International Journal of Art & Design Education

Concrete Geometry: Playing with Blocks

Volume 29.1   2010



This article describes a design/build exercise conducted in an Architectural Materials and Methods class to achieve three interrelated objectives: (1) to apply physically the semester's theoretical focus on the constituent process and languages of architecture investigations, (2) to capitalise on the physical and aesthetic properties of concrete masonry to explore fabrication and detailing in the design process, and (3) to examine preconceptions about solo work and team work in architectural education and practice.

What makes this project unique among other design/build projects is its emphasis on Concrete Masonry Units (known as CMU in the USA) and their visual, tactile and functional properties. The junior and senior students were allowed three building elements: an 8' cube of space, an unlimited number of concrete blocks, and the visual ecology of a site. The structural vocabulary that Frank Lloyd Wright developed consisted of a three-dimensional field of lines through which the solid elements of the building were located, enabling the voids to be integral to the whole and equally meaningful. Using these elements, students were asked to design/build temporary structures in a field next to the airport hangar on campus. The pedagogical objective was to adopt Wright's creative spirit, as opposed to quoting his architectural language.