Topology Optimization of Cement-Based Construction Elements

Online Archive

August 13, 2019 10:30 - 12:00

Theodor-Erismann-Auditorium, VE 102, Empa Dübendorf


Josephine Carstensen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, USA


Josephine Carstensen will join the Department Civil and Environment Engineering as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2019. Professor Carstensen completed a PhD in Civil Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in 2017 and holds a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. from the Technical University of Denmark. Her research focuses on the new opportunities arising as digitalization of design and manufacturing is transforming the way we create the built environment.

For the past two years, Dr. Carstensen has been a lecturer at MIT jointly appointed in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Architecture. Her group at MIT develops and evaluates new design methods and tools that use structural mechanics and mathematical optimization to advance the design of structures on length scales ranging from material architectures, over component to large scale structural design.



Topology optimization is a free-form approach to engineering design in which a formal optimization problem is posed and solved using mathematical programming. It has been widely implemented, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries, for design at a range of length scales including material architectures, mechanisms and structural components. However, the number of example where topology optimization is used to design civil structures remain limited. This is despite the fact that there exist numerous prefabricated low-weight construction elements. This talk seeks to identify the barriers that impede revisiting the general design of civil components and demonstrate that new designs with improved performance can be obtained.


Although topology-optimized designs are often shown to outperform conventional low-weight designs, the optimized designs are often complex and can therefore be difficult to fabricate. However, the production of clay and cement-based construction components, such as bricks and reinforced concrete, demand shaping the elements in an initial formable stage. Combined with the recent digitalization of formwork, this suggests that clay and cement-based materials would be excellent for fabrication of topology-optimized designs. This work specifically looks at using topology optimization to design reinforced concrete elements. Reinforced concrete is a highly complex composite that consists of a concrete phase that is strong in compression and a reinforcing phase that compensates for concretes low tensile strength. Typically, steel bars are used as the reinforcement. This talk seeks to advance topology optimization of reinforced concrete on two fronts: (i) by design of the concrete phase, and (ii) by design of the reinforcing phase.