For the past few years, we’ve been learning about how beautiful concrete blocks can be as a building material. The latest “lesson” came with a visit to the late Alexander Calder’s home in Connecticut for a birthday party for his daughter, who is a friend of ours. An artist who worked in a wide variety of materials, Calder built several buildings on the property over the years, out of ordinary cinder block. The austerity and simplicity of the architecture, coupled with abundant windows and elegant roof lines (and the fact of Calder having made incredible artworks in them) make the block buildings compelling. They fly in the face of the the notion that cinder block structures are generally nothing but ugly. So we walked around in the twilight and took some photos…

Herbert Matter, courtesy of The Calder Foundation

We counted four block buildings on the property; one had originally been an ice house connected to the clapboard main house. Each has a fireplace and chimney; in some the blocks were visible from the inside, in others they were plastered or painted over. The floor of one was concrete; another red brick (a wonderfully simple idea).

Sally Schneider

The gist: Like everything Calder did, his cinder block buildings have a completely unpretentious directness; they are made of inexpensive materials, from what would seem to be simple plans, every element driven by desire to create a sense of the space and materials, light, airiness mixed with weight, and interior ambiance that had both nature (viewed through the windows) and the warmth of a hearth.

Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider



Sally Schneider

A.S.C. Rower, President of the Calder Foundation, explained to us that Calder used cinder -not concrete – blocks to build his houses, hence the slightly rougher, darker look. Concrete blocks are pure concrete, whereas cinder blocks are made from coal cinders and concrete, forming a lighter, cheaper building material. (To restore the buildings appropriately, the Foundation is now trying to locate cinder block like the ones Calder used decades ago.)  But the idea applies equally well to both.

With thanks to the The Calder Foundation. (Note: Calder’s Roxbury estate is not open to the public.)

Related posts: ethan greenbaum’s concrete block love (and inspiration)

concrete block love

chic concrete block sink

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