Atkinson-Noland & Associates, Inc. has spent more than 20 years cultivating a practice focused on structural evaluation and repair, as well as fostering a firm culture centered on education.
By Cory Sekine-Pettite
Boulder, Colo.-based Atkinson-Noland & Associates Inc. (ANA) is a pioneer in research and development for materials science and structural behavior in masonry structures. Founded in 1975 by University of Colorado professors James Noland and Richard Atkinson, ANA’s early focus was on research. One of the firm’s first projects involved studies into the properties of masonry mortar, funded by the Colorado Masonry Institute (now the Rocky Mountain Masonry Institute). The firm also has completed research projects funded by the National Science Foundation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the United Nations, NATO, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studying different aspects of masonry, rock, soil and concrete behavior.
Today, the firm is largely involved in consulting engineering, forensic engineering and historic preservation, but still is involved in research and development for private firms. Its niche market is evaluation and repair, a field with which few design firms have much experience. (ANA doesn’t really compete with most design firms, but frequently is hired by other engineers to study specific aspects of their project). Architects, engineers, mason contractors and test laboratories often hire ANA because of this expertise.
Since the passing of its founders in the mid-1990s, ANA has been led by four principals (stockholders): Michael Schuller, P.E. (president); David Woodham, P.E. (vice president); Deborah Millennor (business manager); and Donald Harvey, P.E. Masonry Design spoke with Schuller about the firm’s past, present and future, and the future of masonry construction.
“Our history with research and development helps us to develop solutions that use new approaches or materials,” Schuller said. “We tend to get involved in challenging projects that require a more ‘academic’ approach than most engineering firms can provide.”
For example, the firm has completed some “real interesting” stabilization and strengthening projects over the years, according to Schuller. Currently, it is working with Masonry Solutions (Baltimore) on a seismic retrofit project in downtown Charleston, S.C. (Grace Episcopal Church), as well as a similar project in Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans. The firm also is working with Integrated Conservation Resources (New York) and R.A. Heintges Associates (New York) at the United Nations building in New York. Further, ANA has worked on some fascinating projects through the World Monuments Fund (www.wmf.org): Easter Island and a series of temples in Cambodia, including Angkor Wat.
Additionally, the firm is hired for a number of forensic investigations each year. Past projects include the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; the Colorado State Capitol building; and the Basilica in Baltimore (known as “America’s First Cathedral”). For its forensic work, ANA uses a wide range of techniques, ranging from highly sophisticated (microwave radar, infrared thermography, ultrasonic velocity) to quite simple (sounding hammer and water spray nozzles), Schuller says. “Plus there are several in-place evaluation methods – testing for masonry compression behavior, shear strength and anchor strength – to measure engineering properties of masonry materials,” Schuller added. “We actually fabricate and sell flat-jack equipment for masonry testing, and are just now introducing a structural monitoring package to track tilt, crack opening and temperature in buildings.
“We also have almost 20 years of experience using injection methodologies for masonry repair and stabilization. We work with Masonry Solutions on these projects and have worked on more than 200 buildings across the United States with them.”
To support its many and varied projects, ANA established its own testing laboratory at its headquarters in Boulder, Colo. “We don’t do a lot of commercial testing, but will usually have some aspect of material evaluation on our projects,” Schuller said. “This is especially true for historic preservation projects, where we need to evaluate in-place materials – brick, stone, mortar, plaster, et cetera – in order to formulate compatible repair materials.”
To be sure, ANA employees are not content to just stay within their own research facilities with their eyes focused only on their projects. As a group, they are heavily involved with local, national and international organizations to stay abreast of the latest industry developments. These organizations include MSJC Code committees, The Masonry Society, the Colorado Preservation Institute, RMMI, the Association for Preservation Technology, ASTM and others. Continuing the education tradition started by its professor/founders, the firm also is involved with several, professional continuing education and university-level programs.
“We teach courses to university students, architects, engineers and contractors about different aspects of masonry design and construction,” Schuller says. “All of our professional staff has been involved in teaching in Colorado, throughout the United States and internationally.”
The ANA team is able to incorporate their professional experiences and the firm’s many successful projects into their educational endeavors. Schuller says it is good for students – whether at the university level or practicing engineers – to learn from real projects and to understand the little details that can spell the difference between a good design and a problem situation. “Case studies are very useful for getting the point across,” he says.
The firm’s commitment to education is commendable. Masonry design and engineering instruction is a rarity in U.S. universities, meaning that few A/E/C professionals receive any education in the subject unless they take it upon themselves to study. The result is – as Schuller noted – that designers naturally use materials with which they are familiar, i.e, competing materials such as concrete and steel. Schuller highlighted a few masonry education programs of which architects and engineers should take advantage.
“The best efforts going right now are by The Masonry Society, which puts on a ‘University Professors Masonry Workshop’ [UPMWs] each year. Local promotional organizations usually sponsor professors from each region of the United States to attend the workshop to learn how to effectively educate engineers and architects about masonry design. We’ve helped teach at some of the UPMWs.
“We are also active with several of the masonry organizations around the country teaching mason contractor certification courses. RMMI started a mason certification program, and many organizations around the country – including now the MCAA – are offering certification programs. We’ve helped teach a number of these courses, usually having to do with masonry materials, testing, inspection and engineering.”
The firm’s involvement in international education efforts started first with joint research projects (Japan, Italy, Slovenia and other nations) and continues with seminars, standards committees and conference presentations. Schuller said the process “gives us insight into how other parts of the world address some of the same issues we have here in the Unites States. And, we in the U.S. can learn a lot from studying European approaches to historic preservation. Many of our buildings are coming of age now whereas people in other parts of the world have been dealing with historic buildings for hundreds of years.”
With this knowledge and experience, ANA is poised to be an industry leader in preserving, maintaining and repairing the nation’s many historic masonry buildings. The firm also is striving to share its know-how, spreading the word about the many advantages of masonry construction.
“We need to remember the strong history of masonry that exists throughout the country. Most designers have forgotten – or never learned – how to design gravity walls and masonry arches,” Schuller said. “I don’t see society going back to masonry arch bridges, but we should revisit the concept in certain applications. I see so much money spent on addressing steel corrosion; we should think about how we can better use masonry’s great compression capacity to reduce future maintenance costs.”
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