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Earth Retaining Walls or Reinforced Soil Slopes


A new trend is revolutionizing the construction industry and our profession as civil engineers.  Reinforced soil slopes are becoming more popular as opposed to the traditional reinforced concrete structures in relation to building retaining walls.  We wanted to take some time and study all aspects of this idea.

First, what is an earth retaining wall?
In the United States the term reinforced soil slopes, have become the accepted terminology.  The basic idea is to use earth (a.k.a. soil or dirt) as the building material along with a reinforcing material to create a wall.  The main reinforced materials used on our projects are either a geosynthetic steel grid called geogrids, or a geosynthetic mesh called geotextiles.  After the soil has been shaped and reinforced various types of plants are used to create a green wall.

Second, what is the difference between using earth instead of concrete?
Reinforced Concrete consists of mainly using rebar as a reinforcing material and is usually embedded in the concrete at the time of pouring.  This allows the concrete mixture to hold a higher level of tension when used in building a structure.  Using poured concrete or block walls is sometimes a very expensive part of a construction project.

Reinforced Soil Slopes combines the reinforcements, like geogrids or geotextiles, with soil to create a composite material just like the concrete composite.  This strengthens the earth and allows it to be used at less of a cost than concrete to build retaining walls.

Third, what are the advantages to using reinforced soil slopes verses reinforced concrete walls?
There are many advantages to this form of construction.  Creating a more pleasing view of walls in a big city is a great plus, less costly, working with nature instead of against, and allowing for a better control of water run off during rain showers.

Fourth, where can the supplies be found and who provides the service of building these retaining walls?
Usually these projects are too large for an average individual to create without any assistance.  Most projects require a civil engineer to design them and a geotechnical engineer to assist in verifying proper design.  In Chattanooga we are the world headquarters for the manufacturing company Propex, which produces many of the supplies needed for this type of construction.  After the project is designed and the type of materials decided an experienced company can be hired to install these systems.

Wikipedia – Concrete

Using Google as GIS System


Not so long ago there were government and utility workers who were ecstatic to be jumping into the future by combining the power of satellite positioning with field data collection.  These pioneers began collecting information about their assets in better detail and more accurately than ever before with the advent of the GIS data collection packages that only cost $30,000 and small enough to fit in a backpack. Now gis has grown from a useful tool to a complete career path, and this graphical method for keeping track of and analyzing data has been used to help people organize and plan in ways the early technicians could not have even dreamed of.  Now Google has provided (nearly) all of the tools you need to build your own GIS system for free.

Seven years ago my wife and I decided to move out of our first home in the inner city to a home on eight acres in the country that we believed to be a better place to raise the child she was then carrying.  After this child was born we did what most parents do and began thinking about how we would like to raise our children.  We believed it would be best to teach our children early about the struggles of a small business, the rewards of hard labor, and the benefits of money management by starting a small fruit farm for them to work in as they grew.  So i did the first thing any good engineer would do, I began to plan.

I used AutoCAD to draft up several options for our property’s master plan.  One early design included Monticello style storage and shop rooms with a Versailles style garden staircase dropping down to terraced planting beds.  However, one of the more reasonable designs was selected, and over the course of two years we cleared the trees off the four acres behind our house for the fruit farm.  This master plan was designed not as a typical orchard or vineyard would be, as they are usually laid out to maximize a financial a return on the resources invested.  We chose a layout that would help the kids make money while they grew, but also offer visitors a new experience around every corner.

The chosen design offered a mostly non linear layout on a very rectangular lot.  The disadvantage of this curvilinear design is the difficulty of easily maintaining a mental record of all of the farm’s plants that will one day exceed 500 fruiting perennials.

The proper way to maintain these records is by using a commercially available GIS package like those I have helped clients set up for their needs, but spending $4,000 to $8,000 to keep track of plants in my back yard seemed a bit excessive.  I then thought of the way I had kept track of a stakeless construction project last year.  I added data to google maps and then, during my construction inspections, I used a GPS enabled Android smartphone to maintain my orientation on the site.  This seemed like an easy thing to do for my farm as well, but I wanted a little more.

Google maps allows you to overlay your own features on their maps and then add a little information about these features.  In this description box, Google even allows you to add HTML code.  The end result for me is that I can walk around my orchard or vineyard with any Android powered smartphone and pull up the exact plant that I am standing in

front of with its entire planting, pruning and fertilizing history including pictures of that exact plant as it has grown over the years.

While Google may not have set out to put the power of GIS in everyone’s hands for free, they have done just that.  Sure, without differential GPS a smart phone will not be an effective coordinate data collection device, but in my case I didn’t need this.  I designed my site in state plane coordinates, staked the plants out with a total station, converted the points to geographic coordinates, wrote them into Google Maps with kml coding and added pictures with some minor HTML coding.  The point is this, once the initial position of a feature is determined, a little bit of work will allow any field personnel to now jump into GIS data collection with just a smartphone and Google Maps.

Hefferlin + Kronenberg

The husband and wife team of Heidi Hefferlin and Craig Kronenberg gave a presentation Monday night to room full of aspiring business majors on the Southern Adventist University campus.  This husband and wife team established one of Chattanooga’s best architectural firms, Hefferlin + Kronenberg back in the late ’90′s and have been dedicated to Chattanooga’s Southside ever since.


As our office is also located in Chattanooga’s Southside this presentation piqued my interest and I am glad to have been a member of the audience.  At the end of the presentation, a question from one of the students brought attention to the efforts that Mr. Kronenberg and Mrs. Hefferlin have been laboring on to help rebuild and continue to support the revitalization of this community that they live and work in.  The most recent project H+K is working on is a pocket park at Battle Academy.  You can check out a sketch they have done by following this link.  So far they have raised about $15,000 and multiple volunteers.  We have now agreed to provide heavy equipment support and I encourage you to help out as well.  This will be a much needed and well used park here in our neighborhood.