Philippe Block is Associate 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; deputy 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 equilibrium analysis, computational form finding, optimisation and construction of curved surface structures, specialising in unreinforced masonry vaults and concrete shells. As part of the NCCR, the BRG develops innovative structurally informed bespoke prefabrication strategies and novel construction paradigms employing digital and robotic fabrication. With the BRG and ODB Engineering, Block applies his research into practice on the structural assessment of historic monuments and the design and engineering of novel compression structures.
Philippe Block is Associate Professor of Architecture and Structure at the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) in the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he directs the Block Research Group (BRG) together with Dr. Tom Van Mele. He is an architectural engineer with multi-disciplinary research interests including graphical design and analysis techniques, computational form finding and optimization, structural and architectural geometry, digital fabrication and appropriate construction. 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 is very much at the interface of architecture and structural engineering.
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 complex geometries in unreinforced masonry and for designing funicular (compression-only) three-dimensional structures. He has won numerous awards and fellowships 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, and the Edoardo Benvenuto prize (2012) for "scientific research on the history of Structural Mechanics and Art of Building". During his PhD, he worked as a visiting researcher with the late Prof. Ture Wester at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark (Fall 2007) and with Prof. Werner Sobek at the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) in Stuttgart, Germany (Spring 2008).
In 2009, Prof. Block started as Assistant Professor (tenure track) at the Institute of Technology in Architecture (ITA) in the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich, getting tenure and promoting to Associate Professor of Architecture and Structure in 2014. He is also an associated faculty member of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering. He is deputy director, member of the steering committee and principal investigator of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication. Prof. Block was awarded the Golden Owl 2010 for the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich for engagement and excellence in teaching.
With the BRG and as founding partner of Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering), Prof. Block applies his research 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 with projects ranging from unique signature vaults in cut stone, such as the MLK Jr. Park Vault in Austin, TX, USA, 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 Lord Norman Foster for Rwanda.
Prof. Block has lectured worldwide, invited at top universities as well as leading engineering and architecture offices; and collaborated with offices such as Foster + Partners, Zaha Hadid Architects, Herzog & de Meuron, SOM structures and Studio Olafur Eliasson. His work has been exhibited at the Design Triennial 2009 in NYC, USA, and the 2012 and 2016 editions of the Venice Architecture Biennale. He is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Space Structures and the Journal of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS), and on the academic committee of the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction. An active member of the IASS, he co-leads the working groups on concrete shells and graphical computation. Co-author of many peer-reviewed publications, he is furthermore co-author of the book FAUSTFORMEL Tragwerksentwurf (2013, 2015) and co-editor of Shell Structures for Architecture: Form Finding and Optimization (2014).
For an overview of the work of the BRG, Prof. Block's lecture on April 1, 2014 at the Department of Architecture at ETH Zurich can be watched here or more recently the one at the Engineering Club in London on June 23, 2016 here.