 0.2 2.33 x 107 1.16 x 107
Diaphragm walls 0.2 2.23 x 107 1.12 x 107
Steel pipe strut 0.3 21.0 x 107 21.0 x 107


The numerical modeling was carried out by using the explicit finite element method, FINAL code
(Swoboda 1998), with the assumption of a plane strain model. The soil was modeled using the
nonlinear elastic-perfectly plastic Mohr-Coulomb criterion. Linear elastic relationships were used for
concrete and steel elements. The long-term effect of concrete wall was considered as well. The two-
dimensional FE mesh for modeling is shown in Figure 4. The boundary conditions for the mesh are as
follows: the outer vertical boundaries are restrained in X direction and free to move in Y direction.
The base of the model is restrained in both X and Y directions.

The wall and raft were modeled with Beam 6 elements. Each horizontal slab and strut was modeled by
Beam 2 (element bars) element connected with the nodes of wall coinciding with its depth. With this
procedure, the wall, the slab and strut can move without moment transfer between them. There is no
connection between the wall and raft. The derivation of the stiffness matrices of both LST and Beam 6
elements is given by Swoboda (1979), as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. LST and Beam 6 elements. Figure 4. Two-dimensional finite element mesh.


The loading phases adopted to simulate the excavations of the diaphragm wall and the ventilation shaft
are summarized below:
Loading (0): Initialization of the geostatic state of stresses with a cofficient K0.
Loading (1): Applying the surface loads.
Loading (2): Stress relief of the excavation soil of the diaphragm panal by reducing its stiffness.

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Loading (3): Stress relief of the rest stress by deleting the excavation elements and applying the
diaphragm wall .
Loading (4) to (23): The excavation steps of 2.5, 4.9, 5.4, 5.3, 5.5, 3.0, 4.0, 2.1, 1.6, and 3.7 m were
modeled by stress relief of the soil excavation and deleting of the soil elements of these zones. The
slab or strut at every step was installed. The last installation was the raft. The ground water pressure
was applied on the diaphragm wall at end of the every step.
Loading (24) to (26): Remove the temporary struts and install the rest slabs.
Loading (27) : Uplift effort is applied on raft.
Loading (28): Long term effect.


The proposed monitoring system was intended to measure the diaphragm wall horizontal movement,
the ground surface settlement behind the diaphragm wall and the strains in the diaphragm wall
reinforcement during the different stages of construction and until the readings stabilize. The
instrumentation included three inclinometers and six strain gauges. The horizontal movement was
monitored using a digitilt inclinometer probe that was lowered in special casings embedded in the
diaphragm walls at the instrumented sections. The inclinometer measurements of the diaphragm wall
with the progression of the construction and installation of the horizontal slabs and struts are presented
in Figure 5, (NAT documents, 1999).

Figure 5. Development of the horizontal wall movement during the different construction stages.

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The calculated horizontal wall displacements at different construction stages are presented in Figure 6.
Figure 7 illustrates the contour lines of the displacements in the soil mass at the end of the construction
of the ventilation shaft. The comparison between the measured wall horizontal deformations with the
computed values at different construction stages shows a good agreement of results. Figure 8 shows
the calculation results of the surface settlement troughs associated with the construction stages. The
comparison between measured surface settlements and those resulted from analysis at last construction
stage adjacent to the diaphragm wall is shown in Figure 9. The results of the internal forces were
developed in the diaphragm wall according to the construction stages. The computed bending
moments in the concrete diaphragm walls are illustrated in Figure 10. The bending moments resulting
from analyses by the author and the contractor are compared in Figure 11. From the figure, the
bending moments computed by the contractor are higher than those by the author, where the thickness
of panel and the combined action between the soil elements and the wall elements were not
considered. The contractor assumed a modulus of horizontal subgrade reaction or joint element
(interface element) between wall and soil with imaginary values that are not realistic.

Stage (7) Stage (11) Stage (19) Stage (27)

Figure 6. Computed horizontal wall displacements at different construction stages.

Figure 7. Displacement contour lines in the soil.

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Figure 8. Computed surface settlement. Figure 9. Comparison of measured and computed
. surface settlement.

Stage (9) Stage (15) Stage (21) Stage (27)

Figure 10. Computed bending moments at different construction stages.

Figure 11. Comparison of computed bending moments at different construction stages between those
obtained by the contractor and those by the author.

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The proposed procedures to simulate the diaphragm wall and the deep excavation of the ventilation
station using FE method are presented in the numerical example. The simulation results were
compared with the monitored results and those computed by the contractor. A number of conclusions
may be drawn from this study:

• The results of the analysis proved the ability of the proposed model to predict successfully the
behaviour of interaction between the diaphragm wall and deep excavation of the shaft with
retaining horizontal slabs and struts in soft ground.
• The results also confirmed the need for realistic simulation of concrete elements, combined
action and establishment of construction procedure in the numerical model.
• It is very important to note that there was a very good agreement between the field
measurements values and those obtained by the proposed numerical modeling by the author.
• The computed internal forces by the author were lower than those by the contractor due to
shortcoming in the contractor’s analysis. However, the contractor’s analysis is suitable to
cover the construction risk in this project.
• The back-analysis of this construction type of deep excavation using FE Method is required to
cover the main drawbacks in the analyses and choosing the soil parameters in major projects.


The author wishes to express his appreciation to Prof. Dr. G. Swobada, Innsbruck University, for his
grateful advices and to National Authority for Tunnels (NAT) for the voluntary dedicated efforts in
presenting this work..


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