MLK Jr. Park Stone Vault, Austin, TX, USA, 2010-2013

The Block Research Group is designing a radical stone structure to be used as a multi-purpose community space. The structure will be located in the heart of the MLK Jr. Park of the East-Austin urban development and transit-oriented district, Chestnut Plaza, Austin, TX, USA.

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The project brings together all skills, expertise and experience, as is clear from the different past and current projects upon which it is based. These include:

Check out the movie, which gives an overview of the process, and the 3D-printed structural model.

The project was exhibited at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2012, titled "Common Ground". We were invited by Patrik Schumacher, partner at Zaha Hadid Architects, to contribute to their invited exhibition on shell structures

Thanks to Carmen Castanos, Anna Falvello Tomas and Ramon Weber for their help building the structural model, and Lorenz Lachauer for his inputs in the initial design stage of the project.

This project is on hold...

Project partners

  • Overall concept and design: Block Research Group, ETH Zurich with Escobedo Construction
  • Client and Development Partner: MFI
  • Structural design: Block Research Group, ETH Zurich
  • Structural engineering: ODB Engineering and Structures
  • General Contractor: Escobedo Construction
  • Fabrication optmization: Block Research Group, ETHZ with Escobedo Construction  
  • Stone Fabrication: AX5 Resources with Escobedo Construction
  • Formwork Engineering: Peri Systems


Digital Stereotomy

Digital Stereotomy

This research develops a method for tessellating free-form masonry-like vaults.

Form Finding to Fabrication: An integrative digital design process

Form Finding to Fabrication: An integrative digital design process

Applied for the design and analysis of compression-only masonry shells, this research develops a fully digital design process -from form finding to fabrication. The challenge is to provide a smooth and efficient generation of different data representations of the discrete geometry of the force (or thrust) network for the use in structural and experimental modeling, discrete element modeling (DEM) software, or fabrication. The TNA method has been implemented in existing CAD software, offering fully interactive control of the boundary conditions, the internal stress field and the weight distribution of the shell. The discrete thrust network is linked to a NURBS surface to derive continuous geometric information, hence allowing e.g. the automatic generation of the shell volume according to its self weight.

Collapse of masonry structures

Collapse of masonry structures

Masonry structures have demonstrated the ability to withstand large displacements and remain stable to a remarkable degree. For structures with a single curvature (e.g. barrel vaults), which can be readily simplified to two dimensions, stability under large support displacement has been well described using analytical and experimental methods. Structures with double curvature, however, have typically been simplified to two-dimensions in a similar fashion, despite their truly three-dimensional behavior.


Block P., Rippmann M. and Van Mele T.Structural Stone Surfaces: New compression shells inspired by the past,AD Architectural Design,85(5): 74 - 79,2015 (September/October).Special issue A. Menges (Ed.) - Material Synthesis: Fusing the Physical and the Computational.
Rippmann M., Curry J., Escobedo D. and Block P.Optimising Stone-Cutting Strategies for Freeform Masonry Vaults,Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) Symposium 2013,Obrębski, J.B. and Tarczewski, R. (editors),Wroclaw, Poland,2013 (September).
Rippmann M. and Block P.Rethinking Structural Masonry: Unreinforced, Stone-cut Shells,Proceedings of the ICE - Construction Materials,166(6): 378-389,2013.


ETH Zurich
Institute of Technology in Architecture
Block Research Group
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