Prof. Dr. Joseph Schwartz
The term “structural design” points to the chair’s programmatic idea of a reconciliation between engineer and architect through the fusion of supporting structure and design concept. One of the central elements of this attempt at reconciliation is defined by graphic statics, a vector-geometric representation of the force flow in supporting structures in the tradition of the former ETH Professor Karl Culmann (1821–1881).
The exchange of structurally-oriented knowledge through a visual language that supports intuition and is understandable to the architect does not represent an excessive simplification of the physical condition; rather, it is mathematically precise and satisfies the standards of engineering. At the same time, however, this view of structural systems encourages a unified understanding of the interplay of form and load-bearing capacity – that is, an understanding of the formative effect of the active inner forces in the building structure and the targeted control of these forces.
Given this particular perspective of the build environment, we place greater emphasis in our teaching and research activities on the design-oriented investigation of a building's structural system, than a conventional engineering-based analysis thereof. Our chair's research centers on the relationship between architecture and engineering and the various understandings of the role of form. This inquiry serves as a crystallization point for research into force-oriented design processes and material behavior as well as explorations of engineering and architecture history that aim at a better understanding of the ways of thinking inherent to these disciplines and the potential for cross-disciplinary interaction.
Within this basic framework of interest, a diverse range of research projects has been established:. "The Transformation of the Understanding of Form from Construct to Type", a study on the change of the structural understanding of form in the 18th and 19th centuries and its influence on the developing field of engineering; "The Physical Experiment in Architecture", a historical revising and architectural-theoretical reflection on the role of the physical experiment as a design method in the architecture of the 20th century; "Reciprocal Frame Systems", an investigation into the systemic interaction of building structures made out of short, beam-like components; "Membrane Surfaces", a theoretical development of the counterpart to the compression lines in planar structural systems for surfaces in three-dimensional space on the basis of the theory of plasticity; and "Parametric Structural Design", a study of the interactive integration of the structural force flow into the computer-aided design process.