In Brazil, it’s known as Cobogó. In India, they call it Jaalis. The French term is Brise-soleil. Here we know it as Breeze Block. Call them what you will, these little units of awesome are making a massive comeback.
Back in the 50s and 60s, breeze blocks were hot to trot. They were used extensively by architects in both residential and commercial projects, and their intricate patterns became ubiquitous in Australia, and also anywhere else you might experience a hot climate – Palm Springs, Brazil, Spain, etc. But like any material that gets overused, they soon became uncool. Shame, really, because lil’ ol’ breeze block is downright legit – it gives so much, and ask very little in return. Well, actually – it does ask for a bit of a clue from architects around its usage. Scale being the key point here, as little dicky screens, fences, and dare I say, feature walls we’ve all seen in our suburbia are precisely what’s killed our love of the breezeblock.
But luckily for us all, this underrated building material is making a huge come back. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the resurgence of our collective interest for all things mid-century modern. But I would hope our love of breeze block is based on its merit, rather than an architectural trend. As I said, this is one building material that has the potential to excite the most hard-core of minimalist architects as well as the lovers of intricate ornaments, and anyone in between – breeze block can effectively please us all. I don’t think too many other materials out there can make the same claim.
Breeze block allows us to construct screens that are at once durable, functional and beautiful. They offer sun shading, weather protection, security and ventilation. All this comes with an added bonus of ornament and geometric patterns that can melt the most minimalist of hearts. By day, breezeblocks create romantic dappled light and cast extraordinary overlapping shadows, adding a poetic element to the architecture. By night, the light passes through its small openings, creating an urban lantern of sorts, which gives joy back to our streetscapes.
And all this still leaves you in doubt, fear not. Yellowtrace to the rescue! Today we bring you many, many, MANY extremely delicious projects around the world that have used breeze blocks and their many brilliant interpretations to an extraordinary effect. From retail stores, restaurants, apartment buildings, houses, schools, museums, showrooms, crematoriums… I mean, shall I stop? You get it, right? I’m saying these bad boys have been used in almost every type of project. Prepared to have your socks knocked off.
PS. alt-J were on it way back in 2012 when they released their smash-hit Breezeblocks. Unfortunately, in the video, a woman gets bludgeoned with a breeze block, but let’s not hold that against this little ol’ material now, shall we?
Images courtesy of Aesop.
Aesop Vila Madalena, São Paulo, Brazil by Campana Brothers // In late 2016, Australian skincare brand Aesop unveiled their second São Paulo signature store created in collaboration with local designers Fernando and Humberto Campana. Situated in the neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, the store design marries traditional characteristics of Paulista architecture with gestures inherent to Aesop philosophy.
Without a doubt, the hero if this beautiful interior is the Brazilian Cobogó brick, which creates a textural and a natural, earthy palette for the walls, ceiling, flooring, countertops and product displays. If this store doesn’t emphasise the beauty and versatility of traditional terracotta brick modules, then I’m not sure what does.
Photography by Hiroyuki Oki and Trieu Chien.
The Lantern by in Ha Noi, Vietnam by Vo Trong Nghia Architects // Located within Hanoi’s Dong Da district, this newly built gallery and lighting showroom for Panasonic was designed by Vo Trong Nghia Architects in collaboration with Takashi Niwa. The building presents as an arresting perforated terracotta façade, creating a simple yet significant impact on the surrounding landscape. During the day, the shadows of the nearby tree are cast upon the clean façade, bringing it to life. In the evening the building is illuminated from within, acting as a lantern in the city.
The terracotta blocks were traditionally used in Vietnam before air-conditioning. Designed for tropical climates, they allow for passive ventilation and shade from harsh sunlight. The blocks are both functional and inexpensive at approximately 70 cents, amounting to just over $4,000 AUD for the 5,625 blocks used. Furthermore, the bespoke fixing system allowed for a quick and simple assembly.
Photography by Djan Chu.
Ap Cobogó apartment in São Paulo, Brazil by Alan Chu // This apartment renovation in São Paulo was nicknamed ‘Ap’ due to use of the traditional 1930s Brazilian ceramic ventilation bricks, made popular by modernist architects like Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. Initially, Cobogós were only made from cement, however, as their popularity grew, the blocks were updated with interpretations in new mediums including clay, glass and and ceramic.
This project takes advantage of ceramic breeze block, exploring its function, colour, graphics and light effects. Used predominantly on the apartment’s partition walls, Chu has also incorporated the block in the furniture specifically designed for this apartment. Genius.
Images courtesy of El Equipo Creativou.
