Arquitectonica constructs Palm Springs development from interlocking block system


Architect: Arquitectonica
Location: Palm Springs, Florida
Completion Date: 2023

Arquitectonica’s latest work, a residential development in Palm Springs provides a tenable model for the alleviation of soaring construction costs which in part have contributed to the nation’s housing crisis. This was achieved through the use of an interlocking block system developed by Renco USA. The product is made from recycled materials and significantly reduced the project’s labor costs, construction time, and overall price.

The firm designed four structures for the site, which are distinguished from one another by colorful accents in their central breezeway. These flourishes recall the modernist design vernacular of South Florida, as well as the built oeuvre of Arquitectonica, which frequently employs bold color.

housing by Arquitectonica
The composite brick structure was finished with stucco. (Courtesy Renco USA)

The buildings supply Palm Springs with 96 new residential units ranging from 2-bedroom to 3-bedroom units. A perimeter of parking spaces meets zoning requirements while also reducing the amount of space they occupy on the site.

Around the four buildings Arquitectonica attempted to preserve as much of the existing landscape as possible, maintaining groupings of Florida pines and re-landscaping the perimeter surrounding each structure.

construction on housing project using interlocking block system
The development was constructed by a team of 11 workers. (Courtesy Renco USA)

4280 Lakewood is the first use of the composite block system in the United States. Although the product has been used in Turkey and the European Union product approval was required to implement the system stateside, necessitating extensive testing related to structural integrity and fire proofing.

The blocks look like legos and are applied in an identical manner. Each module contains empty spaces at the bottom of the unit which are fit into joints from the blocks below. Before two blocks are fit together, workers apply an adhesive to ensure stability, they are then secured with a mallet. The building’s exterior is then coated in stucco.

Renco USA contends that workers can be taught to use the block system in 2 hours.

construction on housing project using interlocking block system
The use of the composite block system sped up project delivery. (Courtesy Renco USA)

Fidel Zabik, principal at Arquitectonica, compared the use of the brick system to concrete block construction, a methodology commonly used in South Florida with which local trades are familiar.

“Given that it’s not concrete block, and it seems similar in a sense at the outset, but then there are considerations of how the floor assemblies and ceiling assemblies interact with the perimeter block,” he said.

He went on to describe the project as a “measured building,” so as that the residences were designed to the exact specifications of the Renco block module. This differs from typical concrete block construction, wherein the blocks are often cut to meet the measurements of the design, increasing the complexity and duration of the job.

In addition to this, the composite blocks are significantly lighter than their concrete counterparts while maintaining structural integrity.

construction on housing project using interlocking block system
Workers apply adhesive to the blocks before placing the next layer. (Renco USA)

Describing the utility of the block system, Raymond Fort, vice president at Arquitectonica, told AN, “it goes back to the history of masonry. The size of the brick is such that a mason could have a brick in one hand and a spatula in the other, slap water on and place the bricks one after another—it’s a fast sequence for building a wall. This product takes that to the 21st century… it’s way less messy because you don’t have all this mortar being slapped all over the place.”

Arquitectonica hopes to use the material in future work. Fort expressed interest in “finding ways that this can be used in areas that are potentially more difficult to build in or in areas that need housing but the cost is too high to do it traditionally.”

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