Featured on the cover of September's Architect Magazine is LOOMstudio's 12BLOCKS, one of five winners of the magazine's First Annual R+D Awards.
12BLOCKS is an investigation of a standardized building component: the CMU. Typically limited to smooth face, rough face, burnished, and glazed finishes, the CMU -- or cinder block -- is seen and used more as a structural component that a decorative one. In urban contexts, the blocks are frequently seen only as party walls; otherwise they are buried behind brick, metal panel, spandrel glass, or some other supposedly superior material. Few architects utilize the CMU in aesthetic as well as structural ways, though perhaps the best was the firm Clark and Menefee, who seemed to perfect the appearance of the smooth-faced grey blocks from an almost monastic use of the material in their few projects.
One of the few architects to exploit the potential of concrete masonry units was Frank Lloyd Wright, whose "textile block" houses in California -- like the Ennis House, currently undergoing renovation -- use custom blocks with almost Sullivanesque textures and patterning. While these houses appear out of place in an area with predominantly stucco and wood houses, they dealt with the climate in a way that cooled the spaces more than these traditional materials.
Relative to Wright's textile blocks, the twelve designs by LOOM are textile blocks for the computer age. Where Wright made his blocks square -- perhaps in an effort to differentiate them from the common concrete blocks, and therefore making them less able to catch on with a standard-oriented building industry -- LOOM binds themselves to the 8"x8"x16" nominal size of CMUs. Of course on the long face they carve into and project out of the rectangular mass, creating what could be called micro patterns that then can be assembled into numerous macro patterns. For example, the Pachinko Block below has some really interesting combinations, ones that could even be varied across a wall.
Be sure to check out the 12BLOCKS site for a thorough presentation that includes things like potential uses for the different designs. The appropriately-named Socket Block at top looks like it's waiting for wall lights, while the Egg Block is the ideal perch for a small bird's nest. As well, the designers document the production of the blocks, an important part of the process to focus on if they're going to make CMUs an acceptable aesthetic choice for architects again.
(Thanks to don for the head's up!)