Philippe Block is Professor of Architecture & Structure in the Institute for Technology in Architecture, Department of Architecture (D-ARCH) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland.
He co-directs the Block Research Group (BRG) with Tom Van Mele; is Director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication and Deputy Head of ITA; and is Founding Partner of Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering).
Philippe Block is also a member of the Academic Committee (AC) of the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction (2014–).
His research focuses on equilibrium analysis of unreinforced masonry vaults, computational form finding and optimization of curved surface structures, specializing in sustainable structures. He combines structural engineering and architecture in a digitally supported interdisciplinary approach, which blends the areas of structures and design. The multitude of requirements to which modern construction is subject can only be mastered by means of a multidisciplinary approach of this kind.
Philippe Block trained in architecture and structural engineering at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Belgium (BSc 2001, MSc 2003) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA, USA (SMArchS 2005, PhD 2009). For his PhD in Building Technology at MIT (2009), under the guidance of 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.
He worked as a visiting researcher with Professor Ture Wester at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark (2007) and with Professor Werner Sobek at the Institute for Lightweight Structures & Conceptual Design (ILEK), University of Stuttgart, Germany (2008).
His 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 Dirk Hebel, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
The NEST HiLo Unit at Dübendorf, Switzerland built in collaboration with the Chair of Architecture and Building Systems, Arno Schlüter of ETH Zurich, 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. Construction started in summer 2019; the unit is expected to go into operation in 2020.
Finally, in collaboration with Zaha Hadid Architect's Computation & Design Group, KnitCandela’s sophisticated concrete shell was realized on an extremely lightweight, cheap and efficient stay-in-place knitted and cable-net formwork, brought onsite in two pieces of checked luggage. Most of the BRG’s projects have received multiple international awards and accolades.
Philippe Block was awarded the Rössler Prize, presented to a “rising star” in their area of research by the ETH Zurich, where he was selected for his work as both an architect and an engineer. In his speech honoring the winner ETH Zurich President Lino Guzzella stated: “we see this clearly in his curved roofs, where he unites aesthetic expression with the perfect geometry – all while minimizing the use of materials.”
He is also recipient of the Hangai Prize (2007) and the Tsuboi Award (2010) from the International Association of Shell & Spatial Structures (IASS), the Edoardo Benvenuto prize (2012) for “scientific research on the history of structural mechanics and art of building”, and the Berlin Art Prize for Architecture (2018).
Philippe Block has lectured worldwide at universities as well as leading engineering and architecture offices. He has collaborated with offices such as Zaha Hadid Architects, Herzog & de Meuron, SOM structures, Baumschlager Eberle and Studio Olafur Eliasson. His work has been exhibited at the Design Triennial 2009 in New York City and the Architecture Biennial 2012 and 2016 in Venice. He is on the editorial board of the International Journal of Space Structures and Elsevier’s Computer-Aided Design. He is co-author of FAUSTFORMEL Tragwerksentwurf (2013, 2015) and co-editor of Shell Structures for Architecture: Form Finding and Optimization (Routledge, 2014), and co-author of Beyond Bending: Reimagining Compression Shells (Edition DETAIL, 2017).
He was a participant of all three LafargeHolcim Roundtables held at the MIT Endicott House, Cambridge, MA, USA (2014), the ETH Zurich, Werner Oechslin Library in Einsiedeln, Switzerland (2015), and the University of Stuttgart Institute for Lightweight Structures & Conceptual Design (ILEK), Germany (2018).
He was a member of the LafargeHolcim Awards jury for Latin America in 2017. He was a workshop moderator for From manual to digital and vice versa: Digitalization, labor, and construction at the 6th International LafargeHolcim Forum “Re-materializing Construction” in Cairo (2019).
Philippe Block was a member of the LafargeHolcim Awards jury for Asia Pacific in 2020.