Peter Walter Rowe (1922-1997)

Peter W Rowe was one of the leading international geotechnical engineers in the last forty years of the 20th century. He was brought up and educated in Bristol, taking an initial wartime postgraduate post at RAE at Farnborough before working briefly in the construction industry.

His work covered:

  • Soil structure interaction in the design of sheet pile walls.
  • Development of stress-dilatancy theory.
  • Measurement of drainage and consolidation properties of soils with fabric.
  • Development of centrifuge modelling and its application to design.
  • Wide-ranging international consultancy.

Rowe retired in 1982 but continued to work with colleagues in the University and maintained his consulting activity until his death in 1997.

He is remembered as a brilliant and charismatic teacher and as a major figure in the development of the new academic disciplines of soil mechanics and geotechnical engineering in the post second world war era.

Outstanding contribution to science

Behaviour of flexible sheet-pile retaining structures

Peter Rowe began his academic career as an assistant lecturer at St. Andrews. where he started seminal work on the behaviour of flexible sheet-pile retaining structures using carefully controlled model experiments. This work was acknowledged by Terzaghi, the 'father' of soil mechanics as a major contribution and continued after Rowe came to Manchester in 1952.

Mechanics of granular materials

He has made a major contribution to the understanding of the mechanics of granular materials with the development of the stress-dilatancy theory, drawing on observations of Osborne Reynolds and backed by meticulous laboratory experimentation and later by theoretical advances of Professor Horne.

Drainage and consolidation of field soils

Peter Rowe was also involved in consultancy work, giving advice on a wide range of projects and developing a particular interest in the drainage and consolidation of field soils where 'fabric' of various origins dominated performance. 

Testing of behaviour of generic structures

He developed sophisticated new testing apparatus and advocated changes to industry practices. The work culminated in his lecture Rankine 'The relevance of soil fabric to site investigation practice' to the British Geotechnical Society in 1972 and in giving advice on resolving the problem of the continuing settlement of Venice. In 1970 he designed and constructed a very large centrifuge for further physical model testing associated with predictions of behaviour of generic structures of different forms, but primarily with site-specific design and assessment.

Offshore barriers, platforms and major bridge foundations

The projects to which he and his group contributed included many offshore platforms in the North Sea and elsewhere, the Oosterschelde barrier which protects the Netherlands from storm surges, several dams and major bridge foundations. 

Derwent Dam
Derwent Dam 1901 - 1916, Derbyshire England UK . Geotechnical engineer P W Rowe
P W Rowe 'Sheet-Pile Walls in Clay'. ICE Proceedings, Volume 7, Issue 3, 01 July 1957 , pages 629 –654 , , E-ISSN: 1753-7789

Rowe at Manchester

He started working at Manchester in 1952 where he became a Professor of Soil Mechanics in 1963. He continued working for the University until his retirement in 1982.

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