Eladio Dieste was the master of minimalist masonry

Deste church wall
© Gonzalo Viramonte via ArchDaily

The Uruguayan engineer practiced "cosmic economy" in building his thin, curvy walls and arches.

When first covering a wall built by robots, almost a decade ago, I titled the post Computer Lays the Prettiest Brick Walls Since Eladio Dieste. The robots were building walls that swirled and curved, much like the work of the late Uruguayan engineer. I hoped then (and still do) that robots would let us do these kinds of things with brick again.

Dieste is in the architecture news again, thanks to a new set of gorgeous photos by Gonzalo Viramonte, shown on ArchDaily and Designboom. Neither mention the real importance of Dieste's work, and the reason I think the robot bricklayers are so important: through his use of curves and arches, Dieste's buildings were incredibly economical in their use of materials. Those walls and roofs were often a single brick thick, achieving strength and stability through the curves and arches. Uruguay was a poor country back in the sixties and he made those bricks really work for a living.

For architecture to be truly constructed, the materials must be used with profound respect for their essence and possibilities; only thus can 'cosmic economy' be achieved... in agreement with the profound order of the world; only then can [it] have that authority that so astounds us in the great works of the past.

Like the Catalan and Gustavin vaults we have shown on TreeHugger, Dieste's vaulted roofs could be built without much in the way of formwork, ribs or beams. it was cheaper than reinforced concrete. They were as minimal as could be, yet the curves and arches also made them beautiful.

The resistant virtues of the structure that we make depend on their form; it is through their form that they are stable and not because of an awkward accumulation of materials. There is nothing more noble and elegant from an intellectual viewpoint than this; resistance through form.

I am not sure that you could find masons today who could build this stuff, nor do I think there are many engineers today who would be comfortable designing entire roofs that are one brick thick. It's why I think that today, robots might do a better job than humans. But I still don't think they will be the glorious demonstrations of minimalist engineering and architecture that Eladio Dieste created with human hands.

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