I recently read an article about the mishap of the Transcona Grain Elevator in 1913. This engineering and planning disaster is famous because it paved the way for the importance of more thorough site investigations and calculations for soil bearing capacity. What occurred was that the grain storage facility built along the Canadian Pacific Railway was not properly designed so that the foundation would be holding an accurate amount of weight per square foot on top of the soft, clayey soil it was placed upon. The structure stood, but after it began to be loaded with grain, it sunk into the clay surface twenty-nine feet and rotated about twenty-seven degrees. It was not in proper form to serve its purpose and thus had to spend more money to be corrected.

Granted that this design failure did occur at a time before more accurate technology and theories like Terzaghis equations created in the 1930s, it became a starting point for more thorough investigations into unstable soil. At this point in time, no one knew how soil really behaves. From this example, they began to experiment, and ultimately decided in theory that the internal friction of saturated soil is equal to zero.

Now examples of this bearing capacity failure can be seen today as tourist attractions such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but from an urban planning perspective having unsafe buildings is a disaster. This example of the Transcona Grain Elevator was important to builders and planners to see just how important proper planning and geotechnical investigation is to build for residential, commercial, and industrial uses. Proper foundations are extremely important for cities and urban areas based on space density. There is a limited amount of land, so designers and planners build upwards. Towering buildings require a solid foundation, or else they are useless. Examples of failure still occur today such as the thirteen story tower in Shanghai, China that toppled over due to excess weight of fill near the building as they were excavating for a parking garage.

From examples such as the Transcona Grain Elevator disaster, planners and engineers can search for and grasp a better understanding of how soil and underground conditions operate. Although the physics of soil may never be fully understood, technology and design will one day hopefully eliminate this foundation failure issue, so that buildings may be safer. Foundations pave the way for urbanism and dense populations to thrive, and should not be neglected as such.

Original article can be found at Transcona Grain Elevator