Concrete Block Competition / by Anne Bussone

Our newest team member at RDS, Jacob Van de Roovaart, and a fellow Cal Poly graduate were recently invited to Montreal, Canada, to present and compete in a masonry block competition put on by the National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA). They won first place! The block, named [Flip] Block, was developed in the Fall of 2014 as part of a Cal Poly class.

Project Description

The course asked teams to take a critical look at the once popular mid-century modern screen block. While contemporary design approaches often employ screen elements combining aesthetic variation with solar performance, conventional screen block systems are limited in their application, due to the problem of structural reinforcing creating a discrepancy between the light, transparent screen wall, and the heavy reinforced piers that support it.  

The innovation of [Flip] Block is rooted in the subtle geometry of the unit. While the basic block is a simple prism compatible with standard block unit sizes, the flanges on each side allow the blocks to be flipped and assembled in a manner that leaves a void large enough for steel reinforcement to be embedded within the wall system without any interruptions to the pattern of the wall. This quality is applied to a family of three blocks that introduce variation in aperture and depth when flipped, giving the appearance of six unique configurations. The combination of these three basic units allow the wall system to be highly variable with a large degree of control while still containing the structure needed to support itself.

The [Flip] Block team developed their design through multiple full-scale prototypes, utilizing a CNC (computer numerically controlled) router to develop their unique mold design using a wet cast process with a light weight concrete mix. The process of designing, testing, failing, revising, and retesting led to a product that could feasibly be manufactured in an industrial setting, bringing new life to an old product for use in contemporary architectural design.

We are proud of Jacob and his contribution to the development of this new design tool. We appreciate the simplicity of the design and the WOW factor. We can't wait to work the [Flip] Block into an upcoming project. Great job, Jacob!