detailed cross-section reinforced tile vault_1452179564.jpg2d virtual boundaries and thrust line_reinforced tile vault_1452179729.jpg3d virtual boundaries and thrust network_reinforced tile vault_1452182644.jpgload test setup barrel vault_reinforced tile vault_1452179942.jpg

Tile vaults as integrated formwork for concrete shells

This research describes the use of tile vaults as composite and permanent formworks for concrete shells. This would allow the construction of shells that are expressive and economic at the same time. The formwork has load-bearing capacity and, together with the reinforced concrete, creates a reinforced tile vault. However, there is currently no method for designing these structure, nor is there an easy model to assess them. This research thus presents the development of a simple and user-friendly method for the design and structural analysis of reinforced tile vaults. The method applies limit analysis (2D) and Thrust Network Analysis (3D) as it is done with regular masonry but using the boundaries of a shell whose thickness has been virtually increased regarding the additional tensile and bending strength of the new composite system.

More Info

Formwork for concrete shells needs to provide a rigid shuttering onto which concrete can be poured and allowed to harden. They are typically complex and unique. Often they cannot be reused, require foundations, and are labour- and material-intensive. Therefore, formworks for concrete shells are expensive and wasteful. Tile vaults are unreinforced masonry structures made of thin bricks (tiles) and fast-setting mortar. They can be constructed without the need for a formwork, except for along their boundaries, making them inherently more economic. The use of tile vaults as permanent formworks for concrete shells would reduce cost and material waste during the construction of shell structures with complex geometry. The combination of masonry and reinforced concrete creates a composite structure with characteristics that require new calculation methods and models to deal with specific features of the system.

This research describes a new method to safely design doubly curved, concrete-reinforced, tile-vaulted structures, and assess their strength and stability against external loading. It is a method based on limit analysis, but taking into account the strength and bonding capacity of the joints and the steel reinforcement by virtually increasing the thickness of the structure accordingly. Therefore, the method provides graphical and intuitive results and offers a viable extension to reinforced masonry structures and fully three-dimensional problems.

The values of the material properties required to calculate the new virtual thickness are obtained from experimental tests on material samples. Tests on full-scale prototypes are also performed in order to verify the load-bearing capacity predicted with the virtual thickness and thus validate the method. Non-linear Finite Element Analyses of the prototypes are carried out in parallel. The experimental tests on material samples supply the material properties for the numerical models and the load testing of the prototypes allows for their calibration. These FE analyses provide supplementary information about stress distributions, reactions and force flow in the structure, which can be used as a basis for the definition of force patterns for the 3D extension of the method. Moreover, calibrated FE models of additional and more complex geometries allow further validation of the new equilibrium method.


Jura Cement




López López D., Van Mele T. and Block P.Dieste, González Zuleta and Sánchez del Río: Three approaches to reinforced-brick shell structures,Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions,K. Van Balen and E. Verstrynge (editors),: 571-578,CRC PressLeuven, Belgium,2016 (September).


ETH Zurich
Institute of Technology in Architecture
Block Research Group
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 1, HIB E 45
8093 Zurich, Switzerland

+41 44 633 38 35  phone
+41 44 633 10 53  fax

Copyright © 2009-2017 Block Research Group, ETH Zurich, Switzerland.