April 14, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – In a rapidly changing world increasingly obsessed with glass and steel, there’s at least one developing crop of brilliant young architects who have become hooked on brick – and the industry that helped lay the foundations for the greatest city in the world couldn’t be happier.
“Many young architects go to firms and they design with metal and glass – and they don’t have the opportunity to use the old materials that we’ve used for hundreds of years,” said Jerry Sullivan, president, International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, Local 1. “But it’s important that they have the opportunity to relate to these materials, to be able to incorporate them in their new designs, and have the ability to use the versatility that comes along with the use of masonry products.”
A little while ago, Sullivan’s group, along with the Associated Brick Mason Contractors of Greater New York, teamed up with the City College of New York, Spitzer School of Architecture, and challenged third-year architectural students to design a meditation space for the French Evangelical Church located on West 16th Street in Manhattan.
This week, the winners of the inaugural competition were announced at CCNY, handed $8,000 in prize money – and extolled to keep designing with brick.
Lenny Chen, 20, and Roman Hatnyaskyy, 22, said they never expected to win the competition, but that their experience designing with brick has been revelatory.
“I was excited to use the new material because so far, I’ve only used concrete and steel for my studio projects,” Chen told LaborPress. “But using brick as a structural material – instead of just a layered material – was really interesting.”
Hatnyaskyy offered further detail.
“I think we went into the project knowing we wanted to explore the load-bearing aspect of brick,” said Hatnyaskyy.
“From there, we just experimented. We tried to explore the really old brick and masonry projects – we had to learn the old ways before we could use them again.”
Fellow competitors Midori Tanabe, 20, and Sainath Dasma, 21, looked to classic structures like the Parthenon in Greece and Hajia Sophia in Turkey, for inspiration.
“Brick is like a lost material right now because a lot of people are looking to other materials for building,” Tanabe said. “But brick is a more sustainable material, and it’s a lot easier in terms of modularity.”
Having never before worked with brick, Dasma said that he and his design partner were immediately excited about the competition.
“We thought it would be a great way for us to challenge ourselves with this old material that has been used for centuries,” Dasma said.
Despite the intrusion of glass and steel on the landscape, Arthur Del Savio, president, Del Savio Construction Corp., and member of the Associated Brick Contractors of New York, said that brickwork is not only here to stay – it is the future.
“It’s the future of the industry,” Del Savio said. “It’s a contemporary material. We just want to reinforce the fact that it is.”
Third Year Undergraduate Studio Coordinator George Ranalli said that one of the reasons for launching the brick and masonry competition was, in fact, to change the mindset of young people coming out of school.
“The profession has become fixated on glass construction,” Ranalli said. “But we’re a city that’s in a cold weather climate. We’re a city that’s made of masonry and brick, for the most part. And I thought it was very important for students to be exposed to this material and see it in all its creative possibilities. To see it as still a very rich material – a material that is certainly capable of being as modern as anything else.”
Prior to the competition, Spitzer School of Architecture students’ even got a chance to lay bricks at the International Masonry Institute Long Island City Training Center in Queens.
“We have seen a decline in masonry buildings and the work that goes into our industry,” Sullivan said. “But by engaging young architects, I think we can bring that back and have them utilize our materials. They really are versatile, and young architects will be able to use them in any design they may want to incorporate them into."