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Laing O'Rourke Centre for Construction Engineering and Technology


In an era of proliferating populations, extensive urbanisation, and escalating climate change, underground construction holds considerable promise for innovative solutions to build the resilient and sustainable infrastructure of tomorrow. According to the United Nations, over half of the global population already resides in cities, which is projected to exceed 68 million people in the UK alone by 2050 (United Nations, 2018). 

Main challenges

The UK requires substantial new infrastructure, including housing, energy, water, sanitation and transport. Current construction processes cannot meet the growing demand in a sustainable, cost-efficient way. While efficient use of underground space is the most viable solution, traditional methods face numerous challenges, including (1) substantial carbon emissions, (2) stagnating productivity, (3) time-consuming processes, and (4) high costs. To overcome these limitations, there is a critical need to leverage digital technologies and innovative approaches to transform the field of underground construction, which will play a vital role in addressing the increasing demand for infrastructure development while minimising disruption to surface activities and optimising land use.

Laing O'Rourke Centre research

Our research will leverage next-generation digital technologies to revolutionise how underground infrastructure is delivered. The application of digital technologies, such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), sensing and monitoring systems, virtual simulations, digital twins (DTs) and advanced data analytics, offers unprecedented opportunities for optimising construction processes, improving project efficiency, and enhancing overall project outcomes. By embracing digitalisation in underground construction, it becomes possible to address various infrastructure needs, such as transportation tunnels, utility tunnels, underground storage facilities, and more. The benefits extend beyond the initial focus on the construction phase, encompassing the entire life cycle of these underground structures, including maintenance, monitoring, and eventual decommissioning.

By advancing the field of digital underground construction, LORC research aligns with the broader goals of creating smarter, more sustainable cities and infrastructure networks that can meet the growing demands of the future while minimising their impact on the environment.


Selected publications

  • Hensman, P., Orazalin, Z. & Sheil, B.B. Monitoring the construction of a deep energy-from-waste bunker in soft clay and peat. Géotechnique. Published online ahead of print.
  • Swallow, A.W. & Sheil, B.B. Embodied carbon analysis of microtunnelling using recent case histories. Journal of Geotechnical & Geoenvironmental Engineering, 149(10): 04023087.
  • Jing, Y., Sheil, B.B. & Acikgoz, S. Segmentation of large-scale masonry arch bridge point clouds with a synthetic bridge simulator and the BridgeNet neural network. Automation in Construction, 142:104459.
  • Bayaraa, M., Sheil, B.B. & Rossi, C. A combined InSAR-geotechnical monitoring workflow for tailings dams: application to Cadia mine, Australia. Géotechnique. Published online ahead of print.
  • Sheil, B.B. & Templeman, J.O. (2021) Bearing capacity of large-diameter open caissons embedded in sand. Géotechnique, 73(6):495-505.
  • Sheil, B.B., Suryasentana, S.K., Templeman, J.O., Phillips, B.M., Cheng, W.-C & Zhang, L. (2021) Prediction of pipe jacking forces using a Bayesian updating approach. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, 148(1):04021173.
  • Royston, R., Sheil, B.B. & Byrne, B.W. (2020) Undrained bearing capacity of the cutting face of large-diameter caissons. Géotechnique, 72(7):632-641.
  • Sheil, B.B., Suryasentana, S.K. & Cheng, W-.C. (2020) An assessment of anomaly detection methods applied to microtunnelling. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, 146(9): 04020094.
  • Royston, R., Sheil, B.B. & Byrne, B.W. (2020) Monitoring the construction of a large-diameter caisson in sand. Proceedings of the ICE - Geotechnical Engineering, 175(3):323-39. Published online ahead of print.


Dr Brian Sheil

Laing O’Rourke Associate Professor in Construction Engineering


Dr Pin Zhang

Research Associate