The First International Conference on Geosynthetics, Paris 1977

From 20-22 April 1977 the International Conference on the Use of Fabrics in Geotechnics was held in Paris, France. This watershed event included a paper from engineer Dr. J.P. Giroud in which he coined two terms that have become central to the field of geosynthetics: “geotextile” and “geomembrane.”

The Paris gathering introduced many new users to the fast-developing field of geosynthetics and, perhaps even more importantly, connected many companies, universities, and individual engineers who had already been furthering understanding of the materials—current and needed characteristics, manufacturing potential, applications for adoption, design methodologies, etc.

It must be noted that geosynthetics, though referred to by various non-standardized terms such as “geotechnical fabrics,” were already being used by 1977 in numerous applications and a small but useful number of journal articles were emerging (such as Prof. Robert Holtz’s detailing of early geosynthetic-reinforcement of embankments in 1970s Sweden); but the scale on which they were used was significantly smaller than what we know today and the range of available materials was far narrower.

Dr. Robert Koerner, whose essential Designing with Geosynthetics textbook received a 6th Edition publication this year, actually began authoring the first book on geosynthetics not long after the 1977 conference. That book (with co-author Joseph Welsh), Construction and Geotechnical Engineering Using Synthetic Fabrics, was published by J. Wiley & Sons in 1980.

JP Giroud, 1977, First International Conference on Geosynthetics
Dr. Giroud (center), seen here at the Paris conference in 1977, coined the terms “geotextile” and “geomembrane.” What might we know geosynthetics as today had he not contributed that paper?

ESSENTIAL CONNECTION

International Conference on Geosynthetics (ICG) Locations

  • 1977 – Paris, France
  • 1982 – Las Vegas, USA
  • 1986 – Vienna, Austria
  • 1990 – The Hague, the Netherlands
  • 1994 – Singapore
  • 1998 – Atlanta, USA
  • 2002 – Nice, France
  • 2006 – Yokohama, Japan
  • 2010 – Guarujá, Brazil
  • 2014 – Berlin, Germany
  • 2018 – Seoul, Korea

While the materials and applications discussed in Paris were clearly part of a growing practice, the importance of the Paris gathering should not be overlooked. It connected key figures in the field in a way that helped underscore the uniqueness and importance of what they were part of and the design and formal market potential of these materials.

Paris led to the Second International Conference on Geotextiles (Las Vegas, 1982), which in the conference name alone one can see the impact of what was shared in Paris. Geotextile had become a standard term.

These two events validated the foundation of the modern, global geosynthetics industry, and since that time geosynthetics have benefited from a rich international exchange of information and have been incorporated into every major sector of civil engineering. They’ve enabled constructions not previously possible and have extended the service life, sustainability, and economical nature of others.

Dr. Giroud, who holds dual citizenship (France/United States), was even recognized in April 2010 with France’s highest decoration: membership of the Order of the Legion d’Honneur. In a statement, the Legion described Dr. Giroud’s contribution to engineering in terms very similar to what geosynthetics have accomplished in the field: “…the most beneficial impact on the environmental protection of the ground.”

The Vegas 1982 event led to the formation of the interim committee that established the International Geosynthetics Society (IGS) in Paris in 1983—a fitting place for the committee to officially form, given the launching pad set for it in that city in 1977.
The International Geosynthetics Society (IGS) recognizes the 1977 event as the first International Conference on Geosynthetics and the 1982 conference in Las Vegas as the 2nd ICG.

The 10th installment of the now quadrennial ICG series will be held in Berlin in 2014.
Visit www.geosyntheticssociety.org for the latest on IGS membership, events, publications, and more.

Chris Kelsey is the editor of Geosynthetica. chris@geosynthetica.net