HiLo is a research and innovation building, or ‘unit’, in the domains of lightweight construction and adaptive building systems. HiLo (High performance, Low energy) is planned as a two-bedroom apartment for visiting faculty of the Swiss federal research institutes Empa and Eawag, and it is planned to start construction in early 2018. The unit consists of four key innovations including a flexibly formed, mesh reinforced, concrete sandwich shell roof with integrated photovoltaics and hydronics. Summum Engineering’s Diederik Veenendaal, while working at the Block Research Group at ETH Zurich, served as project coordinator during the preliminary and final design phases between 2013-2015, successfully obtaining a building permit. In addition, he worked as structural engineer on its unique roof.

HiLo is a research & innovation unit for the NEST building. NEST is a dynamic, modular research and demonstration platform for advanced and innovative building technologies on the Empa-Eawag campus in Dübendorf, Switzerland. As a “future living and working lab”, NEST consists of a central backbone and a basic grid to accommodate exchangeable living and office modules such as HiLo, allowing novel materials and components and innovative systems to be tested, demonstrated and optimized under real-world conditions. HiLo introduced four key innovations:

  1. a lightweight funicular floor system that features a thin funicular concrete shell with stiffening fins, and a hydronic radiant heating and cooling system;
  2. an integrated, thin shell roof that features a mesh-reinforced concrete and PU foam sandwich structure, flexible thin-film photovoltaics, a hydronic radiant heating and cooling system, and a lightweight flexible formwork for its construction;
  3. an adaptive solar facade that features photovoltaic panels, driven by soft robotic actuators; and,
  4. an occupant-centred control system, that features constant indoor/outdoor climate monitoring, adaptive set-points for the building systems, and learning of user preferences through interaction.

The roof of HiLo is an anticlastic, thin shell structure to be constructed using a prestressed, cable-net and fabric formwork. The shell has a concrete thickness varying between 3 and 30 cm, 8 cm on average, features spans in the range of 6-9 m and is supported on five ‘touch-down’ points with free edges along its entire perimeter. The shell is built up as a sandwich composite consisting of ferrocement or textile-reinforced concrete faces, and a rigid polyurethane (PU) core.

Read more about the HiLo project on the Block Research Group’s project page.

Live feed



Core design team (preliminary and final design phase)
Prof. Dr. Philippe Block, Diederik Veenendaal, David López López, Dr. Tomás Méndez Echenagucia, Dr. Tom Van Mele | Block Research Group, Institute of Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich
Prof. Dr. Arno Schlüter, Gearoid Lydon, Anja Willmann, Bratislav Svetozarevic, Moritz Begle, Johannes Hofer, Prageeth Jayathissa, Dr. Zoltan Nagy | Professorship of Architecture and Building Systems, Institute of Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich
Dave Pigram, Iain Maxwell | Supermanoeuvre, Sydney, Australia
Rob Torsing, Jochem Verbeek, Jack Bakker | ZJA Zwarts & Jansma Architects, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Collaborators (final design phase)
Hämmerle + Partner | local architecture of final design, and building permit
HSSP | cost estimation and construction planning
Bollinger + Grohmann Ingenieure | structural engineering
Gruner Roschi | HVAC engineering
HHM | electrical engineering
Reflexion | lighting design
Wichser Akustik & Bauphysik | acoustical engineering
Assistant Professorship of Structural Mechanics, Institute of Structural Engineering (IBK), ETH Zurich | structural health monitoring

Collaborators (preliminary design phase)
ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences | solar engineering 
Walt + Galmarini | structural concepts for facade, and drafting service criteria agreement
Professorship of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry (IGP), ETH Zurich | photogrammetry of shell prototype

Location: Dübendorf, Switzerland
Time: 2018
StatusPermit obtained, construction prototyping
Project area: 175 m
Floor area: 138 m
Project volume: 364 m3

Services: Project coordination, structural design, parametric modelling, structural engineering, prototyping

Veenendaal D., 2017. Design and form finding of flexibly formed shell structures. ETH Zurich, Department of Architecture, Zurich. Doctoral thesis.

Block, P., Schlueter, A., Veenendaal, D., Bakker, J., Begle, M., Hofer, J., Jayathissa, P., Maxwell, I., Mendez Echenagucia, T., Nagy, Z., Pigram, D., Svetozarevic, B., Torsing, R., Verbeek, J., Willmann, A. and Lydon, G.P., 2017. Investigating lightweight construction and adaptive energy systems: the NEST HiLo buildingIn: Journal of Building Engineering.

Veenendaal, D., Bakker, J. and Block, P., 2017. Structural design of the flexibly formed, mesh-reinforced concrete sandwich shell roof of NEST HiloIn: Journal of the International Association of Shell and Spatial Structures, 58(1): 23-38 (March).

Veenendaal, D., Bakker, J. and Block, P., 2015. Structural design of the cable-net and fabric formed, ferrocement sandwich shell roof of NEST HiLoIn: Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures (IASS) Symposium, Amsterdam.

Veenendaal, D. and Block, P., 2014. Design process for a prototype concrete shells using a hybrid cable-net and fabric formworkEngineering Structures, 75: 39-50.

Veenendaal, D., Bezbradica, M., Novak, D. and Block, P., 2014. Controlling the geometry and forces of hybrid cable-net and fabric formworksIn: Proceedings of the IASS-SLTE 2014 Symposium, Brasilia, Brazil.

López López, D., Veenendaal, D., Akbarzadeh, M. and Block, P., 2014. Prototype of an ultra-thin, concrete vaulted floor systemIn: Proceedings of the IASS-SLTE 2014 Symposium, Brasilia, Brazil.

Our projects