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The HiLo research and innovation unit demonstrates the impressive possibilities of lightweight construction. For the two-story building on the topmost platform of NEST, novel structural solutions are being used for the building envelope. During operation, the building automation of the unit will be continuously optimized with the involvement of the users. The construction started in summer 2019.


Rendering: Block Research Group / ETH Zurich

The innovation objects in the HiLo unit

A new approach to the building envelope

The Block Research Group at ETH Zurich is looking for new load-bearing structures that allow both efficient use of materials and an aesthetically pleasing design. After several years of research, the combination of historical building principles and digital technologies resulted in the concept for a reusable formwork for double-curved structures, which consists of a cable net and a membrane stretched over it.

HiLo's roof demonstrates the possibilities of this new technology as well as additional challenges that need to be overcome if all requirements the roof of a modern building has to meet are to be fulfilled:

  • Statics
  • Thermal insulation by a multi-layered construction
  • Energy generation on the roof by means of flexible solar cells
  • Spacious effect on the inside

The HiLo roof is thus an inspiration for how the building envelope can be rethought and the new possibilities resulting from the combination of traditional knowledge and digital methods.

Partner: ETH Zurich

Lightweight floor construction

Thanks to a vaulted rib structure, the lightweight construction uses more than 70 percent less material compared to conventional concrete flooring. The floor elements can be prefabricated in modules and simply installed on site. The hollow spaces enable the efficient integration of ventilation, cooling and low-temperature heating.

Partner: ETH Zurich

DC instead of AC

Solar panels generate direct current (DC), which must be converted into alternating current (AC) for general use. Many end devices then convert this alternating current back to DC. These conversions are inefficient. In HiLo, as many household appliances and terminal devices as possible are directly connected to a DC network.

Partner: CSEM

Adaptive Solar Façade

The Adaptive Solar Façade (ASF) is a dynamic façade of thin-film photovoltaic modules with soft, pneumatic actuators for solar tracking and daylight control. The elements provide solar energy generation and shading, and control the transparency of the façade. The elements can rotate to respond to changes in the outside environment and to the requirements from inside the unit. The modules are controlled based on sensors as well as on input by the inhabitants. Adaptive learning algorithms facilitate the continuous improvement of the behavior and thus the adaptation of the modules to their users and the environment.

Partner: ETH Zurich

Optimization of building systems

Architecture and building systems (A/S) at ETH Zurich is developing new methods for building control using machine learning. Optimizing system operation according to a control objective, which can be represented by the indoor environmental quality (IEQ), energy savings or a combination of metrics. Most recent novel control strategies are based either on a model predictive approach or artificial intelligence. This research project will investigate the use of machine learning to enhance the control of HVAC systems with a focus on occupant comfort.

Partners: ETH Zurich, Mitsubishi Electric


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