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Swiss Researchers Develop Ultra-Thin Concrete Roof

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH) have developed a new form of curved, thin roofing that can produce solar power.

© Block Research Group, ETH Zürich / Michael Lyrenmann

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETH) have developed a new form of curved, thin roofing that can produce solar power.

The team, led by Philippe Block, Professor of Architecture and Structures, and Arno Schlüter, Professor of Architecture and Building Systems, have already built a prototype, torn it down and plan to formally built it next year as part of a rooftop apartment unit on the institute’s “living lab” building called NEST.

“We’ve shown that it’s possible to build an exciting thin concrete shell structure using a lightweight, flexible formwork, thus demonstrating that complex concrete structures can be formed without wasting large amounts of material for their construction,” said Block.

“Because we developed the system and built the prototype step by step with our partners from industry, we now know that our approach will work at the NEST construction site.”

The Design

“The self-supporting, doubly curved shell roof has multiple layers: the heating and cooling coils and the insulation are installed over the inner concrete layer,” noted the ETH.

“A second, exterior layer of the concrete sandwich structure encloses the roof, onto which thin-film photovoltaic cells are installed. Eventually, thanks to the technology and an adaptive solar facade, the residential unit is expected to generate more energy than it consumes.”

On the prototype, which was 7.5 meters high with a surface area of 160 square meters, the thickness of the concrete was an average of 5 centimeters, varying between 3 centimeters along the edges and 12 centimeters and vital points of support.

The lightweight formwork for the roof was made of a net of tensioned steel cables. Then, a polymer fabric was stretched across the cables, serving as the formwork for the concrete, which was spray-applied.

Thin-film photovoltaic cells were then fitted on the concrete roof. 


Tagged categories: Building Envelope; concrete; Design build; North America; Research; Roofing contractors

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (11/15/2017, 12:09 PM)

Looks great and I'm sure it will be a boon to the project in Switzerland, but may not be practical in certain climates. I can see 3-5 cm thick concrete having some difficulties with heavy hail (anywhere that gets severe thunderstorms or tornados), large temperature extremes or with differential ice loadings like conditions encountered in northern North America.

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