Sunday, December 29, 2013

Business Model for Innovative Masonry Design

The focus of my work as a masonry designer has been manufactured concrete block.  I have chosen to focus on this specific field of masonry because it presents a way to have a large impact on how we build things.  The concrete block industry is ubiquitous, with block manufacturers found throughout the US and around the globe.  The science and engineering used to manufacture concrete block have been developed to a high art; the methods and materials used by this industry have evolved over the past hundred years or so to an incredibly high state of efficiency and economy:  very high strength concrete masonry units are produced and sold at a very low cost.  The consumer reaps the benefits of over a century of science and engineering development and is able to purchase this superior masonry product at a very low price.  Manufactured concrete block represents incredible value to the consumer.

Introduction of a new masonry unit which employs the machinery, manufacturing equipment, materials, and distribution processes developed by industry stands on the shoulders of over a century of genius and ingenuity of skilled engineers and the hard work of block makers and working masons.  Thoughtful design allows a maximum benefit of the existing infrastructure of the concrete block industry.  A new design should work well with the existing materials, equipment and processes already in place.

The challenge of introducing a new masonry design to the manufactured concrete block industry is creating a business model which creates greater profits for the block maker and a better product at a low cost for the consumer while still providing some profit for the masonry innovators who bring new designs to market.  How is this done?

The key to achieving these goals is high volume of production.  Since the product (concrete block) must be sold at a relatively low cost to stay competitive with other forms of construction, a large volume of this product must be sold.  This has long been realized by industry, and is the driving principle behind the development of concrete block manufacturing equipment.  This principle has brought block manufacturing to the highly efficient state of development in which it exists today.

The block designer has to provide a value proposition to the block maker.  In my case, the value proposition is that the block maker will sell more product at a higher price and make greater profits.  We can do this by providing use of our molds to the block maker at no cost.  The very high efficiency of block making equipment means that a block maker can produce substantial inventory of product in a relatively short time.  This means that the block maker does not require a set of molds to be in constant use: inventory for a year’s worth of sales can be produced in a relatively short time.  This means that molds can be rotated among different manufacturers, and a given set of molds is shared among a number of block manufacturers.
The masonry system I have developed creates a better building system at a lower cost for the consumer.  This is the value proposition for the customer: a better building at a lower cost.  Since the entire building is made from manufactured block, the consumer purchases a higher volume of block.  This meets the needs of both the consumer (a better building at lower cost) and the block maker (higher volume of sales and greater profits).

Finally, there must be profit for the developer who brings an improved masonry product to market.  We must recoup the substantial investment in molds, the costs of product development, and the costs of sales; while finally still providing profit.  This is achieved through royalties.  The masonry designer does not pay the block maker to produce block beforehand, and the block maker does not pay the designer until block are sold.  The block designer gets a percentage or a royalty on block sold by the manufacturer.  Again, the key to this is a high volume of sales.  The masonry system I have developed requires a large number of block because the entire building is made of block: this is how high volume of sales is achieved.  To make this feasible it is necessary for the number of block made and sold by the manufacturer to be measurable and verifiable.    This is typically achieved by gauging the rate of mold wear on a set of molds.  A typical set of molds is usually good for around 100,000 production cycles before wear parts on the mold need to be replaced (e.g., if a mold produces 2 block per cycle, then production is 200,000 masonry units before wear parts are replaced).  It is also possible to simply sell the mold to a block maker; however the production capacity of a set of molds will usually exceed the total sales of a specialty block.  It makes more economic sense to rotate the mold among various block manufacturers.  This also saves the block maker the expense of having to purchase molds.

Using this business model, we can meet the needs of the block maker and the customer while still creating substantial profit.  Our current model is able to produce a very high strength, fireproof, very low maintenance, attractive building envelope for a cost of around $10 per square foot; average costs of building envelopes are typically around $200-350 per square foot (we create an incredible value for consumers).  This model avails itself of the high efficiency of the concrete block manufacturing industry and creates a superior construction system at a lower cost.   The customer gets a better building at a great value, and the block maker and masonry designer realize more profits.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Spherical Tanks: Better than Cylinders

Storage tanks are used for a large number of applications and for storing various materials.  Tanks can be used to store water, oil, fracking chemicals, toxic material and so forth.  The most typical configuration for a storage tank is a cylinder, with a flat bottom, and vertical cylindrical walls.  This cylindrical design is not the most stable, but is susceptible to flooding, erosion, and subsequent spillage.

Recent flooding in Colorado has shown that cylindrical storage tanks are not stable, but are vulnerable to flooding, erosion, toppling and failure.

