HiLo - Research & innovation unit for NEST, Dübendorf, Switzerland, 2011-2019

HiLo is a research & innovation unit for NEST in the domains of ultra-lightweight construction and smart and adaptive building systems, planned as an innovative office space, to be built in 2019.

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NEST – a flagship project of Empa and Eawag in collaboration with the ETH domain – is a dynamic, modular research and demonstration platform for advanced and innovative building technologies on the Empa-Eawag campus in Dübendorf, Switzerland. As a “future living and working lab”, NEST consists of a central backbone and a basic grid to accommodate exchangeable living and office modules such as HiLo, allowing novel materials and components and innovative systems to be tested, demonstrated and optimized under real-world conditions.

In a collaborative effort to contribute to the future of construction, the Block Research Group and the Chair of Architecture & Building Systems at the Institute of Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich have joined forces with ROK Architects and Dr. Schwartz Consulting.

The BRG's research efforts focus on the development of three key innovations:

  • Floor system innovation: Introducing funicular vaulting as a floor system results in an extremely lightweight floor system with savings of more than 70% of weight compared to traditional concrete floor slabs. This also allows for a natural and efficient integration of services and low energy heating – and cooling systems, further saving significant floor height. 
  • Integrated building skin innovation: The roof system will be very lightweight and extremely thin, less than 60mm, including both a thin shell structure and its building systems. The roof will be integrated with a hydronic heating- and cooling system, custom vacuum insulation, thermal energy collection and optimally arranged photovoltaic cells.
  • Construction innovation: A highly efficient, reusable and lightweight mixed cable-net and fabric formwork system allows the reintroduction of the efficient, doubly curved thin shell roof structures without the typically associated high labour and resource investments. The formwork system offers a degree of control over the shape such that it can be easily optimized for improved structural behaviour and other criteria compared to traditional geometries. 

HiLo for NEST introduces the following additional innovations:

  • An adaptive solar façade with static and movable, modular elements mounted in front, rotating to respond to the outside environment and demands of the interior, while improving their operation through adaptive learning algorithms. 
  • A building automation system, targeting zero emissions in operation, controlling interior climatization and energy harvesting in order to optimally balance dynamics and user preferences, through novel user-centred approaches, machine learning and adaptation under real-life operational conditions.

Prototype roof

Check out the project page, making-of movie and credits for the full-scale construction prototype of the NEST HiLo shell roof 

HiLo Unit at NEST (2019)

Project Management

  • ROK Architects

Design and Engineering

  • ROK Architects
  • Block Research Group, ETH Zürich
  • Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, ETH Zürich
  • Dr. Schwartz Consulting

“Bauprojekt 2.0” (2018)

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

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 (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
Stefano-Franscini-Platz 1, HIB E 45
8093 Zurich, Switzerland

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