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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Book Review—Casting Architecture: Ventilation Blocks

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Author: Florian Schatz (ORO Editions, 2014)

Every once and a while a book reaches me that seems to be simple and short, but often times these books prove to be so much more, as was the case with Casting Architecture: Ventilation Blocks by Florian Schatz. To flip through this book quickly is to see beautiful diagrammatic images that seem to show modular sections of wall systems. When you move to the core of the book, however, there is a much stronger, more impactful message.

Florian Schatz is a professor at the National University of Singapore, and the entirety of this book (save for the preface and some asides throughout) is made up of work by second year Architectural Construction students. The students were tasked to use ventilation blocks in a new, interesting, and completely modular format. Schatz describes their use in the preface by saying, “Traditionally, ventilation blocks have been used to make living in hot and humid regions more comfortable. Mass-produced modular blocks can take over construction loads, permit cross ventilation and protect the build’s interior from intense tropical rainfall.”

Beyond the preface there is another short essay that speaks to the purpose of ventilation blocks, the need for cross-ventilation in buildings where the climate can support it for passive effects, and how materiality can affect design. He speaks of the “beauty of simple elements,” and the return of the builder-as-designer. Following this is another short essay by Dr. Lai Chee Kien whose title sums up the piece: Ventilation Blocks and Their Use in Southeast Asia. This is a brief, “how, where, and why” of ventilation block use and really helps to set the stage for the rest of the book.

What comes next is an amazing array of student work, akin to The Function of Form, by Farshid Moussavi. Each set of designs come with a rendering, a 3D mesh model of how the block would work in a module, some concept sketches or imagery that help to show the process, and line drawings in plan and elevation. This simple formula moves throughout the rest of the book unhindered, drawing your eye from one page to the next in a slow and methodical journey. Some of the designs seem simple, but accomplish their task in a beautiful, minimal fashion. Others are much more ornate or wild, and push the standard of what a building envelope could be.

There is no possible way to describe the images in any further detail. To do so would do them a disservice, as you can tell there was a lot of time and thought put into these details, not only as an architectural project, but as a builder, a craftsman designing something that needs to serve multiple purposes and needs to work. A quick Google image search of the books title will grant you a sneak peak of some of the works offered in the book.

Whether simple or complex, all the designs needed to fundamentally maintain the above tenants, and the different configurations are quite fascinating, and well worth the time you’ll spend going back through and analyzing every little detail. I would highly recommend this book, even if you aren’t looking for ventilation block inspiration, and just want to see how the boundaries of form can be pushed while remaining functional.


For more information, visit the ORO website.


Jeremy Senko is happily lost in the world of theoretical architecture and design. He is forever a student at heart, consistently reading, experiencing and learning about the world he inhabits. More specifically, he works as an Interior Designer in Vancouver and plays an active part in bettering the environments we live in.