What specific technical challenges affect successful land development in LATAM?

Water and earthwork! Almost every new site we see (other than urban infill) is pushing the edge of the developed area or is just out there – call it sprawl or starting a whole new remote community. The edge of the developed area is the edge more than likely because it has hilly terrain and needs a lot of earth movement. We get involved at the concept or master plan stage, take the project vision and test out the earthwork costs, and then we steer the project’s vision in a more cost-efficient direction.


Langan provided site/civil, geotechnical, hydrogeological, and traffic engineering for Serena Del Mar in Cartegena, Colombia.

With the remote sites, city water is usually not there or not practical to bring in from afar, so you need to develop your own water supply. On an island, that’s likely going to be using seawater, but on the mainland areas, we are generally going to be drilling wells. Just make sure to use competent hydrogeology well testing, design, installation, and development for a sustainable well supply or else the simple method of drilling a hole and dropping a pump will lead to starting all over again in a couple of years.

Answer provided by Eric Schwarz, PE, LEED AP
Eric specializes in site/civil land development engineering, hydraulics and hydrology, storm drainage, water distribution and sanitary sewerage conveyance design. During his 20 years at Langan, he has managed dozens of major projects throughout Latin America.

Q&A: How do ground improvement techniques affect infrastructure in areas with highly-compressible soils?

Earthwork diagram illustrating the amount of fill and adjustments for compaction and settlement.

Earthwork diagram illustrating the volumes of fill needed for a project.

As major cities in Latin America grow and evolve, land developers are looking to complex and challenging sites to meet their development needs. In general, existing conditions such as low-quality soil present various development challenges. For example, sites in low-lying areas with highly-compressible, saturated clays complicate the development process. In these cases, ground improvement solutions such as wick drains combined with temporary surcharge facilitate development by significantly accelerating the time frame in which total and differential settlement would otherwise occur gradually over an extended period of time before reaching the required clay consolidation suitable for development. These accelerated ground improvement time periods are critical to developer schedules.

Prefabricated vertical wick drains

Prefabricated vertical wick drains

Depending on the wick drain spacing and the thickness of the clay stratum, ground improvements in these areas become necessary to properly support low-rise buildings and infrastructure. Storm drainage, sanitary sewer, potable water, and roadway systems constructed in improved soils minimize the risk of critical infrastructure failure by addressing and resolving issues related to differential settlement that could affect the overall performance of the infrastructure system.

About Ing. Aurelio Escalona 
Aurelio has over 20 years of diversified experience in land development engineering projects involving utility improvements, permitting, earthwork, hydraulics and hydrology, roadways, storm drainage, potable water systems, and sanitary sewer systems. As an associate at Langan he manages the firm’s regional office in Panama City, Panama and serves as the practice leader for hospitality, residential, and mixed-use projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.