Frank Lloyd Wright: Textile Block

by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer

Frank Lloyd Wright: Textile Block
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Different examples of "concrete block" used in the Millard, Freeman and Storer House _ Taken from Domus 737, April 1992

Text and images taken from Domus 737, April 1992

«The concrete blocks? The cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world. It lived mostly in the architectural gutter as an imitation of ‘rock face’ stone. Why not see what could be done with that gutter-rat? Steel wedded to it cast inside the joints and the block itself brought into some broad, practical scheme of general treatment then why would it not fit for a phase of modern architecture? It might be permanent, noble, beautiful. It would be cheap. All that imagination needed to make such a scheme feasible was a plastic medium where steel would enter into inert mass as a tensile strength. Concrete was the inert mass and would take compression. Concrete is a plastic material – susceptible to the impress of imagination. We would take that despised outcast of the building industry – the concrete block – out from underfoot or from the gutter – find a hitherto unsuspected soul in it – make it live as a thing of beauty – textured like the trees. Yes, the building would be made of the ‘blocks’ as a kind of tree itself standing at home among the other trees in its own native land».
This was what Frank Lloyd Wright wrote on his autobiography when he described the house he built for Alice Millard in Pasadena, California (1923).

[…] The system hehad in mind, and that would first flower in this house he named “La Miniatura”, was one that he called«textile concrete block construction». Rather than using the standard cinder block, rough and unsightly, Wright designed a block that could be molded on site into different patterns, some of them solid, some perforated for glass inserts, some perforated for clear openings. The blocks themselves were made of a size and a weight that could be easily handled by one person, able to lift and place them one upon the other, and then pour concrete grout down inside the grooved edges, bonding the whole wall together without the customary concrete mason’s mortar course. This method of construction rendered the use of skilled masons unnecessary; relatively unskilled labor could easily erect the walls.
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Text and drawings: © Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved