Surrey University Stag


Module code: ENGM048

Module Overview

Geotechnical engineers and structural engineers tend to approach soil-structure interaction problems quite differently.  On the one hand, geotechnical engineers take great care over the representation of the soil, but then often assume the structure to be either perfectly flexible or perfectly rigid.  Structural engineers, on the other hand, may spend a great deal of time ensuring the structure is modelled as realistically as possible, but then often assume that the supporting soil behaves like a bed of linear elastic springs.  For routine design, either approach may be sufficiently accurate – and it may be difficult to justify the cost of more rigorous modelling.

When the situation demands, it will be necessary to create models that take into account the real behaviour of both soil and structure, and this module will provide you with some of the tools for doing this.  A range of soil-structure interaction models and solution methods will be covered, ranging from the simple to the complex.  At the conclusion of the module, you will be in a better position to judge what level of model may be appropriate for a given situation, and what information will be required in order to set up the analysis.  In addition, you should be able to evaluate the analysis output with a clearer understanding of the strengths and limitations of the chosen representation.

Module provider

Sustainability, Civil & Env Engineering

Module Leader

WOODS Rick (Sust & CEE)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

JACs code: H250

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 76

Tutorial Hours: 24

Guided Learning: 30

Captured Content: 20

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Representations of SSI behaviour:

  • rigid v flexible; relative stiffness

  • discrete (Winkler) spring models

  • continuum models

  • constitutive models for soils

Solution methods

  • analytical methods

  • finite difference methods

  • finite element methods

Applications and case histories

  • continuous footings

  • rafts and pile groups

  • retaining walls and deep basements

  • tunnels and culverts

  • field instrumentation

Practical content

  • spreadsheet-based finite difference analysis of beams, rafts and piles

  • commercial geotechnical finite element analysis

  • other relevant commercial packages

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate the full range of learning outcomes. 


Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of: 

  • a soil-structure interaction modelling assignment [LOs 001-009] (40%) 

  • a 4-hour (online) examination paper [LOs 001-005] (60%) 


Formative assessment takes the form of  

  • tutorial questions which are worked through in class (and or solutions posted online) after students have had an opportunity to try solving them independently [LOs 1-6] 

  • past exam questions for which numerical answers are provided, and some are worked through in revision sessions 


Feedback is given: 

  • verbally during the weekly tutorial classes 

  • online via responses to questions posted on the SurreyLearn Discussion forum 

  • in writing, through detailed individual feedback on the coursework assignment 

Module aims

  • Establish an understanding of how real structures interact with the surrounding soil
  • Describe the different idealisations of soil-structure interaction (SSI) that have been devised, including their strengths and limitations
  • Explain how numerical methods can be used to model SSI problems of varying degrees of complexity
  • Describe the constitutive models used to represent real soil behaviour, and the associated parameter determination
  • Encourage a systematic approach to establishing the validity of numerical modelling output
  • Develop an appreciation of the role of SSI analysis in practical design, including the use of field monitoring

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Select the most appropriate soil-structure interaction (SSI) model for a given application KP
002 Determine the data required for a given SSI model KC
003 Set up and analyse SSI models for a range of problems KCPT
004 Compare and contrast different representations of SSI KCT
005 Validate the solutions obtained from SSI analysis KCPT
006 Demonstrate awareness of practical applications of SSI analysis KP

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to build on students’ knowledge of soil mechanics, structural mechanics and foundation engineering and extend it to situations where the structure cannot be considered perfectly flexible or rigid, and/or the soil cannot be considered to be rigid or behave like a bed of springs.

The module is delivered through pre-recorded videos (captured content) and written materials (guided learning), supported by problem-solving classes (tutorials). Independent learning (directed reading, tutorial sheets, modelling software, coursework assignment, and revision) supports and underpins the core delivery.

This module will build on modules ENG1076, ENG2104, ENG2106 and ENG3175 for MEng students and MSc students who did their BEng at the University of Surrey.  For other MSc students it will build on equivalent modules studied during their first degree.

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: ENGM048

Other information

Digital capabilities:   Students will be required to use and develop spreadsheets as part of the coursework and will receive feedback on correctness and verification.   They will also be required to learn and use a commercial geotechnical finite element program (PLAXIS) to complete the coursework assignment.  Using the SurreyLearn virtual learning environment to manage their learning and assessment will prepare them for lifelong CPD as professional engineers, where online provision will increasingly be the norm.

Resourcefulness & Resilience:   Students will develop analytical and numerical modelling abilities to help them approach complex problems, simplify them and develop new insights. Although initially developed in a soil-structure interaction context, this resourcefulness should be transferable.

Sustainability:   Taking account of soil-structure interaction can lead to more efficient designs, compared to methods that ignore these effects, thus students will acquire tools that could enable more sustainable construction.

Employability:   Knowledge, skills and understanding of soil-structure interaction will enhance students’ employability, particularly with civil / geotechnical engineering consultants working on urban infrastructure projects.

Global and cultural capabilities:   The module draws on theories and developments originating principally from within Europe and North America, but uses examples and case studies from around the world, underlining the international nature and applicability of the subject.

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Advanced Geotechnical Engineering MSc 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Civil Engineering MEng 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Structural Engineering MSc 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Civil Engineering MSc 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Infrastructure Engineering and Management MSc 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Bridge Engineering MSc 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2024/5 academic year.