International Masonry Institute News

Building the Future: Young Designers Get Hands-On Masonry Experience



Since 1989, IMI has hosted the University of Notre Dame Masonry Day Design-Build Competition. Over the years, this annual event has evolved and today is a dynamic competition that allows students to design and build their own masonry structures.

Hands-on opportunity

This competition goes beyond what architecture students learn in materials class and is their opportunity actually to handle and build with the materials. This program has touched the lives of many young designers by giving them an opportunity to take the concepts they’ve learned in class and get their hands dirty building their own designs.

Each year 50-100 students participate in this program as part of their curriculum. The students are prepared for the competition with a classroom lecture. In a role reversal, apprentices from the Local 4 IN/KY Apprenticeship and Training program work with the students as advisors. The final designs are judged by local architects and professionals. Students are awarded gift cards to the school bookstore as incentives for the best designs.


A sense of accomplishment

When we see the end result, it’s amazing to think that some of these students have never picked up a trowel in their lives. Students go from saying, “I don’t want to get my hands dirty…” to being able to say, “I made that.” There is a visible shift in the students’ perspective over the course of the day. When the projects are complete, you can see the pride the students feel in the work.

This opportunity teaches them that it’s more than just “1 over 2.” There are so many things that masonry can do, and we give them an opportunity to see this firsthand. This program instills in the students a drive to try new things and really push the limits of masonry.

Expanding the creative horizon

Every year there’s a new focus to the competition. No matter what they build in their allotted 4’ x 4’ space, the important part is that they see their design come to life. The students are given a standard set of materials to start with, but we also include a few items that are a little more out of the ordinary. We include these items to help the students expand their thinking and try new things.

Once you teach a designer that this material is feasible and has capabilities beyond a straight line it can go as far as their imagination.

Lasting Impact

Over the many years since the program began, we have seen many students complete the program, graduate, and ultimately take this knowledge into their practice as they progress in their careers. At the start of the journey, this program shows them that IMI is a source of knowledge as they train for their careers. This sets the stage for IMI to continue as a valued advisor throughout their careers.

This advisor role can take many forms, but ultimately it means more projects using better masonry techniques are being designed and constructed.

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Students get to see firsthand how construction industry players come together to build a project. The program is an introduction to how different organizations can each provide value and ultimately work together to bring designs to life. IMI and the professors at Notre Dame work closely to put this program together, but many others get involved as well. For example, suppliers donate materials and local architects stop by to talk with students during the program.

The Foundation is Set

The Notre Dame Masonry Day Design Build Competition continues to reach new students each year as they prepare for a career in architecture. Hosting this program allows IMI to be involved at the beginning of that journey and begin a relationship with these young professionals that will last. Programs like these are at the foundation of our principals and help to provide support, education and guidance to students in the use of masonry.

Author: David Collins, CSI