July 2009: Technology


July 2009


The tools of masonry have, for the most part, remained unchanged for centuries. A 21st century trowel, for instance, isn’t much different than a trowel used during the construction of great cathedrals during the 16th century. A hammer is still a hammer and a chisel is still a chisel. The construction trades as a whole have changed dramatically, however. There are more options for customers now, from steel stud and tilt up walls, to wood frame and even straw bales and used tires. With all the choices, a customer’s decision is often a function of how well a contractor markets his product.

With the emergence of new materials and a more competitive marketplace, masonry construction has lost a substantial slice of the pie over the last several years. But now there is a new masonry tool (a decidedly 21st century tool) that can help masonry contractors regain some of that lost market share, a one-stop shop that will enable contractors to show potential customers why total masonry systems are still the way to go.

Imagine a Web site that motivates customers to design their next buildings with masonry – not precast or tilt-up or synthetic masonry, but real, total masonry construction. is the answer.

The idea is the brainchild of the Masonry Executive Council (MEC), a coalition of professionals from more than a dozen masonry contractor associations,” says Ann Wolter, a consultant for the Vision 2020 project and the coordinator of “With, contractors have an answer if an architect calls looking for contemporary examples of masonry in a specific type of building; or if a contractor asks you to tell him the difference between a masonry cavity wall and a steel stud system; or your foreman calls and says he needs to show his crew some proper flashing details…right now.”

Tom Daniel, president of GBC Concrete and Masonry Construction Inc. and current president of the Masonry Contractors Association of America (MCAA), recalls the meetings that led to the creation of the Web site. “We recognized that we’d been talking about promotional and marketing needs for years, but we were always fragmented. Everyone tended to focus on their own area of expertise, rather than masonry as a whole. From that new starting point, we decided that we needed to incorporate all the various masonry specialties into one easily accessible place. What we visualized was a starting point that everyone (contractors, designers, suppliers) could use when they were talking to a customer.”

The site
The Web site was designed with a few simple goals in mind:

  • Promote the entire wall system, not just brick or block or stone
  • Make use of the medium that most customers prefer – the internet
  • Provide technical information and design inspiration, and keep it current and ever-changing
  • Capitalize on the information that already exists throughout the industry but has been, up to now, fragmented.

“The Web site offers contractors a comprehensive means to teach potential customers about all the benefits of choosing masonry construction,” says Wolter. “They can learn why masonry structures outlast and outperform all other building systems. They’ll figure out which masonry wall system is right for their next building and what it will cost. They can access data pertaining to every aspect of masonry design and construction, from fire ratings and moisture control, to cost cutting strategies and cleaning practices.”

The site consists of three major sections: Inspiration, Information and Interaction. The Inspiration section features photos of completed projects that can be sorted according to each user’s preferences: building type (such as museums, schools or libraries), exterior material (brick, block, stone), or regionally such as city, state or municipality. The completed projects gallery is more than just pictures of nice work, however; each picture is a link to technical information on the project, including details and main drawings.

The Information section focuses on technical information on various wall systems, including the benefits and challenges associated with a specific system, regional variations, and even LEED ratings. Users can also find articles, presentations and videos pertaining to particular wall systems.

The features of the Interaction section include forums on design, structural issues, construction and materials, as well as a Masonry Resource Directory to help visitors find a contractor or supplier near them. There is also an Industry Events Calendar, which lists upcoming meetings of interests and educational opportunities. is designed to be a portal to all the best masonry information that’s available on the internet,” says Wolter. “We were never trying to replace all the fine industry Web sites that are already available on the internet. Instead, we’ve organized all the available information in the most user-friendly form, allowing people to arrive at the most appropriate  Web site without having to go through a time consuming internet search process.”

“It truly is a new tool that contractors and designers can utilize,” says Daniel. “We can show examples of options and real world applications to designers and customers and, more importantly, it’s going to help us all be on the same page as an industry.”

Check it out
Of course, the best way to learn about is to log on and surf a bit. Take a look at the Masonry Gallery of projects from around the country or review the different wall system profiles that are featured. Study the section titled “Masonry Basics,” which contains primers on 25 different components of masonry walls, or search for architectural details, presentations, publications or technical standards in the Knowledge Base. Visit the online cost calendar or the bulletin board.

“And…feel free to leave a comment. We check them regularly and we take them to heart,” says Wolter. “Listening to input is one of the ways we continue to improve the site. If we’ve done our job right, we’ve taken some of the mystery out of designing with masonry, and we’ve provided contractors and designers with the ammunition to convince clients that masonry is a fantastic choice for virtually any type of building.”

Chris Mayo is a freelance writer based in Albuquerque, N.M.

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