Oahu: An Island of Breeze Blocks

Posted by Mid-Century Aloha on

Driving around the island of Oahu, you’ll find breeze blocks almost anywhere you look.  From single family homes, to apartment buildings, to high-rise hotels, breeze blocks are an ever-present reminder of Hawaii’s mid-century building boom.

Don’t quote me on this, but Oahu probably has more breeze blocks per square mile than anywhere else in the world.   Seriously!

Breeze blocks are essentially a more decorative form of cinder blocks, and were a popular building material in the ‘50s and ‘60s in the United States.  (There’s also a long history of screen block use around the world going waaay back in places like Japan and the Middle East).   

In the United States, fast-growing sunny places like Southern California, Florida, and Hawaii became home to thousands (millions?) of breeze blocks.  Also known more technically as “concrete masonry units” or CMUs (…yawn, “breeze block” is so much better), they were used extensively in both residential and commercial structures.

The quintessential breeze block patterns are the clover leaf, square in a square, and diamond.   When you encounter these classics, the same pattern is usually used throughout the structure, whether it’s a wall, fence, or balcony etc.   Sometimes multiple patterns are used together to create interesting combinations of shapes and designs.  Blocks can be bare, or painted any color of the rainbow. 

They're called “breeze blocks” because these concrete cubes are often used to create privacy and a sun shade, while also allowing breeze to flow through an area.  This makes breeze blocks a perfect material for buildings in tropical places like the Hawaiian Islands.  If you see a breezeblock wall running up the side a tall building in Oahu, it’s most likely concealing the building’s stairwell.

In addition to the classic patterns, on Oahu you'll also find rare designs and configurations.  Some of my favorite more unusual Oahu breeze block designs are honeycombs, fish scales, and waves.  

I enjoy breeze blocks for a number of reasons.  Nostalgia is a big one – few things deliver that MCM vibe right off the bat like breeze blocks.  Breeze blocks also offer nearly endless design possibilities.

Our brand is all about celebrating mid-century art and design on Oahu.  Given the ubiquity of breeze blocks in Hawaii, we've incorporated them as a design motif in our products.  Check out the breeze blocks on our popular pocket tees and “Block Party” graphic print tee.

Oahu is just under 600 square miles.  If you can think of another area with a greater “per capita” concentration of breeze blocks than Oahu, let us know!

Follow Mid-Century Aloha’s Instagram page to see more photos of Honolulu breeze block. 

- R.B.