Modern Hollow Block Home, Santa Rita. Shannon Murphy collection.

Alternative to pre-fab homes

Cement blocks or as they are known in the construction industry, hollow block concrete masonry units (CMU), have been the most common form of housing construction since the 1980’s on Guam. Standard 8×8×16 concrete blocks are simply stacked on top of one another to create the walls of the home. Rebar and mortar are used in and between the blocks to reinforce the walls, making them strong enough to withstand powerful typhoons and earthquakes.

Cement block homes can be seen as a correction to the numerous problems that haunted the Kaiser Pre-Fab homes of the previous decades. One of the biggest innovations to this new breed of homes was the implementation of the sloped roof. With functionality, innovation and aesthetics taking priority over the speed and cost essential to the last generation of housing, new methods could be experimented with. Sloped ceilings allowed for heat to be dispersed less directly than the flat roofs. Raised ceilings became common stretching from eight to nine feet, once again aiding in the diffusion of heat.

The median age of homes today is twenty-five years (built in 1983) with more than half the homes built after 1995. As far as amenities go, the majority of new homes feature more of the common household necessities such as sewage disposal, air conditioning and indoor cooking facilities. In the rush to create homes following Typhoon Karen in 1962, many were lacking plumbing facilities, kitchens and only had cold piped water in the unit. Today, almost all hollow cement block homes include the aforementioned amenities. The one luxury item that has not become standard in these homes are central air-conditioning systems with a total of 16,657 housing units out of 47,677 containing the more expensive cooling option of window air conditioning units.

By Nicholas Yamashita Quinata

For further reading

Ruth, H. Mark, Jack B. Jones, and Morris M. Grobins, eds. Guidebook to the Architecture of Guam. Taipei: Guam and the TTPI Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1976.