Case Study #2
Ravenscroft – Articulated Masonry Walls
The masonry enclosure of Ravenscroft Hall was designed to showcase the heart of soul of the program – the performance hall. Acoustic priorities required a mass wall construction and 12” solid-grouted CMU block fit the bill. The finish selection and install detail of the masonry is where the typically standard wall type was really allowed to sing. The design team worked on a scheme of “push-pull” placement that would instill movement and shadow play across the 24ft tall walls. The design is based on a digital translation of the building owner’s favorite musical score with the pattern most concentrated at the main approaching wall and allowing the pattern “fades” back to flat block as the shell wraps around the space. Being at the table early with the design team allowed us to walk step-by-step through cost and detailing complexities of the critical design element. We moved quite fluidly from design iterations to full scale mockups to tuckpoint and cleanup. Now lit with theatrical lighting, the 4x16 honed block commands attention with subtle moves and refined steel edging creating a dramatic backdrop as you move throughout the space.
We coordinated closely with the design team to produce a document that would simply, yet accurately, translate the expansive design to a useful drawing for the field crew. The task was to take dimensional moves for thousands of blocks and provide a manageable installation guide. Testing different ideas through the mockup construction we settled on a colored diagram of each masonry elevation. This colorful document was vital in serving as a visual and intuitive plan for tracking all the movements and making sure a back-check could take place before each consecutive grout pour. The masonry foreman was relieved that this level of thoroughness was provided to him prior to lying the first course and he was then able to focus on the goal in front of him.
The saying goes, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. This was obviously the case with our masonry walls where pulling off the unique design at the exterior face of the walls left us with an inverse of the design on the interior side where it was not needed not beneficial for the remaining construction. The masonry block was not expressed at the inside of the performance hall but rather served as the wall surface to build from and create layers of acoustical treatment, systems routing, equipment installation and a finish layer of large-scale fabric wrapped aluminum wall panels nicknamed “blades”.
Foreseeing the critical integration of these layers and the tight tolerances for the nested blade frames we knew we needed to account for and track the undulating surface of the wall. The masonry walls were scanned and 3D modeled and we implemented this information directly into our shop drawing process for the critical systems and blade fabrication. This exercise allowed us to be ahead of any issues that would arise from the protruding or recessing blocks modules which would ultimately come to affect structural embed plates, acoustical element integration and mounting points for the large scale architectural blades. By leveraging digital technologies and modeling software early in the process we strive to minimize downtime due to excessive RFI’s and costly field modifications.
Mockup + Build
We know the value a full scale mockup can bring when working through new ideas and we push to start building them early and often. When the design team brought the “push-pull” design idea to us we called up our top mason and got to work. Through multiple mockups we were able to fully wrap our (collective) heads around the deceptively complex idea – push and pull thousands of blocks in 1/4in increments while maintaining a critically specific and mirrored pattern. These early mockups also helped the masons better understand how to modify their standard install process and, thus, cost estimate the scope accurately.
As an added benefit the design team could see that it did not take much, in terms of block moves, to make a dramatic effect. The design was refined to a manageable scheme of longer runs of block in a pattern of just (4) total movements – zero surface, two moves in or two moves out. Structurally this scheme also allowed the masonry to keep enough block-to-block overlap to maintain structural integrity and not compromise the mortar bed joints which could lead to a catastrophic grout blowout. Mockup #2 sealed the deal and with a solid understanding of the task at hand and the full confidence of the design team and ownership group we began layout on the first course.
At 180 Degrees we know that an exceptional architectural statement is only as good as the finished execution. This is where the prerequisite for top-level craftsmanship cannot be overstated. Our mason took this design challenge as seriously as this was on show during the install sequence. Armed with nearby mockups and a colored diagram in hand the masonry foreman oversaw every course of the wall construction yet never lifted a block. He served as orchestrator of the operation and knew the objective was to make sure his crew followed the pattern precisely – any mistake in layup could lead to an extensive and costly teardown and rebuild. This diligence paid off and the install of the masonry walls beat the anticipated schedule and set a high bar for the rest of the construction trades to maintain as the project progressed through construction.