Discrete Structural Assemblies

Discrete Structural Assemblies aims to explore new possibilities in the field of prefabricated architecture using discrete structural assemblies. Our research focuses on the design of structurally bespoke elements and the development of efficient assembly strategies by fully capitalising on the potential of state-of-the-art fabrication techniques. Prefabrication has been proven to enhance productivity and quality, while reducing construction time and costs. Consequently, the use of prefabrication and modular construction techniques in the building sector is continually increasing. This trend is reinforced through the growing availability and use of digital planning and fabrication techniques, allowing for the fabrication of highly customised, individual building components and the realisation of complex, assembled architectural geometries. Typically, prefabricated assemblies rely on strong mechanical connections between parts to guarantee stability during and after erection. These connections tend to be complicated when tension and/or bending moments have to be transferred at the joints. This research develops methods and techniques to design, analyse and erect assemblies that predominantly work in compression during and after assembly for the purposes of simplifying connection details, using weak materials and to reduce or even totally eliminate falsework to ultimately reduce the embodied energy of constructions.

Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Philippe BlockProf. Benjamin DillenburgerProf. Dr. Roland SiegwartProf. Dr. Marco Hutter

Main Collaborators: Ursula Frick, Dr. Matthias Rippmann, Andrei Jipa

Extended Collaborators: Dr. Andrew Liew, Dr. Tom Van Mele, Shajay Bhooshan, Fadri Furrer, Martin Wermelinger


Frick, Ursula, Tom Van Mele, and Philippe Block. 2015. “Decomposing Three-Dimensional Shapes into Self-supporting Discrete Element Assemblies.” In Proceedings of the Design Modelling Symposium 2015, edited by M.Ramsgaard Thomsen et al., 187–201. Copenhagen: Springer International Publishing.

Frick, Ursula, Tom Van Mele and Philippe Block. 2016. “Data Management and Modelling of Complex Interfaces in Imperfect Discrete-Element Assemblies.” In Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) Symposium 2016. Tokyo, Japan.

Rippmann, Matthias et al. 2016. “The Armadillo Vault: Computational Design and Digital Fabrication of a Freeform Stone Shell.” In Advances in Architectural Geometry 2016, edited by Sigrid Adriaenssens, Fabio Gramazio, Matthias Kohler, Achim Menges, and Mark Pauly, 344–63. Zurich: vdf Hochschulverlag.

The Armadillo Vault Project – A Digitally Designed and Fabricated Discrete Stone Assembly Covering an Area of 75 sqm. Presentation at the Advances in Architectural Geometry Conference 2016 Zurich, 9–13 September. The project was awarded the 2016 DETAIL readers prize.

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