Architecture and Structures (BRG)
Prof. Dr. Philippe Block
The BLOCK Research Group comprises five core areas of research:
- analysis of vaulted masonry structures,
- computational form finding and structural optimization,
- fabrication and construction innovation,
- appropriate construction technologies, and
- innovation in teaching and learning.
The BLOCK Lab, a state-of-the-art testing facility for modeling the 3-D collapse of masonry structures with 3-D printed structural models, is facilitating a better understanding of the fundamental behavior of masonry structures. The new insights obtained through this seminal, experimental research are complemented by the novel, advanced, three-dimensional equilibrium analysis approaches for complex masonry vaults developed by the group: a combination which represents the frontier of research in analyzing vaulted masonry structures.
The BLOCK Research Group is pushing innovation in the field of form finding and the structural optimization of funicular structures. Thrust Network Approach (TNA), a novel computational form-finding framework extending graphic statics and thrust line analysis to three-dimensional problems, is being further developed and extended to parametric, interactive, and bidirectional design tools for exploring three-dimensional compression structures. Beyond compression shells, the group is one of the world’s leading research groups on the development of advanced computational approaches for the form finding of shells and other structural systems for concrete, using flexible formworks, as recognized by the prestigious IASS Tsuboi Award in 2010.
With the motto “Learning from the past to design a better future”, the BLOCK Research Group goes beyond theory and applies its research to practice. In collaboration with industry partners, research on digital stereotomy revisits and extends the art of complex stone geometries realized with discrete blocks, introducing computational optimization strategies for design and CNC fabrication and assembly, which allows for the development of unique stone-cut structures generated with TNA-based form-finding tools. This clear potential to generate expressive and efficient structural form through the synthesis of new form-finding tools and historic construction techniques has been demonstrated with the construction of a full-scale freeform thin-tile vault prototype, a fully 3-D equilibrium shell built with traditional thin-tile or Catalan vaulting.
The BLOCK Research Group has been involved in several capacity building and technology transfer projects in developing countries, providing appropriate building technologies based on earthen construction through curriculum building at universities and hands-on construction workshops. It has been responsible for the development of structural systems, based on local materials and labor, to build NESTown (New Ethiopian Sustainable Town), an energy self-sufficient model town for the Amhara region in Ethiopia. Together with the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction and City Development in Addis Ababa, a SUDU (Sustainable Urban Dwelling Unit) has been designed, developed, and constructed. This full-scale prototype for a double-story, low-cost urban housing unit addresses the current urban conditions and needs in Ethiopia, catalyzing a revolution of novel approaches for housing.
Lastly, the BLOCK Teaching Team is bringing a fresh wind to the structures teaching at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. Thanks to the reintroduction of modern graphic statics, the focus has shifted from analysis to design in the first-year courses, Structural Design I and II. As early as the first undergraduate semester, students are creating exciting, efficient, and expressive structures. With eQUILIBRIUM, an interactive learning platform for structural design, the BLOCK Teaching Team is developing a comprehensive, interactive e-learning and e-teaching environment for structural design and analysis, based on graphical approaches, for both architects and engineers.