The Block Research Group (BRG) in the Institute of Technology in Architecture, lead by Prof. Dr. Philippe Block and Dr. Tom Van Mele, is hiring a PhD student on the topic of the design and engineering of funicular shell floors, starting from September 1 of 2018 at the earliest. This project is funded through the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication from the Swiss National Science Foundation. This project is part of an NCCR collaborative stream in bespoke digital prefabrication and the multi-criteria optimisation of performative building components.
PhD position on the topic of the design and engineering of funicular shell floors
This project will develop the tools needed to design and analyse new types of innovative and lightweight floor systems for the construction industry. The floor elements utilise shallow arching action, activating an efficient load takedown to the supports through membrane stresses, and externalising reaction forces as internal tensile forces. This results in a floor element that is stiff, lightweight and slim, that can significantly reduce floor heights and vertical loads on the supporting structure, whilst opening up space for the integration of services. The research will extend the BRG’s investigations in this area on various prototypical floors, using the latest in form-finding and analysis techniques, digital fabrication methods, and experimental testing. Extensions to current research will be in the areas of: 1) topology and material optimisation to control stiffness and modal mass, 2) thorough engineering analyses to European design code standards, 3) incorporation of performance based design criteria such as acoustics, dynamics, robustness and fire-resistance, 4) explorations into different floor configurations and supporting frame structures, and 5) investigations into post-tensioning and construction with discrete and lightweight prefabricated components.
Located in the state-of-the-art Arch_Tec_Lab (HIB) building on ETH Zürich’s Hönggerberg campus, the BRG’s core areas of research include: equilibrium analysis and design of vaulted masonry structures, computational form finding and structural optimisation of curved surface structures, and fabrication and construction innovation for shell structures. The PhD stipend is for 42 months and is integrated into the NCCR project, for which the student will engage in an exciting collaborative environment with colleagues in digital fabrication, mechanical engineering and building systems. The student will have access to multiple levels of supervision, through the collaboration, postdoc expertise, and the BRG leadership.

Successful candidates are highly motivated, research oriented and hold a Master’s Degree with an emphasis on engineering and structures. Practical experience as an engineer and familiarity with design codes is a bonus. Applicants should have a strong background in programming as well as proven proficiency in computational modelling and analysis. The ideal candidate also has experience in form finding, parametric design and structural optimisation. He/she will integrate with, and also extend, computational components through the opensource COMPAS computational framework.

We look forward to receiving your online application including a 1-page letter of motivation letter, CV, portfolio/transcripts evidencing the position’s requirements. Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

For further information and questions please contact Dr. Andrew Liew (liew[at] For further details regarding the BRG’s research and projects, please visit