International fib Symposium on Conceptual Design Of Structures

Over 26.-28. of September, two of our engineers Arno Liiskmann and Oliver Lätti had the opportunity to attend the International fib Symposium on Conceptual Design of Structures in Madrid. The overarching theme of the Symposium was the role of the engineer in the initial stages of design, where decisions made and structural schemes established can affect everything that follows. Too many engaging topics were covered to list them all here, but we hope the following will provide a brief overview.

The programme of the Symposium divided discussions into four subtopics, each introduced by a keynote lecture and explored further through shorter presentations and workshops:

  • Inspiration (Keynote Mike Schlaich, SBP/TU Berlin)
  • Data collection (Keynote Carlo Ratti, MIT Senseable City Lab/Carlo Ratti Associati)
  • Creativity (Keynote Hernán Kraviez, Norman Foster Foundation)
  • Materialization (Keynote Achim Menges, University of Stuttgart)


The lecture talked about finding inspiration for structural solutions, as well as limiting the mass of the end result to achieve the desired structural properties and form with a smaller carbon footprint. Lightweight reinforced concrete structures were discussed, including ribbed deck elements with prestressed carbon fiber reinforcement, 3d printed connection details, a façade solution supported by carbon fiber tension lines and more.

In the workshop, Akio Kasuga (Sumitomo Mitsui Construction) talked about making the fundamental schematic choices for bridge structures. The importance of studying and understanding historically successful (and visually memorable) structures was emphasized. The quote attributed to Pablo Picasso “good artists borrow, great artists steal” was also found to apply to great engineers.

Data collection

The multitude of sensors around us and in our pockets today would allow an enormous amount of data to be recorded at every moment. We are only just opening our eyes in putting this data to good use. The keynote covered the possibility of making initial judgments on the soundness of bridge structures based on accelerometer data from phones crossing them. In the future, traffic lights and stop signs might be made obsolete by vehicles driven by AI avoiding each other with perfect timing at intersections.

The workshops concentrated on gathering, filtering and processing data from drones, stationary sensors and 3d point clouds.


On average, Norman Foster sends five notebooks full of sketches to the archives of his Foundation every month. The key to finding great solutions is persistence in generating ideas and close cooperation between different disciplines. Creativity is also crucial when participating in charitable projects, where tough local conditions need to be considered and local materials used.

The workshops covered parametric design using Rhino, Grasshopper and Karamba 3D, solving equilibrium and the conceptual design process based on an example.


The keynote looked at forms found in nature – for example, the internal structure of insect wings – and the development of technologies to transfer the same principles to building structures. With modern, purpose-built machines, it is possible to cut timber structural elements to a precision of 0.2mm and produce extraordinarily lightweight carbon and glass fiber composite structures. The construction process and lessons learned erecting several pavilions and public structures were reviewed.

The workshops discussed 3d printing using concrete, modified soil and other materials, the digital presentation of solutions and utilization of virtual reality.

On the final day, Symposium participants had an opportunity to visit various topical sites. The image here shows the La Zarzuela hippodrome designed by Eduardo Torroja, where the thickness of the cantilevering reinforced concrete roof shell is between just 40 and 145mm.