When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

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DRN
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When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by DRN »

The houses built near Kalamazoo in "Parkwyn Village" and the "Acres" in Galesburg, with the exception of the Meyer house, are all constructed using a specialized block system that was designed by Wright. Was this system a late use of the Textile Block System used in California and the Arizona Biltmore in the 1920's, or was the system an evolution and more similar to the Usonian Automatics, but still distinct from the UA's?

Reidy
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by Reidy »

My understanding is that the 1920s textile block used concave blocks back-to-back to create an insulating air space. Usonian automatic was only one block thick. I don't think they used Wright's method at the Arizona Biltmore, even though he was listed as a consultant in the use of concrete block.

SDR
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by SDR »

W A Storrer blithely refers to the masonry of three of the four Galesburg houses, and the four Parkwyn ones, as "textile block," with no further description. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, in his Monograph texts for the two groups, mentions only "an especially cast concrete block, in keeping with the other homes in the same subdivision," on the page which covers the Robert Winn house. None of the drawings reproduced either shows or describes the nature of the material. In the Ward McCartney description, he writes of "the use of standardized products and materials" as a cost-saving measure for the group of structures.

These blocks appear to be 12" high by 16" wide plain CMUs---simple enough, though hardly a "standard product." Their exposed surfaces are flat; there is no change of shape at the joint lines, and the mortar beds appear to be entirely normal to CMU construction. The only thing that's unusual about them appears to be their dimensions. (I assume that they are 8" thick.) In describing the first of these houses in his list, Storrer tells us that the Weisblat residence required "thirty-four different block shapes . . . from 2,075 whole standard blocks to various inside and outside corner, sill, jamb, and coping blocks numbering in the hundreds or tens."

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by Roderick Grant »

Having worked on the Winn House, Mr. Eifler should have the last word on its construction. But of this there is no doubt: The blocks are not plain CMUs. They are 12"x16"x~3" blocks with rebar, double-block thick walls of 8", as can be discerned from the plan in Taschen, page 262. The exact goings-on inside the walls could use some clarification, especially the connection between the two layers and the exact design for the perfs, how the glass is fitted in, and so forth.

The design of the perfs has one curious detail. The glass extends to the top edge of the block for 10" of its length, while the bottom edge is concrete the full length. From my own observations, the surfaces of the concrete portions are divided vertically into four 1.5" wide concave elements, whereas the 3-4-5 triangle in the pattern is flush. I don't know if that is entirely accurate, because the available information is not precise enough. But it is close.

outside in
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by outside in »

at the Winn House, the blocks were each 3 inches thick with an air space between. In some cases (such as in the raised roof over the bathrooms) the walls consisted of a single wythe of block. We had to rebuild the walls because of poor flashing details and deterioration. The blocks were made by a local block manufacturer and were easily done.

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Image

The trouble with the system is that there is very little mortar covering the steel. We used epoxy-coated rebar which wasn't available in the '50's. The shape of the block also invites water into the joint. I have attached a photo of the wall of the house, where you can make out deterioration of the block at the joints, caused by oxidizing rebar (can expand to 10 times its original size) pushing the top of the block outward. I believe all of the homes in this area suffer from this problem, and will, of course, be very difficult to repair in the future.
Image

Below is the note regarding the blocks on the original drawings:
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outside in
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by outside in »

Image
Image

DRN
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by DRN »

Many thanks for the photos John.
In the photos, there appears to be compressed wet mortar between the blocks. The Masonry Note you provide indicates dry setting with grout poured in at each course. Is this mortar that was applied to seal the joints? or ooze from the poured grout?

This seems like it might be an evolution of the Textile block and a precursor to the walls of the UA system.

outside in
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by outside in »

thank goodness they were not laid up dry - the steel would be completely rusted by now.
We found that all of the joints were "buttered" on the opposing surfaces.

SDR
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by SDR »

Fascinating. Thanks for once again correcting my errors and setting the record straight. The specification certainly is---what---a bit naive ? Perhaps the assumption was that the "grouting full" of the joints---after (or during ?) each course of block---would inevitably produce the kind of squeeze-out of excess that we see in your photo, and thus fill (with some necessary if unmentioned tooling) the joint ?

Judging by the rebar visible in your photo, plain 1/4" rod was found inadequate as well ? What technique might be used to center the steel in the cavity---assuming that was thought to be necessary ?

S

Roderick Grant
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Re: When is a Wrightian Block a Usonian Automatic Block?

Post by Roderick Grant »

John, what about the glass inserts? At Freeman, wherever a perf existed, the interior block was set without any "adhesive," so it could be removed and the glass, framed in wood, could be cleaned or replaced. Harriet removed a block to demonstrate for me. But the perf blocks at Winn are glass all the way to the top edge. How does that work? Or doesn't it?

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