The University of Melbourne Project


Significant damage on buildings has been extensively reported worldwide due to reactive soils. These soils have high potential to change their volume depending on the amount of clay particles and soil moisture, shrinking when water is evaporated and swelling when water is absorbed. Due to the shrink and swell movements, a building tends to move resulting into angular distortions, which cause cracking of its slabs and walls. Reactive soils are ubiquitous with more severe damages in drier regions of southern Africa, central Asia, south-western Europe, southern North America, south-eastern Australia and south-eastern South America.


In the Australian state of Victoria, more than half of the land surface area is covered by reactive soils where lightly-loaded structures are inevitably built on top. Lightly-loaded structures, specifically prefabricated houses, are more susceptible to slab movements since overburden pressure, due to permanent and temporary loadings, is not sufficient to counteract the soil pressure from the change of moisture content of reactive soils. It may seem that low-rise light lightly-loaded houses have lesser importance and value, however, it is not the case when these structures are considered as a unified entity. To prevent further economic loss and safety risk due to slab and wall damages, the interaction between the footing system of a house and the movement of the reactive soil can be further analysed and an innovative footing system can be developed that can adapt to the shrink and swell movements of reactive soils.


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