All of these theories are in use today, and anyone can look up the definition of each theory in a textbook.

But what are the practical applications for each theory, or said another way, in what situations should one theory be preferred to the others? Compilation of a general list would be most useful.


The primary difference between Rankine and Coulomb earth pressure theories is that Coulomb's considers a frictional retaining wall. In other words, the interface between the soil and the retaining wall is not assumed frictionless (as it is in Rankine theory).

That being said, it is typically considered that Rankine underpredicts the true orientation of the failure surface, whereas Coulomb overpredicts the orientation. In that sense, you could use both methods, and use the two solutions to bound what will likely occur.

Terzaghi (and Peck)'s method is largely empirical. It simply uses the soil's classification and the backfill slope, then they simply tabulated coefficients of lateral earth pressure. That being said, they aren't bad, it's just that any empirical solutions like this tend to be relatively site specific, so the solution needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • $\begingroup$ AASHTO designates Terzaghi and Peck be used for flexible anchored/tieback walls. $\endgroup$ – Rick supports Monica Jan 22 '15 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ That's interesting to know. I suppose that's not too surprising as much of the AASHTO methodology is based on lookup tables/graphs, this would be a very convenient fit. $\endgroup$ – Cory Kramer Jan 22 '15 at 14:55

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