By contrast, a spherical tank is much more stable.  A sphere does not have a top or bottom: it is round and inherently much more stable than a cylinder.  A sphere is not susceptible to erosion, toppling, asymmetry, leaning or collapse in the same way a cylindrical tank is.  A sphere cannot be knocked over on its side, because it is round.   A high-strength spherical tank made from interlocking triangular concrete block woven together with steel cable or rebar is vastly superior to conventional cylindrical tanks.


This obvious feature of spherical geometry is so simple as to be self-evident and would seem hardly worth pointing out.  However, since cylindrical tanks are failing, and have failed, and are likely to continue to fail, it is worth showing here that a spherical storage tank is much more stable, inexpensive, easier to assemble, more efficient and far safer than the conventional cylindrical tanks used (especially by the oil and gas and fracking industries) which have shown their instability and poor performance recently in Colorado.


While the recent flooding in Colorado is described as a 500 or 1,000 year event, it may cause people to think:  “This won’t happen again for a long time, we won’t have to worry about this sort of event for hundreds of years.”  This attitude neglects the danger posed by storm surges along coastal areas during hurricanes, and also neglects our changing climate which is prone to additional flooding across the country and around the world.   For example, all the radioactive toxic water stored at Fukushima is stored in cylindrical tanks: at the very location where a tsunami could strike again, any time.

Spherical tanks are inherently more stable, safe and better than cylindrical tanks.  It is obvious and self-evident as recently demonstrated in Colorado.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Masonry for Hurricane-Prone Areas

With changing climate, coastal areas are increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.  Hurricane Sandy serves as one example demonstrating the vulnerability of heavily populated coastal areas to these threats.

The masonry system described on this blog lends itself very well to meeting the challenges coastal areas face with our changing climate.  The same set of manufactured interlocking triangular concrete block can be employed in a number of applications suitable to withstand the conditions expected in these vulnerable coastal areas.  This masonry system is very high strength, affordable, easy to install, offers extensive design flexibility, and can employ steel reinforcement for additional strength and hardening.

Some of the applications which will effectively address the threats posed in coastal areas by changing climate include:

·         Residential structures – Entire homes can be built, including the roof.  This high strength configuration will withstand sustained hurricane-force winds, storm surges, flying debris, and much more. 

·         Safe rooms – A safe room can be economically provided for individual residences.  In the event of a hurricane or bad storm, this will provide a safe refuge from extreme weather.  Safe rooms are built above ground, to minimize threat of flooding and storm surges.

·         Levees – these can be inexpensively and effectively installed to contain rising seas.  Our interlocking masonry system can be assembled with rebar to create steel reinforced concrete walls at low cost.  By simply adding extra layers of brick (known as wythes) the levee wall can be made substantially thicker, stronger, taller and more robust.  Levees can also be tied in to pilings driven deep into the ground for added stability and anchorage.

·         Community safe rooms – Large safe rooms available to the public can help provide safe shelter for renters, homeless people, and anyone else left vulnerable in a hurricane.

·         First responder facilities – Firemen, ambulances, police and other first responders can have their facilities strengthened and made more resilient to extreme weather events and other emergency situations by using this protective masonry system. 

·         Retaining walls, culverts, channels and water divertment – Surface water can have a dramatic erosive effect on land features.   Strategic placement of retaining walls, culverts, and other topological masonry features can help direct the flow of surface water in cases of flooding and storm surges to minimize the negative impacts of erosion.

·         Fresh water storage – Emergency water storage can be easily located throughout populated areas  to provide stores of fresh, potable water in the aftermath of hurricanes and other debilitating extreme weather events which can incapacitate public water supplies.

·         Waste treatment facilities – Reinforced domes and arches can provide protection to waste treatment facilities.  This will help stop the spread of unhealthy raw sewage in the event of flooding, storm surges, and other extreme weather events; it will keep the facilities in a functioning state.

·         Nuclear power site protection – Certain vulnerable, critical-to-function components of nuclear power plants can be protected with this masonry system.  This includes emergency generator protection, such as those at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, which were left incapacitated by the tsunami, resulting in uncontrolled meltdowns of reactor cores.

This masonry system is easily, quickly and inexpensively provided to coastal areas vulnerable to threats of hurricanes, rising seas and other extreme weather events.  A multitude of concrete block plants are located along coastal areas across the globe.  The infrastructure required to provide this exceptional masonry system is already in place: they simply change molds to make this system available.

