Track 2: Materials over Time: Points of Change

APT Student Scholar Abstract

What is Ocala block?

Tuesday, September 25
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC- 101BG
Faculty Advisor: Morris Hylton, Prof. – University of Florida

"Years ago, you could buy something called Ocala Block that manufacturers around the state made in varying sizes, colours and shapes."
- Ruck, Dan. "Concrete Blocks: They Don't Make 'em like They Used to." South Florida Business Journal, December 3, 2001.

Ocala Block is a very commonly used name for a type of concrete masonry unit in Florida. Popular as a building material in the North Central and Southwest regions of the state, Ocala block reached its peak usage during the mid-twentieth century and eventually faded from the manufacturing and construction market by the end of the mid-century era (1970s-1980s).

Word of mouth suggests that the composition of the block includes the special, local limestone of Central and West Florida known as 'Ocala limestone', which was named for the town of Ocala, Florida where the stone was first observed and recorded by geologists. With a colour palette ranging from cream to light ochre, Ocala block came in varying sizes and in hollow and solid form as compared to the standardized traditional concrete masonry units.

Despite its ubiquitous presence in the built fabric of Florida, including in both high-style structures and vernacular buildings, Ocala block has no recorded history or any written literature that speaks of its origin, wide public appeal, and composition and materiality.
The author’s master’s thesis deals with this primary investigation of 'Ocala Block', exploring the material’s origin, composition, standardization, and widespread popularity and application.

The thesis is divided into a tripartite investigation on 'What is Ocala block?': first being the ‘Contextual Investigation' exploring the historicity of Ocala town, its mining and manufacturing history is analyzed along with the architectural context of mid-twentieth century Florida; second being the 'Technical Investigation' examining detail and use of concrete blocks from early to mid-twentieth century, especially in Florida, from an industrial perspective has been assessed along with the geologic understanding of 'Ocala limestone', followed by a primary materials analyses of samples of Ocala block in order to decode a broad recipe(s); the third component is the 'Anecdotal Research' consisting of several leads on the Ocala block that are significant to this primary research, but not be extrapolated keeping the parameters/limitations of a thesis in mind.

Ocala Block, its nomenclature and a distinct appearance make it exclusive to Florida, which asks for development of literature for its tangible and intangible values. Absent in the market now, but existing extensively in the building stock of the mid-twentieth century, a discourse needs to begin on its materiality for future preservation.

Learning Objectives:

Maanvi Chawla

Graduate Student
University of Florida

In between her graduate studies and architecture school in India, Maanvi has worked in Indian firms including the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (aka INTACH) on heritage inventories, condition assessments, measured drawings; and most significantly on the post-flood damage assessments of her hometown, Srinagar, after the 2014 floods in Kashmir valley. Maanvi majorly contributed to two bodies of research for the Prince Claus Fonds, Netherlands: the CER report on Kashmir Floods 'Cultural Heritage - Damage Assessment Mission' and the 'Technical Guidance Brief for owners of traditional buildings'.

With a focus on the technicalities of heritage, she supplemented her graduate study at the University of Florida with chemistry and geology courses along with her Master in Historic Preservation - to research on historic materials valuable to the local Floridian context, one of them being Ocala block. While focused on gaining technical knowledge of heritage conservation, Maanvi’s goal is to find and learn the balance of conservation and preservation practice: something in between letting go and freezing buildings in time.

Before her master's at the University of Florida, Maanvi had been the US/ICOMOS International Exchange Program candidate from India in 2015. Currently, Maanvi is researching topics of her choice pertaining to Kashmir's historicity and material heritage, the Martin Weaver Scholarship grant, freelance research writing while looking for more work opportunities.


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Peter Wollenberg

Wollenberg Building Conservation, LLC

Peter Wollenberg is a Columbia-trained architectural conservator who began his career in historic preservation in Vermont before attending graduate school. Following graduate school, Peter worked for Geier Brown Renfrow Architects in Washington, DC working primarily on the Historic Structure Reports for buildings in the Federal Triangle. Peter moved to St. Louis and worked for Washington University Technology Associates (WUTA), a company that specialized in sculptural and architectural conservation around the country. He started Wollenberg Building Conservation in 1992 and has worked on projects in numerous states ranging from the repair of small stone sculptures to monuments to the Wainwright Building and the Missouri State Capitol.


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