HiLo - Research & innovation unit for NEST, Dübendorf, Switzerland, 2011-2021

The HiLo unit for the NEST building in Dübendorf, Switzerland, demonstrates how High performance can be achieved with Low embodied and operational energy by combining lightweight concrete structures with novel fabrication and construction methods, and integrated and adaptive building systems.

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The Next Evolution Sustainable Building Technologies (NEST) platform in Dübendorf, Switzerland, is a modular building with an advanced energy grid that can accommodate exchangeable living and office units. As a “future living and working” lab, NEST allows novel materials, structural elements, construction techniques and innovative building systems to be tested, optimised and adapted in response to real-world conditions and feedback.

The HiLo unit is designed as a collaborative and flexible workspace and is currently under construction at NEST. HiLo demonstrates that the use of embodied and operational energy can be reduced significantly by combining lightweight concrete structures and novel digital fabrication and innovative construction methods with occupant-centred, low-energy building systems. This concept is translated in the project goal of High performance (structural and comfort) with Low energy (embodied and operational).

HiLo’s key innovations include: integrated funicular floors, a new formwork and construction system for the shell roof, an Adaptive Solar Facade, a Hybrid AC/DC electrical network and occupant centred control of building energy systems. As the culmination of several years of interdisciplinary research, the project represents the close collaboration of multiple partners from academia and industry.

Main BRG innovations

Concrete shell on flexible formwork

HiLo's doubly-curved concrete roof was built on a cable-net + fabric flexible formwork. This complex structure was realised through an integrated design-engineering-fabrication-construction process made possible by the open-source computational framework COMPAS. 

Funicular floor system

Description coming.

Credits HiLo unit

HiLo Unit at NEST (2019-2020)

  • Block Research Group, ETH Zürich
  • Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, ETH Zürich
  • ROK Architects

Financial support by

  • ETH Zürich
  • Dr. Max Rössler
  • Empa
  • Holcim Switzerland
  • NCCR Digital Fabrication

Credits development

Bauprojekt 2.0 (2018) 

  • Block Research Group, ETH Zürich
  • Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, ETH Zürich
  • ROK Architects

In collaboration with

  • Bollinger + Grohmann Ingenieure
  • Institute of Structural Concrete, RWTH Aachen
  • Mitsubishi
  • HHM

Bauprojekt 1.0 (2015) 

  • supermanoeuvre
  • Block Research Group, ETH Zürich
  • Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, ETH Zürich

In collaboration with

  • Zwarts & Jansma Architects
  • HSSP
  • Hämmerle & Partner
  • Bollinger + Grohmann Ingenieure
  • Wichser Akustik & Bauphysik
  • Walt & Galmarini
  • Reflexion
  • HHM
  • Gruner Roschi
  • ZHWA

Preliminary studies (2011-2012) 

  • Block Research Group, ETH Zürich
  • Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, ETH Zürich


Cable-net and fabric formworks for concrete shells

Cable-net and fabric formworks for concrete shells

This project investigates the feasibility of using both large cable nets with a secondary system of fabric shuttering as well as fabric directly as a formwork for concrete shells. These lightweight formwork systems reduce the need for seperate foundations of the formwork and allow unobstructed space underneath the shell during construction.

Active control of a cable-net formwork

Active control of a cable-net formwork

The use of tensioned formworks in concrete shell construction can reduce the demand on foundations, promote usable and unobstructed internal space during construction, encourage formwork re-use for repeated application, and greatly eliminate the material waste often experienced with traditional timber formwork and falsework. To understand the behaviour of such a net system prior to the pouring of the wet concrete, this research project investigates the fabrication, control and measurement systems needed to define a geometrically accurate net prior to concrete pouring, such that it will displace under the wet concrete self-weight to the correct final shape. The internal pre-stress forces as well as the forces and deflections at the boundary points also need careful consideration.

Rib-stiffened funicular floor system

Rib-stiffened funicular floor system

This research develops the structure for an unreinforced concrete floor consisting of a thin funicular vault stiffened by a series of spandrel walls on its extrados. The structural prototype is completed with tension ties, which link the supports and absorb the horizontal thrusts of the funicular shell. It is a prototype for the NEST HiLo project to be realised in 2019 on the Empa campus in Dübendorf, Switzerland.


Block P., Schlueter A., Veenendaal D., Bakker J., Begle M., Hischier I., Hofer J., Jayathissa P., Maxwell I., Mendez Echenagucia T., Nagy Z., Pigram D., Svetozarevic, B,, Torsing R., Verbeek J., Willmann A. and Lydon G.P.NEST HiLo: Investigating lightweight construction and adaptive energy systems,Journal of Building Engineering,12: 332-341,2017.
Veenendaal D., Bakker J. and Block P.Structural design of the flexibly formed, mesh-reinforced concrete sandwich shell roof of NEST Hilo,Journal of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures,58(1): 23-38,2017 (March).
Liew A., López López D., Van Mele T. and Block P.Design, fabrication and testing of a prototype, thin-vaulted, unreinforced concrete floor,Engineering Structures,137: 323-335,2017.
Liew A., Stürz Y. R., Guillaume S., Van Mele T., Smith R. S. and Block P.Active control of a rod-net formwork system prototype,Automation in Construction,96: 128-140,2018.
Veenendaal D.Design and form finding of flexibly formed shell structures,ETH Zurich, Department of ArchitectureZurich,2017 (March).
Veenendaal D., Bezbradica M., Novak D. and Block P.Controlling the geometry and forces of hybrid cable-net and fabric formworks,Proceedings of the IASS-SLTE 2014 Symposium,Brasilia, Brazil,2014.
López López D., Veenendaal D., Akbarzadeh M. and Block P.Prototype of an ultra-thin, concrete vaulted floor system,Proceedings of the IASS-SLTE 2014 Symposium,Brasilia, Brazil,2014.
Block P.Parametricism's structural congeniality,AD Architectural Design,86(2): 68-75,2016 (March/April).Special issue P. Schumacher (Ed.) - Parametricism 2.0: Rethinking Architecture’s Agenda for the 21st Century.


ETH Zurich
Institute of Technology in Architecture
Block Research Group
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