Armadillo Vault

Beyond Bending Exhibition

Block Research Group, ETH Zurich, Ochsendorf DeJong & Block, The Escobedo Group 

Venice Architecture Biennale Italy



The Armadillo Vault embodies the beauty of compression made possible through geometry. Its shape comes from the same structural and constructional principles as the stone cathedrals of the past, enhanced and extended by computation and digital fabrication. Comprised of 399 individually cut limestone voussoirs, unreinforced and without mortar, the vault spans 16 m with a minimum thickness of only 5 cm. The tension ties equilibrate the form, and its funicular geometry allows it to stand in pure compression.

This sophisticated form emerged from the computational, graphic-statics based design and optimisation methods developed by the team. The engineering of the discrete shell also used innovative computational approaches to assess stability. Each stone is informed by structural logic, by the need for precise fabrication and assembly, by the hard constraints of a historically protected setting, as well as by tight limitations on time, budget, and construction. To simplify the fabrication process and avoid the need to flip the stones during cutting, the voussoirs are planar and smooth on the exterior. Their interior sides are marked by a series of grooves resulting from initial rough cutting. Rather than mill these surfaces away, they remain as an expressive feature, aligned with purpose to serve as visual reminders of the force flow.

After its initial fabrication and assembly in Texas, the vault was disassembled and shipped to Venice, where it was reassembled on site in just two weeks. Like an intricate 3D puzzle, it can be deconstructed and built again at future locations.

The Armadillo Vault represents the close collaboration of engineers, designers, and skilled masons throughout the entire process. It is the culmination of more than 10 years of research in stone structure.


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

Structural engineering: Ochsendorf DeJong & Block (ODB Engineering) - Matthew DeJong, John Ochsendorf, Philippe Block, Anjali Mehrotra

Fabrication & Construction: The 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