Topological Interlocking

Topological Interlocking Assemblies are modular structures that unfold structural capacity by kinematically constraining their building blocks through interlocking.

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Topological Interlocking Assembly. 3D printed model presented in the exhibition +ultra. knowledge & gestaltung in the Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin 30/09/2016 - 08/01/2017

While masonry bonds bind their elements with mortar, assemblies with intricately interlocking modules exclusively constrain their elements through inherent geometrical and topological properties. Topological Interlocking Assemblies are not compression-only structures, the self-supporting arrangement works in all directions.

Topological interlocking systems can be traced back to medieval concepts of the reciprocal frames and Joseph Abeille’s flat vault.

In 1699 Joseph Abeille patented his ‘Flat Vault’ a planar assembly of truncated tetrahedron shaped stones. The interlocking system was supposed to span without the curvature of a vault. The way the building blocks interlock refers to medieval vaults with keystones. The Flat Vault never became a successful construction system but material scientists rediscovered it very recently.

The concept only recently re-emerged in material science. Planar materials fail when cracks are able to propagate through the entire dimension of an element. Topological interlocking assemblies are broken down into small-scale elements already. Thus the approach increases material strength by fragmenting the material. Cracks cease to propagate at the interface between to modules [see: Dyskin et al. 2001].The concept of toughening by fragmentation, the reversibility and novel design and fabrication methods like 3D printing make it worth the revisit this forgotten concept.

3D printed model.
3D printed model.

In this projectwe sought to re-conceptualize the system within an architectural framework by embracing computational design, analysis and fabrication tools and procedures. The goal was to develop geometrical differentiated, reversible, force-locked systems and the processes and methods to design and manufacture them.


Student work of various Topological Interlocking System from SAC and KTH.



A differentiation of the interfacing planes between modules allows for porosity in the assembly. Design Philipp Mecke
A series of three module cast in on piece for the load-bearing boundary of the system.

The research started in 2011 as a design studio at the Staedelschule Architecture Class (SAC) in Frankfurt and was further developed at the Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm and the DDU, TU Darmstadt.

Team DDU TU Darmstadt 2016:
Philipp Mecke (If Then Architects), Andrea Rossi, Oliver Tessmann,Philipp Vehrenberg

Student team Royal Institute of Technology Sthockholm (KTH) 2013:
Devrim Alan, Fanny Berg Zu Innhausen und Kny, Louis Bergis, Stavros Chrysovergis, Adrian Elizalde, Maria Frendin, Anne Andrea Harteveld, Mick Heijkens, Oskar Kalmér, Yvette Johanna Maria Kloek, David Kriechmair, Michal Kubrak, Joseph Laster, Joao Francisco Lopes de Sousa, Linnéa Mattsson, Andrés Mongrut-Steane, Alistair Nancarrow, Ellen Oldén, Jorge Pajares de la Peña, Theis Pedersen, Clayton Richenberg, Iida Maria Räsänen, Anna Ström, Samantha Surath, Timothy Wong, Maryarn Sabzpoushan, Luis Gisler

Student team Staedelschule Architecure Class (SAC) 2011:
Donlaporn Chanachai, Nasim Delkash, Philipp Mecke, Rhea D’Silva, Fenny Diana Laurin, Youngjae Chung







Symposium zur additiven Fertigung im Bauwesen

BE-AM is an annual symposium on the theme of Additive Manufacturing in the Built Environment. The 2017 edition focuses on initiating discussions and exchange between experts from academia and industry on novel concepts and cutting-edge research in the context of additive manufacturing.

27.10.2016, 10:00 Uhr bis 17:00 Uhr

Hörsaal 91
L3 | 01 Fachbereich Architektur

El-Lissitzky Str. 1
64287 Darmstadt

Ablauf / Programm 27.10.2016

10:00  Begrüßung durch Prof Dr. Ulrich Knaack und Prof. Dr. Oliver Tessmann

10:15  Grußwort Prof. Dr. rer. medic. Josef Wiemeyer, Director Fif

10:30  Prof. Dr. Harald Kloft, TU-Braunschweig DBF – Digital Building Fabrication

11:00   Kaffepause

11:15  Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Jean Pierre Bergmann, TU-Ilmenau Dr. Jörg Hildebrand, TU-Ilmenau Potenziale des MSG-Verfahrens zur additiven Fertigung komplexer 3D – Verbundstrukturen

11:45  Dr. Suzana Alpsancar, TU-Darmstadt Philosophie des 3D-Druckens

12:15  kleine Diskussionsrunde

12:30  Mittagspause

13:30  Prof. Achim Menges, Universität Stuttgart Integrative Entwurfs- und Fertigungsstrategien (See lecture on facebook).

14:00  Dr. Philipp Urban, Fraunhofer IGD Darmstadt Color 3D Printing and Beyond (See lecture on facebook).

14:30  Kaffepause

15:00  Prof. Dr. Benjamin Dillenburger, ETH Zürich Revolution of Resolution. 3D Printing for Building Components (See lecture on facebook)

15:30  Kaffepause

16:00  Podium mit Sprechern und Publikum

16:45  Ende der Veranstaltung

+ultra. Gestaltung schafft Wissen

September 2016, +ultra. Gestaltung schafft Wissen, Martin-Gropius-Bau, BerlinThe research work on topological interlocking structures conducted by the Digital Design Unit (DDU) and If-Then Architects was part of the exhibition +ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The exhibition reveals the fundamental role processes of design play in the sciences and humanities as well as the current mergence of the digital and the analogue. The exhibition was organized by the excellence cluster Image Knowledge Gestaltung of the Humboldt-University Berlin. 

