NJIT Architecture Students Work on Hands-on Projects: A Weekend with the Masons

Scene & Heard - NJIT Architecture Students Work on Hands-on Projects: A Weekend with the Masons

At most architecture schools, students rarely leave their design studios. But at NJIT, students often abandon their studios to work on hands-on projects.

 Every year, for instance, a group of masons comes to NJIT to teach architecture students how to build. The masons show the students how to use bricks, stone, concrete blocks and other masonry materials.

Last week, 50 masons helped more than 100 students from NJIT’s School of Architecture build sections of a Montessori school building. The premise of the project was that the school could be placed in downtown Jersey City, a neighborhood that is quickly developing. The students divided into nine teams, with each team building a small fragment of the school. The work was part of an annual building competition sponsored by the Masonry Contractors of New Jersey.

The masons set up bricklaying stations outside the entrance to the architecture school, where they helped the students build sections of their schools. The students, all of whom are sophomores, designed their schools earlier in the semester as part of their studio classes.

Thomas Ogorzalek, a special lecturer at the School of Architecture who coordinates the second-year studio classes, organized the masonry design competition.

After the students finished their building projects, a panel of judges evaluated their projects and announced four winning teams. Together the teams won nearly $20,000 in prize money.

The contest, though, is less about prizes and more about bridging the gap between future architects and the masons. Its purpose is to teach novice architects how to work with masonry materials and the masons.

 “It was great to work with the masons and actually see how a building gets put together,” said Meagan Hopper, an architecture student whose team won first place in the contest. “In our project, one of the walls for our school had a unique bond pattern, so it was very interesting to see how the masons assembled the wall.”

Hopper also credited Ogorzalek, her professor, for making the contest so enjoyable. Ogorzalek is a young, hip and engaging teacher who listens to students and tries to help them reach their creative potential, she said.

“Professor Ogorzalek is a teacher who’ll sit down and look at your project objectively,” Hopper added. “He'll talk to you about the structure of a project and how the materials work with the surroundings. He tries to help you develop your ideas instead of telling you what your ideas should be. He really helps you to learn a lot and that, combined with the mason’s skill, really made the contest fun and exciting.”

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)