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Professor Lord Mair CBE FREng FRS

Professor  Lord 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 now the Sir Kirby Laing Professor of Civil Engineering and Head of Civil 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 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, and has since been widely adopted on many urban underground construction projects.

He has been a member of Expert Review Panels on major international underground construction projects, and  until recently was 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 been a member of the Engineering Expert Panel for London’s Crossrail, currently Europe’s largest construction project. 

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,  the Keynote Lecture at the 15th European Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering in Athens in 2011, and the Casagrande Lecture in Boston, USA in 2014

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, their Gold Medal in 2004 and their President’s Medal in 2013. 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 to a House of Commons Select Committee on HS2. He leads a major research group at Cambridge and is Principal Investigator for  the Centre on Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), funded in its first phase by EPSRC/Innovate(UK) and industry to a total value of £17m; a second phase has just been confirmed for funding. He chaired the Royal Society/Royal Academy of Engineering Review of Shale Gas Extraction in the UK; the report was published in  2012.

He is a Vice-President 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 and appointed an independent crossbencher in the House of Lords in October 2015

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 Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) ( funded by EPSRC and  Innovate UK, for which Robert Mair is the Principal Investigator. Government funding has recently been announced for a new building in the Cambridge Department of Engineeing: the National Research Facility for Infrastructure Sensing (NRFIS), which will be part of the UK Collaboration for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) initiative.  

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, effects of tunnel construction on pile foundations, and design and construction aspects of shafts.


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

3rd year 3D2 Geotechnical Engineering

4th year 4D4 Construction Engineering

Key Publications

Please click here for Professor Mair's publication list.