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Professor Robert Mair CBE, FREng, FRS

Professor Robert Mair, CBE, FREng, FRS

Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering

Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Department of Engineering
Trumpington Street

Cambridge , Cambs CB2 1PZ
Office Phone: +44 (0)1223 332631


Robert Mair was appointed Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at Cambridge University in 1998. He is Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering and was Master of Jesus College 2001-2011. He was a Fellow of St John's College from 1998 to 2001. He is also one of the founding Directors of the Geotechnical Consulting Group (GCG), an international consulting company based in London, started in 1983. He was appointed Chief Engineering Adviser to the Laing O’Rourke Group in 2011.

After graduating in 1971 from Cambridge University, where he read Engineering at Clare College, he worked continuously in industry until 1998, except for a three year period in the late 1970’s when he returned to Cambridge to work for his PhD on tunnelling in soft ground. His early involvement with tunnels began at that time, when he undertook research for the UK Transport Research Laboratory on the subject of centrifuge modelling of tunnel construction in soft ground. He was awarded a PhD for this work in 1979.

Throughout his career he has specialised principally in underground construction, providing advice on numerous projects world-wide involving soft ground tunnelling, retaining structures, deep excavations and foundations. Recent international projects have included railway tunnels in the cities of Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Singpapore and Warsaw, and motorway tunnels in Turkey. In the UK he has been closely involved with the design and construction of the Jubilee Line Extension for London Underground, and with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now HS1) and Crossrail projects. He was responsible for the introduction of compensation grouting in the UK as a novel technique for controlling settlement of structures during tunnel construction - on the Waterloo Escalator Tunnel Project. The technique was widely used on the Jubilee Line Extension Project for the protection of many historic buildings, including the Big Ben Clock Tower at the Palace of Westminster.

He has been a member of Expert Review Panels on major international underground construction projects, and is currently Co-Chair of the International Advisory Board for the Singapore Land Transport Authority, advising on design and construction aspects of all underground transport tunnels and deep excavations in Singapore. He was a member of the French Government Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of a road tunnel in Toulon.

He has published many papers, mainly on the geotechnical aspects of soft ground tunnelling and excavations (see separate list of publications) and has been an invited lecturer at universities and conferences in many countries. He delivered the Institution of Civil Engineers Unwin Memorial Lecture in 1992, the Theme Lecture on Bored Tunnelling in the Urban Environment at the International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering at Hamburg in 1997, the Sir Harold Harding Memorial Lecture at the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1998, the Terzaghi Lecture in Vienna and the Szechy Memorial Lecture in Budapest in 2001, the Jiminez Salas Lecture in Madrid in 2003, the Paviors Lecture in London in 2004 and the Jennings Lecture in Johannesburg in 2005. He delivered the Rankine Lecture in 2006, the Muir Wood Lecture in Helsinki in 2011, and the Keynote Lecture at the 15th European Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in Athens in 2011.

Robert Mair was awarded the British Geotechnical Society Prize in 1980 for his work on tunnels, the Institution of Civil Engineers Geotechnical Research Medal in 1994 and their Gold Medal in 2004. He has been a Board Member of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering (ISSMGE), and for 10 years was Chairman of its Technical Committee (TC 28) on Underground Construction in Soft Ground. He gave evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on the Crossrail project in London and is a member of Crossrail’s Engineering Expert Panel.

He leads a major research group at Cambridge and is Principal Investigator for a recently awarded Innovation and Knowledge Centre on Smart Infrastructure and Construction, funded by EPSRC/TSB and industry to a total value of £17m. He chaired the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Review of Shale Gas Extraction in the UK; the report was published in June 2012.

He is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (its Senior Vice-President 2008-2011), and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was awarded a CBE in the 2010 New Year's Honours list.

Departments and Institutes

Department of Engineering:
Head of Division D

Research Interests


On taking up his appointment to a Chair in Engineering and Head of the Geotechnical Group in 1998 Robert Mair introduced new avenues of research, and in particular strengthened the Group's contacts with industry. He organized a successful £2m bid for a Joint Infrastructure Award (JIF) for the construction and equipping of a new two-storey building: the Centre for Geotechnical Process and Construction Modelling. This building is immediately adjacent to the existing centrifuge facility on the West Cambridge site and is part of the Schofield Centre. The aims of this Centre are to develop new research areas concerning innovative construction techniques. The main thrust of the research is in the areas of underground construction, earthquake engineering, environmental geotechnics (the prevention and remediation of ground contamination), and foundation engineering, as well as in fundamental soil mechanics. Robert Mair’s own research areas are in Underground Construction, Urban Infrastructure Renewal and Innovative Sensor Technologies for Infrastructure Monitoring. A recent major research award is the Innovation and Knowledge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction ( funded by EPSRC and TSB, for which Robert Mair is the Principal Investigator.

Underground Construction

A number of research grants have been obtained in the field of underground construction. An EPSRC grant was awarded in collaboration with Professor John Burland of Imperial College to study the mechanisms of tunnelling-induced ground movements, their progressive effects on buildings and their mitigation. Another research grant was from Nishimatsu Construction of Japan and concerned the effects of both tunnel construction and diaphragm wall construction on piled foundations; the aim of this research was to improve understanding of the fundamental mechanics of how large and heavily loaded buildings react to adjacent tunnel construction. This work was undertaken in collaboration with Professor Kenichi Soga and Dr Jamie Standing (formerly at Cambridge, now at Imperial College). An EPSRC research grant was also obtained in collaboration with Oxford University on pipejacking lubrication and additives used for conditioning soils for tunnelling machines; this was also supported by the UK Pipe Jacking Association. Research areas have included the influence of tunnelling on pipes and other tunnels, excavation-induced ground movements, forepoling and face reinforcement in tunnelling, and effects of tunnel construction on pile foundations.


2nd year (Part IB) Paper 8, Civil Engineering: Design and Construction of Underground Space

3rd year 3D2 Geotechnical Engineering

4th year 4D4 Underground Construction

Key Publications

Please click here for Professor Mair's publication list.