Date of Submission

Spring 2022

Degree Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Architecture



Committee Chair/First Advisor

Giovanni Loreto


This thesis takes a closer look at concrete construction in the modern area and, more specifically, the use of formwork to shape the built environment.

Traditional rigid concrete formwork has been optimized for buildability while serving structural needs. This mentality means simple prismatic elements that are entirely overbuilt for the task, stacked on top or next to one another. The idea that these elements are the peak of efficiency in concrete production has informed virtually all modern concrete construction. Any shapes that vary from the simple prismatic volumes are seen as challenging to build and expensive. For the most part, this is true if traditional methods of constructing formwork are used to create those shapes, but what if that did not have to be the case?

Over the last 100 years, several alternative methods of building formwork have been suggested, but almost all of them have stayed almost entirely in the academic realm. The major categories of these technologies include flexible formwork, such as fabrics; Folding formwork, using materials such as fiberglass; 3D printing formwork, using plastics; and even Knitted formwork. The major challenge that most of these technologies face is that they only propose formwork to replace select elements needed to construct a building, and this leads to a strange mix of architectural languages that is not desirable. Even if they include multiple elements, they often use vastly different systems and materials to create the framework, making them not viable at larger building scales.

This thesis looks at the use of structurally optimized formwork systems in architectural buildings. The aim is to combine math, material science, and architectural design in an interdisciplinary effort to better the built environment. In part motivated by the artwork of Mark West and informed by structural engineering concepts, this thesis aims to advance the fundamental understanding of concrete formwork systems in an effort to marry architectural form and structural design by creating a new design language for concrete construction. Stemming from the architectural, structural, and construction considerations, this thesis will investigate the use of different formwork systems in concrete structures to achieve:

1. More economical construction practices while improving sustainability and resilience of concrete structures.

2. Nontraditional and varying architectural forms using parametric design solutions.

3. The adoption of new applications for advanced concrete materials such as engineered cementitious composites.

The objective is to define an architectural language for concrete structures that will introduce a new design for formwork systems as well as explore solutions to minimize the use of reinforcement without sacrificing structural integrity. The goals are to evaluate the new design strategies and computational tools so that they can seamlessly integrate architectural forms with structural needs. Based on previous research, this approach could lead to an approximately 40% reduction in concrete usage, dramatically affecting the sustainability of such a building. In order to achieve these results, individual structural elements and their formwork systems will be analyzed and evaluated for their strengths and weaknesses, followed by an investigation of how these different systems can be combined into one unified language using one type of formwork.

Nevertheless, why is any of this relevant for the future? Well, despite the inefficiencies associated to traditional formwork, concrete remains one of the most widely used manufactured materials globally, with the global production of cement reaching 4.1x10^9 t in 2017. According to data, concrete use has become so prevalent that it is now the second most consumed commodity after water. Although concrete has a relatively low embodied energy, its rate of production and uses account for almost 9% of total global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Against a backdrop of the carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets a recognition of the significant impact construction has on the natural environment, and an increasing client focus on sustainability, design philosophies centered around the need to put material where it is required are becoming increasingly desirable. Therefore, creating a formwork system that saves on formwork costs and reduces the amount of concrete needed in total would be extremely valuable.