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Monica Musialowski on Oct 10, 2023

As part of our ongoing continuing education to promote creativity and hands-on learning in the field of architecture, a handful of BBA staff had the opportunity to participate in the “Hands-On Masonry” event hosted by Bricks, Inc. this summer. The event was hosted by the International Masonry Institute (IMI in collaboration with Brick of Chicago (photography and walking tours) and Bricks, Inc. (a leading brick supplier in the Chicago market). Practicing design professionals were invited to the robust and newly constructed Bricks, Inc. showroom in Little Village to learn about masonry resources and to try their hand at being a craftsperson for a day.

The hands-on bricklaying portion was definitely the highlight. Everyone was handed a trowel and a wheelbarrow full of mortar and bricks to put up a sample wall. Participants were able to learn about the selection and preparation of different types of bricks, as well as the proper brick-laying and mortaring techniques. Experienced masons were on hand to provide guidance and instruction, ensuring that participants had a thorough understanding of the processes involved. It was a humbling experience, to say the least, watching the practiced hands of the masons was as delightful as it was informative. The ease and speed with which they worked was awe-inspiring. There’s a trick to picking up and manipulating the mortar just so, as to create the perfect bed to evenly stack the bricks equal mortar joints. The architects playing masons for the day were slow and clumsy compared to the tried hands of the masons who patiently coached us. Our resulting sample walls probably would not pass inspection, but it was exciting and informative to physically be a part of the construction. 

BBA Architects has frequently designed masonry houses and drawn masonry wall details every day, so seeing the skill and labor required to physically lay brick and bring a drawing to reality was an invaluable experience for all of the architects who participated. Understanding the craft is essential to good design, and this event took aim at that, encouraging conversation between designers and artisans. 

Beyond gaining an appreciation for the work, there was also a resource component with presentations on some of the more recent advances in masonry construction techniques, resources for assistance in product research and detailing, and pitfalls to avoid in masonry design. Critical to all construction detailing, including masonry, is the management of water infiltration. Proper drainage and treatment of the finished surface is essential to successful installations. The IMI has a team of specialists dedicated to working with architects and contractors to provide guidance on specific installations and building construction details. This is a valuable resource for projects that require a more creative approach to common details, particularly as building envelopes change and adapt toward achieving higher insulation values to meet energy codes. 

"Hands-on Masonry" offered a comprehensive program that covered various aspects of the masonry trade. Not only was it a unique learning opportunity for us, but it also underscored the importance of skilled trades in the construction industry. and the benefit of seeking builder input during preliminary design to create solutions that are not only beautiful and unique but that are made to last.