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Building a Better Wall University of Houston architecture students face off with bricks and mortar By Alex Lahti

students learned in class, a wall is only as strong as its foundation—so some teams chose to dismantle and rebuild their walls with their newly honed skills. The designs were as varied as there were teams—some squat, some tall, some straightforward. Others might be called “deconsrtructivist.” A few groups dared to build corbelled arches. One team, comprised solely of female students, prided their wall’s straight grout lines. Another proudly showed off their serpentine wall: “just like Thomas Jefferson’s,” they said in chorus. And for the most part, the students were able to achieve their design intentions, many admitting that they would do it differently in the future. And that is exactly what Brick Day is about, giving young designers the chance to make mistakes. Instructors at the College of Architecture have a similar attitude—learning happens best through doing. Burdette Keeland, the namesake for the college’s future advanced design facility that will be a home for the growing industrial design department, is remembered for such aphorisms as “the war is on the walls.” I will never forget my second-year studio instructor’s ever-present response, “Well, let’s see it.” So let’s put brick to mortar, and see what comes up.

Photo by Thomas Shea Courtesy University of Houston

Alex Lahti is a graduate student in the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture.

Photo by Thomas Shea Courtesy University of Houston

Photo by Thomas Shea Courtesy University of Houston

What happens when you give sophomore architecture students bricks and mortar? Heroic cantilevers go out of style, and formal innovation follows from structural know-how. On Sept. 19 during the annual Brick Day, students at the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture had a chance to put to use the theory they learn in lecturer Robert Morris’ structures class. Brick Day’s rules are simple: each design team of graduate and undergraduate students is asked to transform 20 bricks into a section of loadbearing wall. Their success would be rated on craft ability, design, and structural appropriateness. At this event 20 teams faced off to compete for five awards—platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and zinc. The students set forth trying to recall the difference between rowlock shiner and sailor courses, or remember why the instructor talked so much about the Monadnock Building. So, with pre-drawn plans in hand, each team of six students was given a first lesson in bricklaying. The Texas Masonry Council provided the tools and materials for the event, and the Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston provided the volunteer brick mason instructors. Block by block, the walls began to emerge. As team members specialized – one toweling mortar, another checking the wall for plumb and level – their growing aptitude for laying brick could be read through the courses like a history, each level straighter than the next. But as the

(above) University of Houston second-year architecture student Sonia Huda levels a brick as she and her Team 2 cohorts participate in the ‘Build a Better Brick Wall Contest’ held during the University of Houston’s fall semester. (top right) Team 19 members Christian Hernandez, left, and Tony Torlucci apply mortar to complete their entry. (bottom right) From left to right, Amanda Hoxter, Huong Nguyen, Athena Patira, Rafael Morales, and Justin Drace of Team 9 precisely level the two types of masonry used in constructing their wall.

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