Armadillo Vault

2016 Design Digital Fabrication Research Venice

Comprised of 399 individually cut limestone pieces, unreinforced and assembled without mortar, the Armadillo Vault spans 16 m with a minimum thickness of only 5 cm. Its funicular geometry allows it to stand in pure compression, while tension ties equilibrate the form. Starting from the same structural and constructional principles as historic stone cathedrals, this sophisticated form emerged from novel computational graphic statics-based design and optimisation methods developed by the project team.

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See the Block Research Group project page and Beyond Bending exhibition page

The Armadillo Vault was the centrepiece of the “Beyond Bending” exhibition at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, curated by Alejandro Aravena, which was held in Venice, Italy, from May 28 to November 27, 2016. 

The engineering of the discrete shell used innovative computational approaches to assess stability under various load conditions. Each stone voussoir is informed by structural logic, by the need for precise fabrication and assembly, by the constraints of a historically protected setting, and by limitations on time, budget, and construction. The voussoirs are designed to be planar on the exterior to avoid the need to flip the stones during machining. Their interior sides’ doubly curved geometry was obtained through rough cutting. Rather than milling away the excess material left by this process, it was instead hammered off, leaving the resulting grooves as an expressive feature.

The shell’s dual appearance, scale-like on the outside and softly curving on the inside, is thus a direct materialisation of the project’s hard constraints. Standing without reinforcement, proportionally as thin as an egg shell, the expressively flowing surface structure challenges the idea that complex, freeform geometry need go hand-in-hand with inefficient and untruthful use of material.


The Structural Award 2017 – Commended in the category “small projects”; Shortlisted for the category “structural artistry”

DETAIL Prize 2016 – Readers’ Prize and acknowledgment prize in the category “structures”

Schweizer Ingenieurbaukunst 2015-2016 – One of the 25 selected projects 


Rippmann M., Van Mele T., Popescu M., Augustynowicz E., Méndez Echenagucia T., Calvo Barentin C., Frick U. and Block P.The Armadillo Vault: Computational design and digital fabrication of a freeform stone shell,Advances in Architectural Geometry 2016,: 344-363,2016 (September).

Block P., Van Mele T., Rippmann M. and Paulson N.Beyond Bending – Reimagining Compression Shells,Edition DETAIL,Munich,2017 (October).

Block P., Rippmann M., Van Mele T. and Escobedo D.The Armadillo Vault: Balancing computation and traditional craft,FABRICATE 2017,A. Menges, B. Sheil, R. Glynn and M. Skavara (editors),: 286-293,UCL PressLondon,2017 (April).

Block P., Van Mele T., Liew A., DeJong M., Escobedo D. and Ochsendorf J.Structural design, fabrication and construction of the Armadillo Vault,The Structural Engineer,96(5): 10-20,2018 (May).


Structural design & Architectural geometry
Block Research Group, ETH Zurich: Philippe Block, Tom Van Mele, Matthias Rippmann, Edyta Augustynowicz, Cristián Calvo Barentin, Tomás Méndez Echenagucia, Mariana Popescu, Andrew Liew, Anna Maragkoudaki, Ursula Frick
own responsibility: algorithms for intrados pattern and data for guiding fabrication
Structural engineering
Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering): Matthew DeJong, John Ochsendorf, Philippe Block, Anjali Mehrotra
Fabrication & Construction
Escobedo Group: David Escobedo, Matthew Escobedo, Salvador Crisanto, John Curry, Francisco Tovar Yebra, Joyce I-Chin Chen, Adam Bath, Hector Betancourt, Luis Rivera, Antonio Rivera, Carlos Rivera, Carlos Zuniga Rivera, Samuel Rivera, Jairo Rivera, Humberto Rivera, Jesus Rosales, Dario Rivera