This masonry system provides an effective, affordable, efficient, environmentally appropriate means to create sustainable, resilient, attractive communities better able to withstand the threats posed by our changing climate.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Seahorse's tail strength and conjugate shearing

Earlier I wrote a blog entry here on Nature’s masons.  I tried to describe how nature offers inspired design solutions from different animals which use properties of masonry to their advantage, including: foraminifera, radiolaria, coral, sea anemones, turtles, tortoises and more.   Today I want to attempt to describe a masonry feature used by another animal, the seahorse.

Seahorse’s tails have a bony structure which withstands extreme pressures without breaking.  The bones of the tail form a roughly square limb in cross section.  There are sets of four corner bones to this tail structure which run its length.  These four bones are triangular, and are disposed to conjugate shearing.

I have discussed conjugate shearing and how masonry structures can benefit from conjugate shearing as a means to relieve stress(applied force) through strain (movement).   This is just how a seahorse’s tail reacts to any threatening stress: it deforms via conjugate shearing instead of breaking.  When the stress is relieved the triangular bones return to their original position, tail intact.

A paper recently published in Acta Biomaterialia (Highly deformable bones: unusual deformation mechanisms of seahorse armor   Michael M. Porter et al, published Fe. 26, 2013) describes the elegant design of seahorse tails, including the bony structure and how it allows for conjugate shearing, making the tail very strong, robust and tough.

The design of a seahorse tail has inspired human designers to employ the same concept in robotic armor design, as discussed in several recent articles.  Nature is always an inspiration for good design.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How to break a brick wall

That strong stout wall
three wythes thick-
How did it fall?
All red brick?

'Twas strong enough
for the big bad wolf
he huffed and puffed
and left aloof.

The wall withstood
bullets and guns,
gangstas, cowboys
and red injuns.

The wall survived
that hurricane
still alive
just the same.

But soon enough
those brick fall
not so tough
after all...

A sudden burst
of fresh air
Kool Aid thirst?
What?  "Oh Yeah!!!"


Monday, April 29, 2013

The humblest science

Different fields of human knowledge
bring status by mere association.
They're esteemed in press and college
Source of insight and innovation.

There's Genetics, Computers and Geology
Particle Physics and Astronomy
Cultural, Physical Anthropolgy
And both Macro- and Micro- Economy.

But which of these is the lowliest field?
What's the humblest one to study?
A cursory survey has revealed
one less admired by everybody.

It's been around thousands of years
there cannot be anything new.
Its own academics guarded fears:
Additional insight is nil or few.

With stones and rocks and blocks and mortar
as elements of this ancient science
doesn't impress the science reporter
They ignore this field with defiance.

It makes it all the more unique
when innovation does occur
in Masonry Science, utterly meek
one is left to conclude or infer:

There's no prestige and little praise
nothing new after all the ages
from a science of olden days
yet Masonry Science writes new pages.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Concrete trade shows

The American Concrete Institute
is the trade group of those:
an entire industry destitute
of clever jokes at trade shows.

Their social hour lacks chicks fer
no other apparent reason
than it's called "the concrete mixer"
each and every trade season.

Old guys will state as a fact
"We like the women we meet
we like like them in the abstract
Just not in the concrete."

This group has a good tradeshow
they work so hard for years
they meet and all say hello
wit' two, t'ree or ten beers.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Oh no it's faux

Some folks use thin layer of stone

On or in their treasured home

I try hard to hide my sneer

When I see that stone veneer.


One quick look and I know

It’s not stone, it’s really faux

Fiberboard is all the rage

You want rock? Get Jimmy Page.


‘Cuz nothing makes a mason ache

Like cheesy rock that’s all fake

Every mason quickly knows

You bought that crap at the Lowe’s.


“But cultured stone” they quickly say

Means I’m cultured any way!

Sorry if your feelings are hurt,

There’s more culture in yogurt.

Friday, April 26, 2013


Brick can be made from concrete

They can be sidewalk savers

You’ll see them often on the street

They are now known as “pavers.”


Pavers are made on a block machine

Made many at a time

The edges each can all be seen

To interlock just fine.


They are made in different shapes

And different colors too

You are sure to find a paver

That’s just right for you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Temper the mortar

That mortar was mixed a while ago

It’s not quite fresh, as mortars go

It’s getting stiff, it starts to set

But it’s not garbage, not quite yet.


Time to temper that old mud

Add some water, quickly bud

Just a little, not too much

Chop with a trowel, a hoe and such.


It gets more fluid, fresher too

After it’s been mixed by you

Use it up while you can

Before you have to mix again.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Peter Roberts was a mason

Peter Roberts is a mason

Peter Roberts was a mason

The first of these lives and works

On triangular blocks which seem possible

The second was first, yet he has passed

His memorial stands ornamented

By an impossible triangle

Like Escher invented.

