The Teamwork Behind Green Design

Putting the best solutions into high-performing buildings

For IMI, sustainability is far from abstract. The new BAC/IMI National Training Center in Maryland was designed as a LEED-certified facility, and is in the process of obtaining Silver LEED certification.
For IMI, sustainability is far from abstract. The new BAC/IMI National Training Center in Maryland was designed as a LEED-certified facility, and is in the process of obtaining Silver LEED certification.

When it comes to sustainable design, old is new again. While green building is touted as the most modern of trends, its integrated approach is similar to the classic tradition of a “master builder,” who was able to provide a design solution rich with multi-disciplinary expertise.

Today’s version of the master builder for green building is a team of multi-disciplinary experts, all of whom are focused on putting their best solutions into a high-performing building. That approach works best when both designer and builder thoroughly understand the objectives, and apply their expertise to creating value in the early stages of design.

That is where the International Masonry Institute (IMI) comes in. IMI is a strategic alliance between the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) and their signatory contractors. IMI’s goal is to promote quality masonry construction.

As with all of its programs, IMI provides a link between designers and contractors. We deliver sustainability education to all members of the team – designer, contractor and craftworker. “By ensuring consistent understanding, we can build to designers’ expectations,” says David Sovinski, director of market development and technical services. “That helps everyone achieve the maximum benefit.”

The St. Mary's Duluth Clinic First Street Building was the first healthcare project in Minnesota (and the largest in the country) to receive LEED Gold status in 2007.
The St. Mary’s Duluth Clinic First Street Building was the first healthcare project in Minnesota (and the largest in the country) to receive LEED Gold status in 2007.

A green education

For each audience, IMI uses a variety of approaches to show masonry’s green qualities, including seminars, lunchbox sessions and a user-friendly LEED Checklist for meeting the intents of up to 35 points under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED® Green Building Rating System™. Overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED offers benchmarks for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings (see sidebar).

Seminar topics include LEED and Masonry, Energy Efficient Design, Material Selection, Life Cycle Assessment, and Structural Masonry Construction. IMI is a USGBC member and an Education Provider.

For designers, IMI makes presentations to architectural firms and American Institute of Architects groups throughout the country, as well as national events such as CSI CONSTRUCT2008 and the AIA regional conventions. These presentations are designed to help architects get the most mileage from masonry in terms of energy use, sustainable site solutions, material and resources applications, and indoor air quality. Seminar feedback typically includes praise for the comprehensive yet user-friendly Checklist.

Designers also take advantage of the IMI Masonry Detailing Series, which offers a variety of masonry details and wall types to make it even easier to incorporate masonry in LEED-certified projects. In fact, the details were developed with masonry’s green versatility and performance values firmly in mind. In addition, IMI provides project-specific consultations on both green design and construction issues.

For contractors, IMI offers a “Sustainable Masonry” class though its Contractor College program. The class helps them understand how masonry contributes to LEED points and how to increase their competitiveness in this new field. The course evaluates LEED specification requirements relative to performance and product selection, and analyzes how cavity wall construction impacts the principles of energy efficiency and sustainability. Areas of contractor responsibility include construction waste management, building reuse tactics, and building envelope and performance. Understanding these topics prepares contractors to meet the construction requirements of LEED building.

Along with the technical issues covered, contractors are encouraged to have early participation in the design team and to ensure proper installation.

Sustainability education is equally important for BAC craftworkers, upon whose skills both the designer and contractor ultimately depend.

This project in Boston’s Chinatown section used several green strategies, including salvaged granite for the waterfall stonework, and regional materials that included concrete pavers from Pennsylvania and granite from Quebec for the benches.
This project in Boston’s Chinatown section used several green strategies, including salvaged granite for the waterfall stonework, and regional materials that included concrete pavers from Pennsylvania and granite from Quebec for the benches.

Naturally green masonry

Under the LEED rating system, key considerations include sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmnental quality and innovation in design. Masonry’s sustainability selling points include strong energy performance, good indoor air quality, lifecycle cost advantages and lower embodied energy (the energy it takes to make and transport a material).

In the race for LEED points, one potential pitfall is selecting materials for points’ sake, rather than their true contribution to a building’s performance. Fortunately, masonry addresses a variety of building requirements and provides a synergistic overall contribution. It’s not just a brick; it’s a system.

In other words, masonry materials can be greater than the sum of their parts. Using masonry as part of the building envelope can enhance a building’s overall energy performance, while at the same time providing structural foundation and, depending on the material, still allow for light.

Creating Craft/Architect Partners Through Masonry Camp

While designers and builders have been known to experience some friction in their working relationships, the International Masonry Institute (IMI) hopes to change that by fostering an appreciation for collaboration, and for quality masonry among tomorrow’s practitioners.

IMI created Masonry Camp more than a decade ago to bring together young architects and craftworkers in a non-competitive environment, where they think and act like members of the same team, on a design-build challenge.

