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2023 Dinkeloo Memorial Lecture: Philippe Block, "Disrupting Concrete Construction: digital, sustainable and circular"

Disrupting Concrete Construction: digital, sustainable and circular

Concrete does not want to be a beam; it wants to be an arch. Unreinforced concrete can be considered an artificial stone, so the natural geometries for this material happy in compression follow the same structural principles that have kept Gothic cathedrals standing for centuries. It allows significantly reducing the amount of material needed but also building with lesser emitting materials. Recent developments in computational design, engineering, and construction-scale digital fabrication allow the introduction of concrete as a truly sustainable solution for spanning structures such as floor “slabs” or footbridges. This talk will introduce how we can disrupt concrete construction, providing solutions that are lightweight, low in embodied emissions, and use construction demolition waste. Designing for circularity, a discrete masonry logic is introduced, enabling dry-assembled prefab, demountable and reusable or easily recyclable at the end of its life. Lastly, we will go beyond an academic exercise to propose economically competitive innovations available at scale and globally. Sounds too good to be true?

Philippe Block is professor at the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) at ETH Zurich, where he leads the Block Research Group (BRG) with Dr. Tom Van Mele and is Head of the Institute. Philippe is also the Director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) on Digital Fabrication. He studied architecture and structural engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2009. Philippe and Tom apply their research into practice providing innovation in (computational) design, engineering, fabrication, and construction of sustainable, circular, and economical structures, addressing climate change by significantly reducing embodied emissions, utilizing fewer single-use resources, and minimizing construction waste.

Following the motto “strength through geometry” and the principles of traditional unreinforced masonry construction, the BRG translates this knowledge into projects such as the unreinforced stone Armadillo Vault, the thin, flexibly formed concrete shells of the NEST HiLo and KnitCandela, the 3D-concrete-printed masonry bridge Striatus, and the Rippmann Floor System (RFS), a lightweight and ultra-low-embodied floor system.

This memorial lecture was established to recognize John Dinkeloo's extraordinary contributions to architecture and commemorate excellence in architectural design. This annual lecture celebrates those designers whose work combines design excellence with structural ingenuity. 

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