Masonry Day Tradition Adapts to Pandemic

Author: Evan Vandermeer

Fredricksen 1

In the past, sophomore and graduate Building Tech I students enjoyed the School of Architecture’s annual Masonry Day event at Kuert Concrete in South Bend, where they would spend an afternoon collaborating with local masons on building projects using brick, mortar, and their own two hands. 

Of course, such an in-person, interactive gathering would be impossible in the world of COVID-19. To adapt, Professors Mesko and Pierattini—who teach the undergraduate and graduate Building Tech I courses, respectively—decided to simulate the event as closely as possible here at Walsh Family Hall in a way that ensured students’ safety while also maintaining the activity’s educational value.

“It's important to keep the tradition alive,” said Mesko. “This is one of the School’s longest-running collaborations with our colleagues in the Building Trades, and it’s an important hands-on opportunity for students to become acquainted with building materials.”

Instead of working in groups with normal sized bricks, Mesko and Pierattini had students build independently at their desks over the course of a week. They gave students the competition handout and project brief on Thursday, September 24, tasking them to develop and build their constructions using 156 mini-bricks—generously donated by Belden Brick and Jay Harwood, President of Rose Brick—sticky tack, and a plywood base. 

Students had complete freedom in building their monuments for whatever purpose they chose. In generating their designs, they were asked to consider the principles of masonry construction, particularly with respect to bonding, coursing, jointing, brick patterns, brick unit size, and corbelling rules of thumb, among other principles. Bricks were not allowed to be cut, and the monument designs were required to have a clear base, middle, and top. One of the primary objectives of their designs was to demonstrate an understanding of the tectonic capacities and aesthetic potential of brick as a building material.

“Obviously there is no substitute for working with real bricks and mortar and learning from skilled masons, but the mini bricks proved to be a great learning tool,” said Mesko. “Even when we go back to ‘normal’ we will incorporate the mini-bricks as part of the process of developing and testing design ideas and constructability.”

Woman student builds model with small bricks

Students had until 6 PM on Thursday, October 1 to finish their brick models, at which time they submitted photos of both their original designs and finished constructions to Mesko and Pierattini. These submissions were then shared with a jury made up of Joe Alberts, Director of Industry Development and Technical Services at the International Masonry Institute (IMI); Aimee Buccellato, Associate Professor; and John Mellor, Associate Professor of the Practice. The jury met virtually the day after the deadline to select the winning students: Jordan Fredricksen ‘23, who came in first with “Monument for the Lost Sailors”; Julia Rabito ‘23, who came in second with “A Monument for the World Wildlife Fund”; and Madeline Hartman ‘23, who came in third with “A Brick Memorial for the Ancient Art of Ceramics”. Elizabeth Hentges ‘23, Karalina Kulis ‘23, and graduate Peter Reilly ‘23 were selected as honorable mentions. Winners received cash prizes and were announced by the jury in a follow-up Zoom meeting attended by the jury, Mesko and Pierattini, and participating students.

“I’m thankful that we still got to participate in the annual Masonry Day competition,” said Fredricksen. “I think it’s an amazing tradition for the second-years to essentially go back to their roots of playing with blocks and then create a tangible design using the knowledge gained in building technology. I’ve grasped a clear understanding of how I can manipulate brick to make beautiful, strong structures through this Masonry Day project, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the judges, the professors, and Belden Brick for providing this opportunity to the students.”

Mesko and Pierattini also expressed their gratitude to the various parties that made this year’s Masonry Day possible: Belden Brick, which donated the mini-bricks; Jay Harwood, President of Rose Brick, who helped facilitate the brick donation and their delivery to the School; Daniel Flores of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, who helped plan the event in its beginning stages; and Alberts, mentioned above, who on behalf of IMI not only served as a juror but also funded the prizes.