The weeklong program also gives them a unique opportunity to experience firsthand the masonry crafts – brick, stone, tile, terrazzo, plaster and restoration/PCC. The sessions are held each summer at the John J. Flynn BAC/IMI International Training Center in Bowie, Md.

For the young designers, it is an exhausting but enlightening way to understand how things get built, and the training investment it takes to build well. “Camp helped me appreciate how it goes together,” said Rocco Petitto from JCJ Architecture in Connecticut. “I also got a greater appreciation for those who build what I draw, and their skill.” For both the technical knowledge and the respect gained for the craftworkers, “It was an extremely valuable experience,” said Diane Tien from Perkins & Will in New York.

For the craftworkers, it is a special opportunity to try other crafts with top instructors, and to get a sense of architecture’s challenges by trying their hands at it during the design studio process. While bricklayer William Brady from BAC Local 4 New Jersey found the experience to be “mind-opening,” it also was practical, notes Dewaun McNeil from BAC Local 56 Illinois. “It gives craftworkers insights into what architects really expect us to be able to do,” he says.

Once the teams move from the design phase to constructing one element of their plans, the architects experience the satisfaction of bringing a design to life with their own hands. They also get a taste of jobsite reality. “It was helpful for them to see the problems we run into in the field from their designs,” said recent participant Jason Syriac from BAC Local 1 Connecticut.

The ultimate lesson of Masonry Camp, notes Josh Susitti from BAC Local 8 Wisconsin, “is that good teamwork will take you a long way.”

That mutual conversation can improve design, agrees Carlos Jimenez, principal of Carlos Jimenez Studio in Houston, who participated in the critique of the teams’ plans and elements, and presented an inspiring lecture. “There is something about masonry that is always so comforting,” he said. Along with its sense of durability, “You always feel the presence of the craftsman.”

For guest lecturer and critique panelist Mark Robbins, Dean of Syracuse University’s School of Architecture, the program’s mission is vital. “You can do nothing about a building without a deep understanding of both crafts.” MD

Comparing masonry to glass curtain wall design shows that masonry can have the added value as a load bearing material, as a thermal mass, and a positive impact on indoor air quality, among other qualities.

A new look at old materials

One commendable facet of the green race is how it is inspiring designers and contractors to look at old materials in a new light. “Brick can offer more than aesthetic solutions,” notes William McConnell of Architectural Paving & Stone, Inc, in Weymouth, Mass.

Take humble brick pavers. Instead of putting them on a traditional sand bed, they can be placed on pedestals or other setting systems to function as a radiant floor, collecting energy from the sun and transferring it to a below-grade water system. When used on a roof deck or terrace, they also offer more usable space. Another advantage is the easy maintenance of an accessible and flexible paver system.

Another popular LEED strategy that also offers easy zoning compliance is the use of drainage pavers designed specifically for streets, driveways and parking lots. When set on a washed aggregate setting bed, they let water penetrate down into the subsoil.

McConnell recommends a stroll around the campuses of Harvard and MIT, where such pavers are being used extensively in both new and reconditioned buildings. For Boston’s endless “Big Dig” projects downtown, the firm has used brick, precast and granite pavers to the same effect.

The IMI Checklist

The IMI LEED Checklist addresses all masonry materials – brick, stone, tile, terrazzo, marble, plaster and cement – and shows how they support the criteria for achieving up to 35 LEED points. To download a copy of the Checklist, go to

His advice includes paying close attention to the specifications, layout and movement issues, and choosing the right product and manufacturer. Yet the most critical element, he says, is having people skilled in the specific systems. That training investment pays, he adds. “The technical knowledge and the craftsmanship of the BAC members we have trained in this specialty field have actually increased the use of these types of products, because of their professionalism throughout the country.”

Beyond basic brick

As IMI works with designers to keep up on new masonry applications, the guiding principle is that, whenever it becomes part of a surface, or a divider between the outside and inside, a masonry material can offer versatility.

A white plaster ceiling that allows more light to bounce off can save lighting costs and reduce heat load. Concrete block, with traditional values like fire rating, thermal and acoustic advantages, now include recycled content and different finishes that address indoor air quality and resist mold. Autoclaved aerated concrete block, which has been called “a concrete block on steroids,” offers even higher performance with less thickness.

Tile and terrazzo materials provide recyclable answers while offering low VOC emissions, and depending on location, contributing to thermal mass. For Chicago’s Ford Calumet Environmental Center, IMI worked with Studio Gang Architects on 35,000 square feet of recycled terrazzo that pays homage to the area’s steel-producing past. City officials are hopeful that the project’s many innovations will set the green standard for all of the city’s public projects.

Many cities now require LEED or comparable certification on public projects, and some cities, such as Washington, D.C., even demand it on private projects. Between regulations and incentives, “It is a trend that is here to stay,” says BAC President and IMI Co-Chair John J. Flynn. “And we will be ready.”

Maria Viteri, AIA, is director of program development for IMI. Hazel Bradford is IMI’s director of communications.