For three days, architecture students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) will abandon their studios to work with skilled masons who will turn the students’ abstract designs into something more concrete: namely, brick walls.
During the Masonry Design Build Competition, the students, all of whom attend the New Jersey School of Architecture, will spend two weekend days, April 2-3, working with the masons, and a third day on April 4, displaying their building projects and giving presentations to judges.
(Editor’s Note: Reporters who would like to observe the masons working with the students can visit NJIT on April 2-3, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To attend please call Robert Florida at 973-596-5203.)
For their projects, the more than 100 sophomore students, divided into nine teams, must design and build part of a cultural center that could hypothetically be installed in the Newark’s Ironbound section. They will build the fragments of the cultural centers on nine concrete foundations that line the promenade of Weston Hall, site of the architecture school. The foundations are 6 feet wide by 8 feet long.
The contest is sponsored by The Masonry Contractors of New Jersey and co-sponsored by The International Masonry Institute.
The three-day affair comes to a close on Monday, April 4, at 6 p.m. when a panel of judges will announce three winning teams in the main gallery of Weston Hall. The three teams will divide nearly $20,000 in prize money. The masons will also award a $5,000 scholarship fund to NJIT.
The contest, though, is less about prizes and more about bridging the gap between future architects and the skilled craftsmen known as masons. Teaching novice architects the practical aspects of working with masonry materials is the premise behind the competition.
“Just like architects and engineers, these master craftsmen learn their profession over the course of many years,” says John Bachenski, area director of marketing development for the International Masonry Institute. “In the construction process, it’s important that architects and engineers who design and plan structures, and the craftsmen who implement those plans, understand each other’s role.”
A group of 40 masons will set up bricklaying stations, and help the students build sections of walls for their cultural centers, which team members designed earlier in the semester with their professors. The masons will teach students plastering, mortaring and bricklaying techniques using masonry elements such as brick, block, mortar and concrete. The masons never tire of extolling the superior virtues of brick, marble or granite in comparison with pre-cast products commonly used in today’s construction.
The masons will teach the students how to ''butter'' a brick by wielding a trowel and expertly shooting some mortar onto the face of a brick. They will teach them how to set tile in a textured smear of mastic, and how to make weep holes in mortared joints. They will teach students to use the materials, design and construction techniques they will encounter after they graduate.
“Masonry Day is a great example of hands-on higher education,” said Urs Gauchat, dean of the institute’s New Jersey School of Architecture. “It helps college students develop a respect for the craftsman’s skills and teaches them that their designs and their plans are not an end in themselves.”
Tom Ogorzalek, a special lecturer of architecture at NJIT and the coordinator of sophomore studio workshops, said the students have worked hard designing fragments of cultural centers in their studio classes, but that the masons will teach them something invaluable. Most architecture students, he said, must wait until their fourth or fifth year of school to gain work experience, which is usually restricted to working in an office. Working with the masons, the students will get in-the-field experience, and for the first time see their abstract thoughts become real.
“The students will see how a thought in their head, a design, is turned into a wall made out of brick and mortar,” said Ogorzalek. “It’s not just a line on paper anymore, or a line on a computer screen, but a wall - a presence with a surface. On the day that the masons lay that first brick – it’s magic for the students – and they will remember that day for the rest of their lives.”