Breeze blocks are the patterned concrete blocks you may have seen covering the sides of a building or stacked upon each other to form a wall. But these fascinating blocks are more than just decorative- they’re an important component of Mid Century Modern design. Breeze blocks provide shade, circulation, protection and privacy to buildings all over the world, and they’ve got the rich history and style to prove it.
Breeze Blocks’ History
Breeze blocks–sometimes called screen blocks– were inspired by sun-reducing screens in Asia and first used in America in the 1930s. They continued to grow in popularity in the following decades, especially when used in houses and apartments. They were widely used in Mid Century Modern design up until the 1970s, when they began to fall out of style.
Breeze blocks provided a visually pleasing (and affordable!) way to filter out harsh sunlight while still providing ventilation. Breeze blocks also provided shade for the massive Mid Century floor-to-ceiling windows that were popular at the time.
They were especially popular in the warmer parts of the country, like California and Florida. California used breeze blocks to protect against the hot desert sun, while Florida architecture used breeze blocks to minimize the damage of dangerous storm winds.
In fact, breeze blocks became so popular that most large cities and towns had their own breeze block factories. Because of their weight and the cost involved with shipping them long distances, it was often cheaper to manufacture them locally. Local breeze block factories produced standard patterns, like the common snowflake one, while making unique patterns that were specific to the factory too. It’s estimated that there are over 200 different breeze block patterns today.
Quintessential Breeze Block Buildings
In Palm Springs, CA, one luxurious hotel uses breeze blocks in a way that truly stands out. The exterior of the Parker Palm Springs is surrounded by white breeze blocks that shield the 5-star hotel from the blazing desert sun and provide a private oasis for vacationers and celebrities alike.
Across the ocean, the American embassy in New Delhi also features a prominent use of breeze blocks. Built in 1959, the embassy was designed to be a fusion of American and South Asian architecture. The American influences can be seen in the block covered, streamlined Mid Century Modern look of the embassy, while the ‘temple’ look of the structure was inspired by similar South Asian holy places.
How Breeze Blocks Are Used Today
Today, breeze blocks are making a comeback. Thanks to the growing popularity of Mid Century Modern style, breeze blocks have crept back into today’s designs.
A great example of this is the Breeze Block house in Sydney. Designed by Architect Prineas in 2015, this award-winning house uses breeze blocks to create livable indoor-outdoor spaces. Another award-winning breeze block house is the Naranga Avenue house (also in Australia) which dramatically uses breeze blocks on the exterior facade to let the light in while providing relief from the sun.
But these blocks aren’t just used in homes- today, you can find them adorning the sides of hotels, covering parking decks, or running up and down church spires.
Breeze Block Interiors
In fact, breeze blocks have started to move from an exterior feature to an interior accent. Today, you can find them in kitchens or against walls as fun retro decor. They’re great for providing partitions where space can clearly be divided without the unnecessary structural presence of a wall.
Breeze blocks’ affordability, usefulness and beauty means that they’re Mid Century Modern design’s new favorite throwback. Stores that make breeze blocks like ORCO and Our Block Co are popping up all over the country with unique designs, and places like Home Depot have started selling them too!