Modular construction is as old as settled civilization and as ubiquitous as Lego, but it's less than common to see an architect literally reinventing the brick, as Jose María Sáez and David Barragán have. The pair of Ecuadorian architects are the subject of a recent profile in Dwell, where they discuss how they built a sprawling home out of 900 identical concrete blocks, designed and fabricated specifically for the project.
What makes their system unique? Depending on how you orient each module, they form solid walls, storage systems, or even living green walls. One side of the 40-inch-long bricks is completely flat—when they're stacked, they create a normal wall. The other side is notched, which means those faces can serve as shelves, planters, or stable mounting surface for furniture and bikes. A three-inch gap between each block can be left open to the outdoors, or infilled to shore up a room. A narrow hole in the corner of each block is threaded down to the ground, creating a tightly woven block system that, as Dwell notes, is similar to a typical IKEA assembly.
In Ecuador, a modular system like this makes a lot of sense: it creates micro-climates within the house that aren't quite outside or in. Functionally speaking, this is an idea that's been around for ages, but it's re-emerged recently as an inexpensive and dynamic building system—for example, this two-part brick system that could regulate heat loss and humidity in low-income urban communities.