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Cream-colored concrete abutment gives vertical support to the small red rail bridge, and to the earthen fill of the bridge approach embankment
Kurobe Dam rests on artificial concrete abutments
Abutment for a large steel arch bridge
Brick abutment supporting disused tramway over the Yass River in Riverbank Park Yass

In engineering, abutment refers to the substructure at the ends of a bridge span or dam whereon the structure's superstructure rests or contacts.[1] Single-span bridges have abutments at each end which provide vertical and lateral support for the bridge, as well as acting as retaining walls to resist lateral movement of the earthen fill of the bridge approach. Multi-span bridges require piers to support ends of spans unsupported by abutments.[2] Dam abutments are generally either side of a valley or gorge but may be artificial in order to support arch dams such as Kurobe Dam in Japan.[1][3]

The term may also refer to the structure supporting one side of an arch,[4] or masonry used to resist the lateral forces of a vault.[5] Also the impost or abacus of a column in classical architecture may serve as an abutment to an arch.

The word derives from the verb "abut", meaning to "touch by means of a mutual border".


Use of abutments in engineeringEdit

An abutment may be used for the following:

  • To transfer loads from a superstructure to its foundation elements.
  • To resist and/or transfer self weight, lateral loads (such as the earth pressure) and wind loads.
  • To support one end of an approach [Concrete slab|slab].

Types of abutmentsEdit

There are different types of abutments including:

  • Gravity Abutment, resists horizontal earth pressure with its own dead weight
  • U Abutment, U shaped gravity abutment
  • Cantilever Abutment, Cantilever retaining wall designed for large vertical loads
  • Full Height Abutment, Cantilever abutment that extends from the underpass grade line to the grade line of the overpass roadway
  • Stub Abutment, Short abutments at the top of an embankment or slope. Usually supported on piles
  • Semi-Stub Abutment, Size between full height and stub abutment
  • Counterfort Abutment, Similar to counterfort retaining walls
  • Spill-through Abutment, Vertical buttresses with open spaces between them
  • MSE systems,“Reinforced earth” system: modular units with metallic reinforcement
  • Pile Bent abutment, Similar to Spill-through Abutment

In popular cultureEdit

  • In the film Tommy Boy (1995) Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) becomes frustrated by his inability to sell his dead father's brake pads, and he says to his fellow sales partner Richard, "...Every time I drive down the road I wanna’ jerk the wheel into a Goddamn bridge abutment!"[6]
  • In the film The Big Lebowski (1998) The Dude's car was stolen and later located by the police. The officer who found it told The Dude (Jeff Bridges) "It was discovered last night in Van Nuys lodged against an abutment." (presumably the abutment of a highway overpass). To which The Dude responded "Oh man, lodged where?" [7]


  1. ^ a b "Glossary - "Abutment"". U.S. Bureu of Reclamation. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Abbett, Robert W. (1957). American Civil Engineering Practice. III. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 26–22&26–32. 
  3. ^ "関西電力 黒部川第四発電所 (Kurobe Kansaidenryoku Fourth plant)" (in Japanese). Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Beall, Christine (1987). Masonry Design and Detailing for Architects, Engineers and Builders. McGraw-Hill. p. 449. ISBN 0-07-004223-3. 
  5. ^ Pevsner, N. (1970) Cornwall; 2nd ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin; p. 245
  6. ^ </ref</ref.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External linksEdit