Philippe Block is Associate Professor at the Institute of Technology in Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he co-directs the Block Research Group (BRG) together with Dr. Tom Van Mele. He is director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication, and founding partner of Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering). Block studied architecture and structural engineering at the VUB, Belgium, and at MIT, USA, where he earned his PhD in 2009. Research at the BRG focuses on equilibrium analysis, computational form finding, optimisation and construction of curved surface structures, specialising in unreinforced masonry vaults and concrete shells. Within the NCCR, BRG researchers develop innovative structurally informed bespoke prefabrication strategies and novel construction paradigms employing digital and robotic fabrication. With BRG and ODB Engineering, Block applies his research into practice on the structural assessment of historic monuments and the design and engineering of novel compression structures.
Prof. Dr. Philippe Block is Associate Professor of Architecture and Structure at the Institute of Technology in Architecture in the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he directs the Block Research Group (BRG) together with Dr. Tom Van Mele. Since Summer 2017, he is also Director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication and Deputy Head of the Institute of Technology in Architecture. An architectural engineer working at the interface of both fields, Prof. Block’s multi-disciplinary research interests include graphical design and analysis techniques, computational form finding and optimisation, structural and architectural geometry, digital fabrication and appropriate construction.
Trained in architecture and structural engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, Belgium (BSc/MSc 2003) and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, USA (SMArchS 2005, PhD 2009), Prof. Block developed Thrust Network Analysis for his PhD in Building Technology, completed under the guidance of Prof. John Ochsendorf. This innovative approach facilitates the safety assessment of historic vaulted structures in unreinforced masonry and the design of funicular (compression-only) shell structures. He has won numerous awards and fellowships for his research and teaching, including the Hangai Prize (2007) and the Tsuboi Award (2010) from the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) for innovative contributions to the field, the Edoardo Benvenuto Prize (2012) for "scientific research on the history of Structural Mechanics and Art of Building", and the Golden Owl (2010) for excellence in teaching for the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich. During his PhD, he worked as a visiting researcher with the late Prof. Ture Wester at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark (Autumn 2007) and with Prof. Werner Sobek at the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) in Stuttgart, Germany (Spring 2008).
In 2009, Prof. Block started as Assistant Professor at the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) in the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he received tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014. He is also an associated faculty member of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering. In addition to his role as Director of the NCCR, Prof. Block has been a principal investigator since the centre’s inception in 2014 and a member of its Steering Committee since 2015.
With the BRG and as founding partner of Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering), Prof. Block applies his research into practice for the structural analysis of historic vaulted masonry with complex geometry and the design and engineering of compression structures pushing innovation in unreinforced masonry. Projects range from unique signature vaults in cut stone, such as the MIT Collier Memorial in Cambridge, MA, USA, or the Armadillo Vault at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, to sustainable construction solutions for developing countries, such as 2009's "world building of the year", the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in Limpopo, South Africa, or the Droneport project for Rwanda.
Prof. Block has lectured worldwide at top universities as well as at leading engineering and architecture firms. Collaborators have included Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, Herzog & de Meuron, SOM, and Höweler + Yoon. His work was exhibited at the Design Triennial 2009 in NYC, USA, and at the 2012 and 2016 editions of the Venice Architecture Biennale. He is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Space Structures and the Journal of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) and is on the academic committee of the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. A very active member of the IASS, he co-leads the working groups on concrete shells and graphic statics. Co-author of numerous peer-reviewed publications with a high number of citations for his field(s) of research, he also co-authored the book Faustformel: Tragwerksentwurf (2013, 2015) and co-edited Shell Structures for Architecture: Form Finding and Optimization (2014).
For an overview of the work of the BRG, Prof. Block's lecture on April 1, 2014 at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich can be watched here or more recently the one at the Engineering Club in London on June 23, 2016 here.