Free-form Catalan Thin-tile vault, Zurich, Switzerland

This research project presents advances in timbrel vaulting, made possible through innovation in form finding, guidework systems and construction methods.

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The concept of casting concrete in fabrics, fabric formwork technology, has resurfaced at various times and in different forms throughout the past century. The following paper traces developments that have used fabrics for concrete formwork, including different types of flexible formwork, controlled permeability formwork and pneumatic formwork. This paper presents a comprehensive historical overview of fabric formwork, listing key innovators, technological developments and their advantages, and offering examples of structures built with these methods. The information gathered is used to present a taxonomy of these related formwork technologies as well as a formal definition of the term “fabric formwork” that encompasses them. The paper is intended to introduce readers to these technologies and offer readers already familiar with these methods additional historical background.


  • Assistance construction: Oscar Andrés Mazuera Sanmiguel, Tom Van Mele, Marcel Aubert, Lindsay Howe, Luka Piskorec
  • Logistics: Dominik Werne, Thomas Jaggi, Patrick Morf, ETH Zurich, D-BAUG
  • Measuring: Prof. Dr. Eleni Chatzi, Mohammad Miah, ETH Zurich, D-BAUG 


  • Bricks: ZZ Wancor AG
  • Gypsum: Rigips AG


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.

Form Finding to Fabrication: An integrative digital design process

Form Finding to Fabrication: An integrative digital design process

Applied for the design and analysis of compression-only masonry shells, this research develops a fully digital design process -from form finding to fabrication. The challenge is to provide a smooth and efficient generation of different data representations of the discrete geometry of the force (or thrust) network for the use in structural and experimental modeling, discrete element modeling (DEM) software, or fabrication. The TNA method has been implemented in existing CAD software, offering fully interactive control of the boundary conditions, the internal stress field and the weight distribution of the shell. The discrete thrust network is linked to a NURBS surface to derive continuous geometric information, hence allowing e.g. the automatic generation of the shell volume according to its self weight.


Davis L., Rippmann M., Pawlofsky T. and Block P.Innovative Funicular Tile Vaulting: A prototype in Switzerland,The Structural Engineer,90(11): 46-56,2012 (November).
Davis L., Rippmann M., Pawlofsky T. and Block P.Efficient and Expressive Thin-tile Vaulting using Cardboard Formwork,Proceedings of the IABSE-IASS Symposium 2011,London, UK,2011 (September).
Block P. and Rippmann M.The Catalan Vault – A historical structural principle with a bright future,DETAIL ,5: 528-536,2013 (May).Issue on 'Simple and Complex'.


ETH Zurich
Institute of Technology in Architecture
Block Research Group
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