Prof. Dr. Philippe Block

Short bio

Philippe Block is Professor at the Institute of Technology in Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he co-directs the Block Research Group (BRG) together with Dr. Tom Van Mele. He is director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication, and founding partner of Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering). Block studied architecture and structural engineering at the VUB, Belgium, and at MIT, USA, where he earned his PhD in 2009. Research at the BRG focuses on computational form finding, optimisation and construction of curved surface structures, specialising in unreinforced masonry vaults and concrete shells. Within the NCCR, BRG researchers develop innovative structurally informed bespoke prefabrication strategies and novel construction paradigms employing digital fabrication. With the BRG and ODB Engineering, Block applies his research into practice on the structural assessment of historic monuments in unreinforced masonry and the design and engineering of novel shell structures.


Long bio

Prof. Dr. Philippe Block is Professor of Architecture and Structure at the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) in the Department of Architecture at ETH Zürich, where he directs the Block Research Group (BRG) together with Dr. Tom Van Mele. A member of the faculty since 2009, in 2017 Prof. Block was promoted to Full Professor and also became Director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) - Digital Fabrication and Deputy Head of ITA.

Trained in architecture and structural engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Brussels, Belgium (MSc 2003) and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, USA (SMArchS 2005, PhD 2009), his research and teaching are located at the interface of both fields. For his PhD in Building Technology at MIT (2009), under the guidance of Prof. John Ochsendorf, he developed Thrust Network Analysis, an innovative approach for assessing the safety of historic vaulted structures with unreinforced masonry and for designing funicular (compression-only) three-dimensional structures.

Prof. Block’s multi-disciplinary research interests span graphical design and analysis techniques, computational form finding and optimisation, structural and architectural geometry, digital fabrication and appropriate construction. With the BRG and as founding partner of Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering), Prof. Block applies these interests into practice for the structural analysis of historic vaulted masonry with complex geometry and the design and engineering of compression structures pushing innovation in unreinforced masonry. Projects range from unique signature vaults in cut stone, such as the MIT Collier Memorial in Cambridge, MA, USA, or the Armadillo Vault at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, to sustainable construction solutions for developing countries, such as 2009's "world building of the year", the Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in Limpopo, South Africa or the Droneport project with the Norman Foster Foundation for Rwanda. More recent ventures have focused on the use of recycled or grown materials, as in the vault made from bricks of compressed, shredded Tetra Pak for the Ideas City Festival in New York City in 2015 or the MycoTree, a naturally grown mycelium structure for the Seoul Biennale for Architecture and Urbanism 2017, both made in collaboration with Prof. Dirk Hebel of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The NEST HiLo Unit, to be built in Dübendorf, Switzerland, in 2019 in collaboration with the Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, Prof. Dr. Arno Schlüter of ETH Zürich, is a flagship project that unites several research streams. It has already resulted in floor-system demonstrators, which show how the methods allow for drastic reductions in material use, and a full-scale, 1:1 prototype of the roof shell, built using a uniquely innovative cable-net and fabric formwork system. Finally, in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architect's Computation & Design Group, KnitCandela's sophisticated concrete shell was realised on an extremely lightweight, cheap and efficient stay-in-place knitted and cable-net formwork brought on-site in two pieces of checked luggage.

Prof. Block has received numerous awards and recognitions for his research, including the Hangai Prize (2007) and the Tsuboi Award (2010) from the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) for innovative contributions to the field, the Edoardo Benvenuto prize (2012) for "scientific research on the history of Structural Mechanics and Art of Building", the Berlin Art Prize for Architecture (2018), given by the Academy of Arts, and most recently the Rössler Prize (2018) for most promising young professor at ETH Zurich. He was also awarded the Golden Owl for the Department of Architecture at ETH Zürich for engagement and excellence in teaching (2010). His work was exhibited at the Design Triennial 2009 in NYC, USA, and at the 2012 and 2016 editions of the Venice Architecture Biennale.

He serves on the editorial boards of the International Journal of Space Structures and the Journal of the IASS and is on the academic committee of the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. An active member of the IASS, he is member of the executive council and co-leads the working groups on concrete shells and graphical statics. In addition to numerous peer-reviewed publications, he is also co-author of the book FAUSTFORMEL Tragwerksentwurf (2013, 2015) co-editor of Shell Structures for Architecture: Form finding and optimization (2014), and co-author of Beyond Bending: Reimagining compression shells (2017).

For an overview of BRG research, please check out the following presentations by Prof. Block's presentations:

- short: KIT symposium in April 2022, or Schweizer Baumuster-Centrale Zürich (from 14:52) in Sept 2019;
- medium: SOM Foundation in Sept 2019, or MEAL* Live Academy in July 2020; and
- long: Rice University in November 2021.



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

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