ColomBrick - Thin-tile vault for the Seventh World Urban Forum, Medellín, Colombia

This tile-vaulted project was requested to the Block Research Group by the department of Habitat of the United Nations (UN-Habtitat) to be shown at the Seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7) in Medellín, Colombia, in order to further promote this affordable and sustainable building technique.

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The project is a “free-form”, unreinforced masonry shell built with the technique of thin-tile vaulting (also known as Catalan or Guastavino vaulting). It is intended by UN-Habitat to show through this shell the efficiency, versatility, durability, sustainability and economy of this technique as an example to be exported to developing countries.

The shell’s shape is the result of a design process using the form-finding software RhinoVault, which was developed at the Block Research Group at the ETH Zurich and allows the construction of compression-only structures.

Extreme care was taken to integrate the vault in the surroundings: a park in an urban area of Medellin. The project wants to be visible, but it seeks to be a natural part of the environs as well. It emerges from the earth to shape a new topography featuring a green roof that continues the park’s landscape, while showing a surprising brick-patterned interior that creates a warm cozy space as a contrast with the exterior.

The design process, structural analysis, and challenges in the planning and production of efficient formwork, decentering and the different processes related to the construction are also detailed along the corresponding paper.

Project partners

  • Concept and structural design: David López López and Philippe Block (Block Research Group, ETH Zurich), together with Marta Domènech Rodríguez.
  • Structural engineering: David López López and Philippe Block (Block Research Group, ETH Zurich).
  • Technical project managers: David López López and Marta Domènech Rodríguez.
  • Construction manager: Josep Brazo Ramírez.
  • UN-Habitat supervisors: Andre Dzikus and Vincent Kitio.
  • UN-Habitat coordinator: Petra Heusser.
  • UN-Habitat field coordinator: Zeltia Blanco.
  • UN-Habitat support: Marja Edelman.
  • Partners: Ayuntamiento de Medellín, Ajuntament de Barcelona.
  • Material sponsors: SIKA, Groncol, Alfarera Pueblo Viejo, Smurfit Kappa, Basf.
  • Construction workers: Jaime, Uriel, Orlando, Gerardo, Félix, Jonatan, Jackson, Córdoba, Fredy and Roa.
  • Assistants: Isabel Cristina Muriel Alzate, Juan José Ochoa Tejada, Juan Luis Zapata Vargas and Senn Carolina Alzate Gaviria (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), Katherine Prater and Mallory Taub (ARUP), Ana Gatoo (University of Cambridge).


Design research on new tile vaulting

Design research on new tile vaulting

This on-going research project explores the new design and efficient construction approaches for tile vaulting, made possible thanks to novel form-finding tools and structurally-informed fabrication and assembly processes.


López López D., Domènech Rodríguez M., Brazo Ramí­rez J. and Block P.Thin-tile vault for the seventh World Urban Forum in Medellin ,Proceedings of the IASS-SLTE 2014 Symposium,Brasilia, Brazil,2014.


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