Moulded Concrete Block Construction for Houses and Garden Walls 1905 – 1920

This “Practically Fireproof House in the Suburbs” was built in Omaha. The distinctively shaped gambrel (or Dutch) roof allowed useable space underneath.The house used 2,682 pressed concrete blocks in its construction, 1,880 of which were 8” x 8” x 16” hollow blocks. The rest were various ‘specials’ for decorative finishing of the house. All probably were made on-site by the contractor.

The benefits of building a house using moulded concrete blocks were many. The process would include the ability to manufacture on-site the exact number of blocks that were needed for each house, so the issue of materials shortages would not arise. Additionally, individuality in exterior design could be made by changing the order, design and placement of the type of blocks on each house.

The fireproof properties of concrete were promoted as an advantage, and the ability of using one main building material – concrete – and getting the maximum amount of variation from the same material was an added bonus. In slow times, the small contractor could manufacture blocks and sell them for additional profit.

When completed, houses built with this method – and finished with wood interior and roof construction – were attractive and distinct additions to existing neighbourhoods.

A fine 1 1/2-storey house with a wrap-around porch. This design incorporates at least nine designs of pressed blocks, which add texture and design to each area of the house. See detail image below.

The flexibility of the moulded construction method of the blocks gave the builder an ability to show inventiveness and design by using “specials”. The colour of the concrete itself could be adjusted, allowing for colour differences ranging from the usual warm grey to a near white, giving the impression of marble or a finer stone.

Other ways of adding variety to the building was by using different coloured mortar in the usually half-round convex mortar joints. Mortar could be in the matching warm grey of the concrete blocks, or a distinctive dark grey/black, or even a dark red colour, which could relate to other colours on the house – possibly the paint colour of the sash, or brick used elsewhere on the building.

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