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Chao Wei’s Alterable Brick Wall M.S. Capstone Project Wins Masonry Competition
A December 2017 graduate of the Syracuse Architecture M.S. in architecture program won the student category of the inaugural Joan B. Calambokidis Innovation in Masonry Competition with his alterable brick wall.
Rotating bricks could usher a new wave of dynamic masonry design, allowing building facades to move and adapt to meet real-time conditions and sustainability needs. Watch this YouTube video to learn more about how “Alterable Brick Wall” offers dynamic design possibilities for masonry and how rotating bricks could usher in a new wave of dynamic masonry design, allowing building facades to move and adapt to meet real-time conditions and sustainability needs.
Wei explores this concept with an alterable wall made of custom-shaped bricks. The units, cast from a CNC-fabricated mold, are designed to both interlock and pivot, creating vents that can be opened and closed to allow air and light to enter. In doing so, the project uses passive design strategies that can improve interior conditions while saving energy.
Wei will receive a prize of $5,000, as will the School of Architecture graduate program. Wei’s submission to the committee was his capstone research project, “Alterable Wall: Speculate the Future of Brick Wall System,” presented at Syracuse Architecture at the conclusion of the fall 2017 semester. Assistant Professor Daekwon Park was Chao Wei’s advisor in the M.S. program.
“Very few design competitions invite participants to focus on building materials and components,” says Wei. “Pursuing innovation led me away from existing brick systems to create something new and unconventional. It really was a surprise to win. I’d like to thank Dr. Daekwon Park and the faculty at the Syracuse Architecture graduate program.”
In his project statement, Wei explains, “The simplicity of the system makes it cheap and feasible. Meanwhile, the high thermal capacity of the bricks makes this system suitable for buildings in a dry, hot climate. Other applications include places where adjustable light and ventilation is needed.”
“This submission really caught my imagination,” says DeSimone. “It’s a living wall. The texture is so compelling that if you had it at street level, people could run their hands across it and it would change every day. It’s dynamic, and people don’t always think of masonry in that way.”
The idea of “living buildings” that allow occupants to react to their environment is a cornerstone of dynamic design.
Today’s design industry is interested in pushing the limits of kinetic walls and movable building facades, but they often use metal, glass or steel components. Wei’s project offers the opportunity to design kinetically with masonry, responding to designers’ and owners’ need for green, dynamic building solutions.
“Architects are so fascinated with mobility and movement,” says Jiménez. “When you consider innovation as a technique or material, the kinetic quality of this is so impressive, creating an unexpected application where masonry moves.”
Overall, three transformative proposals were selected as winners of the masonry competition,sponsored by the International Masonry Institute, including entries submitted by architects, engineers, students, academics and firms across the U.S. and Canada.
“The word ‘innovation’ is so powerful, and we see that with our winners,” said Carlos Jiménez, principal and lead designer, Carlos Jiménez Studio, and juror for the competition. “We have architects dreaming about colonizing Mars, academics innovating to improve a historical architectural form and a student using his imagination in a lab to make movable bricks.”
Along with Jiménez, the competition jury was comprised of renowned architects and leaders in the masonry industry: Stephen T. Ayers, architect of the Capitol; James Boland, president of IUBAC & IMI co-chair; Stephen V. DeSimone, president/chief executive of DeSimone Consulting Engineers; Alan Feltoon, senior director of business development at Michael Graves Architecture & Design; and Michael Schmerbeck, president of Back Brook Masonry & IMI co-chair.
Winners were announced on March 6 at an awards ceremony hosted by IMI and the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers in Miami.
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