Monday, February 16, 2015

This is the fourteenth year of a successfully running opportunity for students in the University of Arizona, Architecture 222, Building Materials and Methods course to have a hands-on learning experience by actually constructing masonry walls. During the early part of each spring semester, an average of 60 architecture students, with their instructors, are invited to visit Superlite Block Company on the northwest side of Tucson, to participate in a tour of the factory and learn how concrete blocks are made. During the following five or six weeks, students in teams of four, equipped with hardhats, safety vests, and glasses participate in first designing, and then constructing, small masonry walls. Students are provided with a selection of three or four masonry block products, a limitation of 32 square feet of wall area, and encouragement to be creative. The results from the wall constructions each year are quite impressive. The program was started by School of Architecture Professor Mary Hardin and Martin Pagnotta of Superlite Block Company in 2001. For the past five years School of Architecture Lecturer Ray Barnes has been teaching the ARC 222 course and coordinating the wall building program with Martin. Terry Rathbun from Sun Valley Masonry joins the students each year to share the wall construction techniques used by professional masons. The first day of laying block is rather intimidating for the students and consists of training on how to spread mortar and then construct their first course of block. The next four days on site are productive, fun, and intensely focused as the students begin to see their exciting masonry wall designs take shape. Students learn the problems and solutions associated with complex masonry designs. Students develop a strong appreciation for masons in the trade – who have honed their craft through many years of experience. This opportunity for students is both humbling and highly rewarding. At the end of the program each year, approximately 15 small but impressive masonry walls are left on display in the yard at Superlite Block Company as inspiration for the real-life architects who will occasionally stop by to look. The students move on to further studies in building construction and design, but with a greater knowledge of masonry construction and with a greater understanding for the importance of developing early relationships with the people responsible for realizing their architectural designs. You are invited to visit our wall construction program, currently underway. The wall construction started February 3rd and is scheduled to end March 3rd. The students work from 12:30 PM to 3:00 PM each Tuesday at the southeast corner of the Superlite Block Company yard (2200 West Gardner Lane, Tucson, AZ 85705, 520-887-1234). February 17th or February 24th would be ideal days for you to visit our program and witness the intense learning taking place. Photos are attached so you get an idea of what you would see on-site. Please contact us at rbarnes@email.arizona.edu or 520-575-5518 to set up a time to discover the excitement of our program.