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History of the AGS

I joined the AGS when it didn’t have a history, only a vision; but what an important vision. It came from a need for the geotechnical “Industry” to have a means of translating the aspirations of a vibrant technical and innovative engineering discipline into practice. Prior to that, the British Geotechnical Society had a dual role as a learned society and as a base from which to lead and encourage good practice by an evolving industry.

The Association of Ground Investigation Specialists (AGIS) had been established earlier to further such aims but, whilst this attracted companies engaged solely in investigations, it did not seem to appeal to consultants, geotechnical contractors, client bodies and academe. The founding fathers of AGS sought to address this by forming this new association and it certainly appealed to me.

I had come from a background of Site Investigation with Cementation and Exploration Associates and loved the challenges which it posed, namely to translate the fascinatingly complex legacy of our geological and industrial past into a meaningful engineering resource for the future. This needed integration into a broader service since, at that time, there was a tendency to move away from the comprehensive package, where a site investigation specialist, based on the Glossop model of Soil Mechanics Limited, would drill, test and interpret the ground and evaluate its significance for the project. Such a service remains valid today but there was a move to a more compartmentalised approach.

In those days the highways departments of county authorities would design schemes based on their needs and the output from investigations but there was a move towards such design teams to be taken over by consultants who would cover the design and interpretation themselves. Highways investigations, which had dominated the industry up to that time, reduced markedly and it took time for the needs of water authorities and environmental schemes to build up.

Internal collaboration had been intrinsic within companies but the separation of roles of investigators, interpreters, evaluators, clients and contractors meant that dialogue became increasingly important. AGS provided a forum for such dialogue and a Trade Association to encourage development.

I joined the committee at its outset and served on it for many years. The need for fair contractual arrangements between the various parties was clear and Stuart Littlejohn’s initiatives, in stimulating publication of a set of four documents to emphasise the importance of investigation and set up the means of implementation, was timely. AGS helped with the contractual aspects of the documents and promoted their use through publications. In those heady days the AGS logo and diagonal green stripe style was developed by the drafting departments of Cementation and Geotechnics, rather than by image consultants, and this has been shown to be durable, all be it with one or two tweaks.

Technology was developing all the time and the use of word processing software and computers to report data and analyse them was increasing. Investigation specialists were using computers to produce reports in a printed format but when such reports were presented to clients, the designers had to be re-enter appropriate parameters into their proprietary software in order to translate it into meaningful information since there was incompatibility between the software of producers and analysts.

Recognition of this by the AGS led to a one day conference which I was pleased to convene and subsequently I chaired the group which established the AGS Format for data transfer and management. This pre-dated the move towards BIM by the wider construction industry by some two decades. It was developed by the industry for the industry and illustrates what can be done with good will and the ethos of “what is good for the industry is good for its clients”. It has now become a de-facto international standard and has given rise to a British Standard.

Without such innovation, projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and other major infrastructure would not have been able to proceed at anything like the pace they have. All of this hard work to establish, develop and maintain the format has been done with the good will of AGS members, together with other interested parties, and their intrinsic financial support. It was not externally funded.

Over this period of the life of the AGS the importance of geoenvironmental understanding and investigation became apparent and led to the name change to the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists whilst maintaining the AGS logo.

Health and safety on sites has always been important but this has become increasingly so and the AGS has taken a lead on these issues. Risk assessments were always made on an informal basis but are now a formal part of every investigation.

The Association’s strength is its membership with many complementary skills and services promoted with enthusiasm in a positive environment. Many members provide similar services to others, and may be competitors, but with the independence of the AGS from individual members they have been able to contribute much to the whole geotechnical and geoenvironmental community and those whom it serves.

All serious practitioners within our industry and members of the AGS want to do a good job within an atmosphere of mutual respect. Such collaboration was key to the establishment of the AGS and remains important today. The ground is complex but this is the medium in which our industry works and thrives. It is essential that members emphasise the importance of knowledge of it and an ability to deal with it by acting as ambassadors to engineers in other disciplines, clients and funders. Often, the ground is seen by them as a problem, but unfortunately the logical approach to tackling it through well-structured Site Investigation and responsive design is seen as a cost to be minimised, rather than as a long term investment.

The ground is the legacy of geological processes and human activity. It is to be hoped that the legacy of those who preceded us in the AGS, current members and those who follow, will see its work as being equally important. With such an approach, the Association can and will prosper.

By AGS member, Len Threadgold, Geotechnics

Past AGS AGM Chairs Company Date
Phil Green Kirkpatrick & Partners 1988-1989
Dr Siva Subramaniam Howard Humphreys 1989-1990
Dr Greenwood Cementation Piling & Foundations 1990-1991
Cameron Craig Soil Mechanics 1991-1992
Neil Trenter Sir William Halcrow & Partners 1992-1993
Ken Cole Arup Geotechnics 1993-1994
Dermod Sweeney W.S Atkins & Partners 1994-1996
Bill Rankin Mott Macdonald 1996-1998
Jan Hellings Faber Maunsell 1998-2001
Keith Gabriel Weeks Technical Services 2001-2003
Hugh Mallett Enviros 2003-2005
Jim Cook Buro Happold 2005-2007
Jonathan Gammon Jacobs 2007-2009
Matthew Warner Amplus Ltd 2009-2011
Ken Marsh Ian Farmer Associates 2011-2013
Seamus Lefroy Brooks LBH Wembley 2013-2015
Matthew Baldwin Soil Engineering 2015-2017
Neil Parry Geotechnical Engineering 2017-2019
Julian Lovell Equipe 2019-