Retaining walls are crucial structures in both residential and commercial landscapes. These landscaping must-haves serve as barriers that hold back soil and prevent erosion. They come in various designs, each tailored to specific needs and site conditions. Understanding these types can help homeowners and builders make informed decisions that enhance both function and aesthetics.

Each type offers unique benefits and is selected based on the site’s specific requirements and constraints. If you’re looking for tips on which types of retaining walls would be the best fit for your landscaping vision, we’ve got you covered! 

Most Common Kinds of Retaining Walls

This section explores different types of retaining walls, each suited to specific needs and materials. These include gravity retaining walls, cantilever retaining walls, anchored retaining walls, sheet pile retaining walls, and reinforced soil retaining walls.

1. Gravity Retaining Walls

A person building a gravity retaining wall

Being the independent forces that they are, gravity retaining walls rely on their own weight to resist the pressure from the soil behind them. These types of retaining walls are typically built from heavy materials such as concrete, stone, or large boulders.

Natural stone retaining walls and concrete block retaining walls are common examples that fall under this umbrella. Due to their size and mass, gravity walls are usually thicker at the base and taper towards the top. They are best suited for lower height structures and in areas where sufficient space is available to construct a wide base.

Gravity retaining walls are usually found in residential landscapes and garden projects, offering a balance of strength and aesthetics.

2. Cantilever Retaining Walls

    a cantilever retaining wall being built

    Cantilever retaining walls use a different approach by leveraging a base slab and a vertical component called a “stem” to stay upright. These generally consist of reinforced concrete and function by distributing pressure through their specialised design.  

    The base slab extends under the soil, and its weight adds stability. To that effect, this feature counteracts the forces exerted by the retained earth. Cantilever retaining walls are more efficient than gravity walls for taller structures, as the base does not need to be overly wide.

    These kinds of retaining walls require precise engineering and are commonly used for commercial and residential buildings where space is more restricted.

    3. Anchored Retaining Walls 

    anchored retaining walls

    Anchored retaining walls gain additional strength from anchors or tiebacks, which are inserted into the ground behind the wall. These cables or tiebacks are secured with either concrete or mechanical anchors.

    This type of wall is traditionally thinner and more compact versus other types, and it’s owed to the anchors that provide extra support. If you’re dealing with limited vertical space, anchored retaining walls are the short answer.

    The biggest edge that anchored walls possess is their versatility. These kinds of retaining walls can be used in a myriad of environments, from urban construction to roadways and bridges.

    4. Sheet Pile Retaining Walls

    a sheet pile retaining wall

    Sheet pile retaining walls consist of a series of interlocking wood, steel, or vinyl sheets driven into the ground. These walls are particularly useful when space is very constricted. 

    During construction, the sheets are driven deep enough to ensure stability against the soil pressure.

    The key advantage of these walls is their ability to be used in both temporary and permanent applications. Sheet pile retaining walls are frequently integrated into water-related structures, like docks and marinas. Moreover, they are also often found in urban environments.

    5. Reinforced Soil Retaining Walls

    Reinforced Soil Retaining Walls

    As their name suggests, reinforced soil retaining walls incorporate layers of reinforcement into the soil itself. Geogrids, metal strips, or other fortified materials are placed in layers within the soil to elevate its strength and sturdiness. 

    More often than not, these walls use a facing of concrete blocks or other materials to hold the reinforced soil structure in place. They are highly adaptable and can be used for a wide range of height requirements and applications.

    Reinforced soil walls provide a cost-effective solution and are particularly advantageous on sites where space or budget constraints play a major role.

    Technical Considerations

    In designing retaining walls, several critical technical factors must be addressed to ensure functionality, integrity, and longevity. These include analysing stability and evaluating potential failure modes.

    Stability and Failure Analysis

    Proper stability analysis involves studying the loads acting on the wall and ensuring it resists sliding, overturning, and failure. Lateral earth pressure and water pressure are significant forces that can cause instability.

    Understanding active pressure and passive pressure helps in designing retaining walls that withstand such loads. In line with this, the foundation must be hearty enough to withstand the pressure without settling or eroding.

    Bearing pressure and erosion control are integral for the wall’s base, as these factors influence the integrity and service life of the structure.

    Aesthetic and Practical Enhancements 

    Assimilating retaining walls into the landscape is a great way to enhance both functionality and appearance. Thoughtful planning can transform the backyard, garden, or any outdoor space into an attractive and functional area. 

    Landscaping Integration 

    When planning to build a retaining wall, your choice of design and materials play a crucial role in complementing the garden and surrounding environment. That said, natural stone or timber can seamlessly add a rustic touch, while concrete offers a modern, minimalistic look. 

    Kicking it up a notch, lighting can be embedded within the wall to highlight the structure and improve visibility in your yard at nighttime. 

    Furthermore, terracing with multiple levels of walls can give rise to charming and operative spaces for planting or seating. Everyone loves a retaining wall that serves a dual—or triple—purpose!  

    Finally, what is a landscape design without some flower power, right? The strategic use of florals and plants along the wall softens their appearance and blends them seamlessly into the landscape. You may be building a wall, but that doesn’t mean that it has to look mundane and intimidating. Greenery has natural flair that instils inviting warmth into any type of garden. From rock gardens to water gardens, a touch of foliage works pure magic. 

    Front Yard Landscaping Ideas
    Type of Retaining WallDescriptionCommon Applications
    Gravity Retaining WallsRely on their own weight to resist pressure from the soil behind them. Typically built from heavy materials such as concrete, stone, or large boulders.Residential landscapes, garden projects
    Cantilever Retaining WallsUse a base slab and a vertical component called a “stem” to stay upright. Generally consist of reinforced concrete.Commercial and residential buildings
    Anchored Retaining WallsGain additional strength from anchors or tiebacks inserted into the ground behind the wall.Urban construction, roadways, bridges
    Sheet Pile Retaining WallsConsist of interlocking wood, steel, or vinyl sheets driven into the ground.Docks, marinas, urban environments
    Reinforced Soil Retaining WallsIncorporate layers of reinforcement into the soil itself using geogrids, metal strips, or other fortified materials.Wide range of height requirements and applications

    The Great Retaining Walls of Brisbane

    At first glance, it can be tricky to determine which types of retaining walls would be the perfect match for your landscape. In times of doubt, the experts at Brisbane Landscaping step in to save the day!

    With a strong belief in streamlined techniques, Brisbane Landscaping delivers phenomenal results that are second to none. From the first consultation to the final installation, you can count on retaining walls that exceed your expectations.

    Contact us today!