A retaining wall is a specially designed structure that holds soil on one side and is free standing on the other. They help to accommodate changes in grade in a landscape with uneven topography. These walls often allow steeper cuts to a slope to yield more usable space on a cut-and-fill hillside lot. Hard working retaining walls can be key to creating a level sports lawn or driveway too.
- Pro Tip: Walls are a long term investment. You can change planting every ten years, but walls are forever.”–Joseph Heuttl, Huettl Landscape Architecture in Walnut Creek, CA
Retaining walls are also used on level ground to raise living spaces above the surrounding ground plain. A well designed retaining wall can elevate planting areas for improved drainage while at the same time creating a seatwall. There is no end to the benefits of these heavy barriers, but they can be costly and must be strictly constructed to prevent failure.
What makes retaining walls so challenging is their strength, which is best illustrated by the incredible loads they carry, known as lateral earth pressure. This is created by more than just the weight of soil. Water behind the wall causes buildup of hydrostatic pressure which is the reason for most wall failures. Only through adequately designed drainage structures and waterproofing can the best designed wall survive over time.