Disfrutar Restaurant in Barcelona, Spain by El Equipo Creativo // Only in Spain are designers able to get away with using a melange of ceramic breeze blocks in a variety of patterns and colours, and totally get away with it.
From the kitchen, the bar and the patio, ceramics, in their different formats, lead visitors through various spaces that capture the essence of the local context. This versatile material creates a changing atmosphere, while communicating values the restaurant owners sought to communicate – sincerity, humility and respect for the history of the Mediterranean.
Photography by Hiroyuki Oki.
Apartment in Binh Thanh, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam by Sanuki Daisuke Architects // Driven by the request from their client, Sanuki Daisuke Architects chose terracotta blocks for its relatively low cost – a hugely popular building material in Vietnam. Sanuki Daisuke combined its many different patterns to create a façade full of character, which makes use of natural ventilation, passive cooling by shading, while simultaneously enhancing occupant security.
Photography by Toby Scott.
Naranga Avenue House in Goald Coast, Australia by James Russell Architect // Located in Florida Gardens, a 60’s Gold Coast canal estate with leathery swinging grandmas and breezeblock houses is quite a context for this modest 4-bedroom family home that punches well above its weight, both in terms of scale and budget.
From the street and at a distance, the brick screen at Naranga Avenue House intentionally resemble breezeblock. Given the modernist history of the area, the clients were keen to make use of it in this project. However, the pesky budget issues with the material prevented their use from early in the design process. “We wanted to play with breezeblocks, a material that has its place here, but breezeblocks are expensive and need to be painted for protection from the corrosive coastal air,” said Russell.
Rather than giving up, the architect resourcefulness led him to specify extruded clay bricks on edge from Austral Bricks, exposing their holes. Extruded brick is inexpensive, has low embodied energy and doesn’t require applied finishes to protect it. The material from which it is made, clay, can be expressed and enjoyed.
“Fixed to expressed hardwood framing we make our screen. Sun becomes a dappled light, breeze moves through, rain becomes mist, daily rituals can happen in privacy, but with views or awareness of your surrounds”, explains Russell. Legend.
Photography by Ioana Marinescu.
The New Crematorium at The Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden by Johan Celsing Arkitektkontor // Completed in 2013, this crematorium forms part of the 1940s cometary complex, with the atmospheres of the interiors being the major concerns in the design of the new building.
Perforated bricks were chosen as a key material in many of the interiors both for their texture and scale, as well as acoustic performance. Their white glaze reflects and accentuates the light from the skylights in the roof above. Shown here is the public space, known as the Ceremony Room, where visitors and mourners gather to pay their final respects to those passed.
Photography by Rafael Gamo.
La Tallera Gallery & Museum in Morelos, Mexico by Frida Escobedo // Mexican architect Frida Escobedo transformed the former home and studio of painter David Alfaro Siqueiros into a public gallery and museum. The entire existing building complex is contained behind a triangulated concrete lattice. Built around the perimeter of the La Tallera de Siqueiros complex, the façade forms an enclosure around the buildings, grouping them together while allows light to filter through.
Photography by Park Youngchae.
Khmeresque, University of the Nations in Battambang, Cambodia by Archium + Kim in-cheurl // “Building a temple for Won Buddhism, based on Mahayana Buddhism in Cambodia, the Hinayana Buddhist country, made us consider the relationship between religion and architecture as a whole,” explain the design team at Archium. “In addition to this, the meeting between the symbols of religious buildings and local traditions was something to be considered.”
Khmeresque is ultimately a religious space designed as a gathering place for local people. Divided loosely into an indoor and outdoor area, the focus of the architecture was to creating a beautiful expression familiar to Cambodian Won Buddhists. For this reason, only local and readily available materials, such as local bricks, were used to build the temple. This decision was not only reached for financial motives, but also to ensure the temple looked and felt familiar to the locals.
Inverdon House in Bowen, Australia by Chloe Naughton // Designed for a soon-to-be-retired couple, Inverdon House certainly challenges ‘the norm’ in the small regional North Queensland town where it is located. This is largely for its use of the hard-wearing, low-maintenance material of masonry which would otherwise typically be hidden in paint, plasterboard and render.
Vital for tropical living, the house blurs boundaries between interior and exterior. Only the two bedrooms are air-conditioned for especially humid nights. Awnings, shading, louvers and breezeblock screens ensure direct sun, high temperatures and air movement can be controlled in the best possible way.
Chloe Naughton is a young Australian architect who’s been making waves with this debut project since its completion in 2016, and for a good reason. Check out the video in which she chats with Tim Ross, explaining how she designed this beautiful, low maintenance home perfect for its tropical context.
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