|Frank Lloyd Wright's Ennis House in Los Angeles|
used his vaguely Mayan-looking "textile block" system.
(Courtesy Catherine M. Austin, ASID)
A few architects have made noble attempts to change block’s image. In the 1920s, for example, Frank Lloyd Wright introduced a system he called “textile block”, in which custom-made blocks cast with various geometric designs were combined into a sort of tapestry in concrete, vaguely Mayan in appearance. A number of his better-known homes used the system, including the affordable-housing prototype “Usonian House”. Yet even Wright’s creative efforts failed to ignite the public’s interest in block.
Some years later, a lesser-known architect of the Prairie School, Alden Dow, devised a truly ingenious twist on the ubiquitous rectangular block: He designed it in the form of a parallelogram with equal sides—not just to be different, but so that he could build walls with perfect 45° angles as well as right angles. Dow built many intriguing homes using this method, but alas, the system passed away with him.
|Back to the Sixties: An interesting use of screen block.|
|A split-face block in the ubiquitous tan color.|
|Bond beam blocks used to strengthen a foundation.|
|Creativity makes a difference: This interesting combination|
of block textures, colors, and sizes goes a long way
toward overcoming the usual concrete-block doldrums.
• Lastly, one caveat: Laying concrete block is a skill that’s not as easy as it looks, but can usually be picked up with a little perseverance. Before you go out and build that cinder-block Taj Mahal in your back yard, however, don’t forget that block walls must be reinforced with steel and then filled with a special thin mixture of concrete called grout. Leave out the rebar and grout, and you’re liable to end up with a lightweight pile of rubble.