The University of Southampton

CENV6127 Understanding Civil Engineering

Module Overview

This module is intended for students who have graduated with numerate degrees, but who do not hold a first degree in civil engineering. It will provide you with a qualitative understanding of the core subject areas of civil engineering. These include the use of materials in construction, the design of steel and concrete structures, geotechnics, engineering surveying and flows in open channels and pipe. You will acquire a qualitative understanding of structural form, conceptual design, project planning, environmental impacts and the CDM regulations. Working individually you will learn how to carry out preliminary investigations for specified aspects of your design. In this module you will become conversant with modern land surveying techniques. You will improve your time management skills by working to tight deadlines, and your communication skills through the preparation of reports and design calculations, and by making a group presentation to your peers and the academic staff supporting the module.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim is to give you an understanding of the core aspects of civil engineering covered in the first 3 years of a BEng degree. These include the use of civil engineering materials, the core theories of structural, soil and fluid mechanics. The module also covers the use of modern surveying techniques to enable you to work as a graduate civil Engineer on site, as well as the basics of Civil Engineering Management.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Basic fluid properties in Civil Engineering contexts
  • The concepts of conservation of mass, momentum and energy in fluid flow
  • The factors that influence steady flow in open channels and pipes
  • The fundamental relationship between stress and strain for engineering materials
  • The importance and implementation of health and safety issues
  • The principles of limit state design
  • The processes involved in the fabrication of structural steelwork
  • The terminology associated with steel and concrete structures
  • The three phase nature of particulate materials and the parameters used to describe the relationship between the phases
  • The types of tests required to measure the mechanical properties of steel and concrete
  • Conceptual design (theory and process)
  • Construction Design Management (CDM) Regulations
  • Failure mechanisms that affect the design of individual structural components and frames
  • Good practice in the construction of steel and concrete structures
  • How the principles of soil mechanics are applied to geotechnical problems concerning foundations and slopes
  • How the principles of soil mechanics are applied to geotechnical problems concerning groundwater flow
  • Modern surveying techniques
  • The basis engineering properties and the mechanical behaviour of different types of soils
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically analyse problems
  • Present information clearly
  • Learn independently
  • Plan and organise your work effectively
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate effectively with technical specialists
  • Carry out a desk study and walk-over study
  • Prepare reports to a high standard
  • Use a tensile testing machine
  • Use an impact testing machine
  • Select suitable materials for different needs in construction
  • Select suitable materials for different needs in construction
  • Carry out a sieve analysis
  • Carry out and interpret a standard oedometer test
  • Analyse groundwater flow by sketching flownets
  • Operate common land surveying instrumentation e.g levels, theodolites, GPS
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate effectively with technical staff
  • Calculate flow rates and pore pressures associated with groundwater control
  • Calculate stress changes and associated settlements below or near shallow raft foundations
  • Analyse shallow pile foundations at failure, using simple methodes
  • Assess the stability of simple slopes
  • Apply the theoretical principles of land surveying in a practical situation
  • Calculate hydrostatic pressures and forces on submerged surfaces
  • Estimate flows in open channels and pipes
  • Discuss the hydraulics aspects of Civil Engineering works involving the flow of water or other fluids
  • Interpret specifications for materials
  • Understand the meanings of common terms in structural engineering, geotechnics and hydraulics
  • Recognise common types of structural member and the failure modes associated with each member type
  • Estimate the required size of members using simple design formulae
  • Select materials for construction
  • Create a health and safety plan
  • Analyse and use data from sieve and compaction tests for soils used as fills (physical properties)
  • Analyse groundwater flow around excavations


Topics covered in Semester 1 through a programme of 5 lectures per week include: MATERIALS • Introduction to the properties of materials including stress and strain relationships. • Understanding the grades of steel typically used in construction. • Processes involved in steelwork fabrication. • Protection of steel against corrosion and fire damage. • Introduction to concrete as a construction material. • Concrete sampling and testing. • Placing and compacting of concrete. • Specification of concrete, production and quality assurance. STRUCTURES • Introduction to structures. • Structural forms. • Rigid body mechanics: Forces, moments, resultants and equilibrium. • Loading, load paths, limit states and factors of safety. • Ensuring structural stability. • Trusses and statical determinacy. • Tension and compression members. • Stress, strain and Hooke’s law Stiffness Beams and frames – bending, shear and deflection. • Steel structures – member and connection behaviour. • Reinforced concrete structures. MANAGEMENT • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and associated regulations • RIDDOR • Qualitative and quantitative risk assessments. • The CDM regulations. • Safety of scaffolding, excavations, cofferdams and lifting equipment. GEOTECHNICS • Particulate materials in soil mechanics. • Conceptual model and phase relationships, grain specific gravity; unit weight. • Particulate materials in soil mechanics, particle size distributions, soil filters and compaction. • Principle of effective stress • Seepage: Darcy’s law, permeability measurement, flownet sketching and use of flownets, quicksand. • Compression and consolidation including the oedometer test. • Estimating settlements using elasticity methods. • Soil strength and behaviour, friction and shear box tests. • Soil strength and behaviour: critical states, peak strengths and dilation. • Undrained shear strength of clay soils. • The infinite slope; unsupported excavation in clay. • Foundations: stress field and mechanism solutions for idealised strip footings. • Bearing capacity factors and pile foundations. FLUIDS • Physical fluid properties. • Hydrostatic pressure and measuring static pressures. • Forces on plane and submerged surfaces. • Fluids in motion: laminar and turbulent flow. • Conservation of mass, momentum, energy in steady flow Steady flow in open channels. • Uniform flow: the effect of sidewall roughness, discharge equations. • Critical depth and flow measurement. • Steady flow in pipes. • Calculations of head loss, flow rates; effect of pipe roughness. • Flow measurement. • Applications of hydraulics; case histories, practical problems and solutions. LABORATORIES • Semester 1 also includes the following laboratories: • Tensile and impact testing of steel, aluminium and polymers. • Buckling of struts. • Oedometer test. • Measurements of flows in open channels and pipes. • Semester 2 will continue the fieldwork course on Surveying for Engineers. The topics covered include: datums, levelling, angle measurement using theodolites, total stations and distance measurement, traverses and global positioning systems.

Special Features


Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Semester 1 will involve 5 hours of lectures per week, covering materials, management, structures, geotechnics and hydraulics. Engineering surveying will be taught in Semesters 1 and 2 and will involve weekly field work. Teaching methods include group work, laboratory work and private study.

Completion of assessment task208
Practical classes and workshops15
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Arya, C. (1994). Design of Structural Elements: Concrete, Steelwork, Masonry and Timber Design to British Standards and Eurocodes E&FN Spon. 

Taylor G D. (2000). Materials in Construction. 

Seward D. (2009). Understanding Structures. 


Assessment Strategy

Referral method - Repeat of components of coursework and or examination that have been awarded a mark of less than 50%.


Laboratory Report


MethodPercentage contribution
Assignment 20%
Assignment 10%
Assignment 20%
Assignment 20%
Exam  (120 minutes) 30%


MethodPercentage contribution
Assignment 20%
Assignment 20%
Assignment 20%
Assignment 10%
Exam  (120 minutes) 30%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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