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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

NJIT Architecture Students to Spend the Weekend Learning from Skilled Masons

It’s not often that architecture students abandon their design studios to work side-by-side with skilled masonry workers.

But that’s precisely what is happening this weekend at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), where a group of 40 masons will teach students the skills of their bricklaying craft.

During the Masonry Design Build Competition, students from NJIT’s New Jersey School of Architecture (NJSOA) will spend Saturday and Sunday, April 1-2, working on building projects with the masons.

For the projects, the 100 sophomores, divided into nine teams, will build part of an arts and music center – one that hypothetically could service downtown Jersey City. Working with the masons, the students will build the fragments on small concrete foundations at the entranceway to the architecture school. On Monday, April 3, at 6 p.m. a panel of judges will review the projects and announce four winning teams, who will divide nearly $20,000 in prize money.

(Editor’s Note: Reporters who’d like to observe the masons work with the students can visit on Saturday or Sunday, April 1-2, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The school is at the intersection of Warren and Summit streets. To attend call Robert Florida at 973-596-5203. Professor Tom Ogorzalek, who will be with the students on the weekend, can be reached on his cell phone: 201-725- 2151.)

On the entranceway of the architecture school, the masons will set up bricklaying stations where they will help the students build sections of walls for their projects, which they designed earlier in the semester with their studio professors. The masons will teach students plastering, mortaring and bricklaying techniques using masonry elements such as brick, block, mortar and concrete. They will teach them how to ''butter'' a brick by wielding a trowel and expertly shooting some mortar onto the face of a brick; how to set tile in a textured smear of mastic and to make weep holes in mortared joints; and how 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.”

The Masonry Contractors will also give $5,000 to its endowed scholarship fund at NJIT. The contest sponsors are the Masonry Contractors of New Jersey; the International Masonry Institute; and the Bricklayers and the Allied Craftworkers of New Jersey Local Numbers 4 and 5.

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.

Tom Ogorzalek, a special lecturer of architecture at NJIT and the coordinator of sophomore studio workshops, said the students worked hard designing their projects in  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, usually restricted to office work. Working with the masons, the second-year 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.”

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.