+ultra. gestaltung creates knowledge, 30.9.2016 – 8.1.2017, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin


FabLab - A digital Workshop as public space

A FabLab is an open workshop that gives people access to machines and digital tools like 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC milling machines. A FabLab is a place where ideas are developed and realized. A FabLab is a place to meet, to share ideas and to disseminate knowledge. In this studio students developed architectural ideas for a FabLab in the city center of Frankfurt. On the site of the former public library the participants designed a novel building that hosts a FabLab with all its necessary program and infrastructure. Furthermore the building was supposed to show the city what happens inside and invite people to enter, learn and meet.


Design: Felix Dannecker
Build your own FabLab! Felix designs a rough infrastructural concrete skeleton and a wodden module than can be produced and assembled by the FabLab users. Thus the Lab is growing and changing over time, according to the needs if its users. Design: Felix Dannecker



Design: Aleksandra Buchalik
Aleksandra operates with a cellular logic in plan and elevation. The facade, counterintuitive from a structural point of view, opens the FabLab to the city on eye level. Design: Aleksandra Buchalik







Design Roger Winkler
Ripped tubes provide natural light to the workshop facilities and link the different levels of the FabLab. Design Roger Winkler.



Design: Samim Mehdizadeh

Design: Samim Mehdizadeh
A central infrastructural sculpture links the different levels of the FabLab that are conceived as a landscape with a dramatic topography. Design: Samim Mehdizadeh



More projects
More projects by: Norwina Wölfer, Charlotte Schauer, Merle Kogge, Stefanie Joachim and Carolin Kreutzberg



Prof. Oliver Tessmann, Bastian Wibranek,

Technical support:

Alexander Stefas

hellwach - Der Wissenschaftstag der TU Darmstadt

June 2016, Darmstadt, hellwach - Der Wissenschaftstag der TU Darmstadt

The project 20.000 BLOCKS was exhibited as part of the TU Darmstadt research day. Visitors were invited to play the 20.000 Blocks game in Minecraft and watch Ginger, our robot, building models. hellwach showed the large spectrum of research conduced at the TU Darmstadt and its repercussions into our everyday life.

hellwach02_smallhellwach_setup_smallThe DDU exhibition setup including Ginger, a 6-axis industry robot, compressor, computer, BLOCK feeders, glue-dispenser and a building plattform.



Gestalten mit Medien 2015

August 2015, End of Year Exhibition Gestalten mit Medien, Darmstadt. 140 first year students exhibited 140 laser cut cardboards models parametrically designed, digitally fabricated and manually assembled. All images: Jacob Philipp Weise.

1508_TUD_DDU_Jacob_Philipp_Weise©_272 1508_TUD_DDU_Jacob_Philipp_Weise©_381 1508_TUD_DDU_Jacob_Philipp_Weise©_388

1508_TUD_DDU_Jacob_Philipp_Weise©_338  1508_TUD_DDU_Jacob_Philipp_Weise©_287

NODE 15 - Forum for Digital Arts

April 2015, NODE 15 -  Forum for Digital Arts, Naxoshalle Frankfurt

The Digital Design Unit participated in the Node 15 Festival for Digital Arts in Frankfurt with the project Sensitive Assembly – Gracefully assisted by machines that sense and know.

Within the leitmotif ‘Wrapped in Code – the future of the informed body’ this project invites festival participants to play a Jenga-like game: Starting from a solid wall, players are asked to remove and replace its building blocks to create windows to a nurturing light while challenging its stability. The physical interaction is guided by a computational system that senses the current state of the wall and predicts its future fate: an approaching collapse or a new beam breaking through.



barBeton is a bar counter made from ultra high performance concrete (UHPC). The object was a research project which explored the potential of the new material in combination with novel moulding techniques. The research was conducted by Mirco Becker and Oliver Tessmann together with students from the University of Kassel and G.tecz as industry partner for innovative concrete.

For the project, G.tecz  developed two different types of the concrete; a low viscosity
concrete called QUANTZ, providing extreme fluidity during manufacture and compressive
strength properties comparable to steel and a surface quality like ceramics, as well as
a stiff but ductile and easy to handle UHPC that could be used with a laminating technique.
the project aimed to reduce the material thickness.


The team created a mould made from two interlocking shells of milled foam covered
with epoxy resin after extensive testing of . Resin proved to be an adequate coating for the foam mould allowing for multiple use of the formwork and providing the desired surface quality.


The barbeton surface is extremely glossy without any further treatment or additional coating. The easy handling of the material in combination with the layering technique allows to produce double curved
lightweight UHPC structures in an effective way.


‘barbeton’ was on display at the recent materialxperience fair in utrecht, netherlands.

Project Team:

Mirco Becker, Oliver Tessmann

Jan Iwanowicz, Ljuba Tascheva, Patrick Taylor, Jan Weissenfeldt, Max Wittich, Babak Zarsazegar


Thomas Teichmann, Gregor Zimmermann