Learning from the past to design a better future
The BLOCK Research Group develops novel approaches and powerful tools for both the design and analysis of historic masonry structures and the exploration of new, expressive, resource-efficient structural forms.
In a truly unique, state-of-the-art testing facility for compression-only block assemblies (like masonry), structural problems of existing structures are investigated and explained, and new form finding approaches validated.
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 “high-high”, “high-low” and “low-low”-tech projects in which different combinations of advanced and basic structural tools and construction methods are used.
Analysis of Vaulted Masonry Structures
The BLOCK Lab, a state-of-the-art testing facility for modeling 3-D collapse of masonry structures using 3-D printed models, is facilitating a better understanding of the fundamental behavior of masonry structures. The new insights obtained through this experimental research are complemented by the novel, advanced, three-dimensional equilibrium analysis approaches for complex masonry vaults developed by the group.
Computational From Finding and Structural Optimization
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 funicular structures. Beyond compression shells, the group is developing advanced computational approaches for the form finding of shells and other structural systems in concrete, using flexible formworks.
Fabrication and Construction Innovation
In collaboration with industry partners, research on digital stereotomy revisits and extends the art of cutting complex stone geometries, introducing computational optimization strategies for design, CNC fabrication and assembly, which allows for the development of unique stone-cut structures generated with TNA-based form finding tools.
Appropriate Construction Technologies
The BLOCK Research Group is involved in several capacity building and technology transfer projects in developing countries, providing appropriate building technologies based on earthen construction and local labour through curriculum building at universities and hands-on construction workshops. This research which has been focussed on low-cost urban housing, addresses the current urban conditions and needs in e.g. Ethiopia by providing new construction paradigms.
Innovation in Teaching and Learning
Lastly, the BLOCK Teaching Team is bringing a fresh wind to structures teaching at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. Thanks to the reintroduction of modern graphic statics, introductory structures is now focused on structural design rather than analysis and on creating exciting, efficient and expressive structures. With e-QUILIBRIUM: 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 for both architects and engineers.