Peter Roberts is and was a mason of triangles

It’s all so strange.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Much of an arch we can intuit

And think we know it all

It’s all the massive weight down through it

Much of an arch -we can- intuit!

A simpleton said he thought he knew it

Unless an arch begins to fall

Much of an arch we can intuit:

It’s not so simple after all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Staggered joints

When brick are laid to make a wall

They are stacked in arrangement

Repeated to the very top

Unless the mason has derangement

Each brick’s half overhanging

The brick (or block) below it

The brick (or block) will be staggered

We intuitively know it

If the bricks don’t get staggered

It’s called a 'stack' type bond

The wall can crack along the joint

Of which I’m not too fond

To allow a running joint

To go through the wall

Invites all brick to freely move

they might even fall

It is best to stagger brick

Offset each next course

Interrupt the running joint

To stop the splitting force.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fate of cinder block, part deux.

A  2-wheel drive pickup truck

No weight at all in that bed

With spinning wheels it gets stuck

A situation truckers dread.


How to avoid this sorry fact?

How to get some extra traction?

Throw concrete block in the back

You will drive with satisfaction.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fate of cinder block

In college you read Marx and Hegel
discussed Derrida and Kant.
Ramen noodles and a bagel-
Paying student loans, you can't

afford the latest designs:
Ikea bookshelves, which you mock.
Debate the absurd and sublime
With bookshelves of cinder block.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Distressed brick

When a brick building gets demolished
and all those brick are clean and polished
Not quite "polished" they're a mess
showing signs of their distress.

Old paint and some mortar too
Marks them up: not quite new
But they're made ready to ship
Distressed brick is really hip.

A brand new job looks broken in
With old brick you soon begin
To build anew from something old
"New" old brick are quickly sold.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sex Pistols, masons

Now I got a reason, now I got a transom
Now I got a reason and I'm still waiting
Now I got a transom
Now I got reason to be waiting
The Berlin Wall

I gotta go through the Wall
I don't understand this thing at all
It's third rate
Cheap dialogue, cheap essential masonry
I gotta go through the wall
I wanna go through the Berlin Wall
Before me come through the Berlin Wall
I don't understand this bit at all...
I'm gonna go through the wall
I'm gonna go through the Berlin Wall
I'm gonna go through the Berlin Wall
Before me come through the Berlin Wall
I don't understand this thing at all
Please don't be waiting for me


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Efflorescence is that white chalky stuff

That appears on a masonry wall

Only a surface problem, enough

To make one’s poor skin crawl.


It is caused by water evaporation

Leaving salts of sulfate

It happens all across the nation

And is just too common a fate.


To stop this from happening is not always easy

The culprit’s alkali sulfate

It makes masonry look kinda cheesy,

The water should not percolate:


Through a brick wall, or mortar or stone,

Because water leaves this white scum

And can leave a mark on your home

Aesthetically unbearable to some.


So how do I stop it and why?

What do I do and what is the essence?

Just keep your masonry dry-

And you'll have no efflorescence.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Designing a block mold

Designing a mold is a tricky endeavor

Sometimes it seems to take forever

Does the interlock create undercuts?

Or have I gone completely nuts?


Will the shape even be filled?

Can the steel even be milled?

Will the concrete slump when the mold is stripped?

Can these blocks be stacked and shipped?


Is the shape just too heavy?

Can it be used to build a levee?

Does it include a good handhold?

Or should I re-do the entire mold?


How big’s the the core, how thick the wall?

Will it slump or will it fall?

Will the designer ever choose it?

Will a mason ever use it?


Can any of these questions end?

Can it be real or just pretend?

At last the design is actually done

And when it works, it’s really fun.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Many-centered arches

If you draw a circle from a center found
Inside an arch and just go round
You can make your bricks all march
In step with a Roman arch

If you select more than one
Center you can have some fun
With different sized radii.
Plays a trick upon the eye


An arch with some different centers
Will create like an inventor’s
Idea of a rounded form
And step outside the circular norm.
The effect of vertical mullions
is an architect's ebullience
for fancy windowed mansions
with horizontal transoms.
If you are a really big fan
of giant windows with widest span
be careful and listen as I beseech
you not to weaken and overreach
As you design your giant window
there's a limit how far to go
If your engineer's skill does lapse
Your giant window will collapse.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Improved model

Engineers make models to represent

The things they build which are meant

To help them more fully comprehend

How things will strain, stress, break or bend.

In the engineer’s model of tradition
A masonry arch is viewed in partition
A cross-sectional view works just fine
To show stress as a curved thrust line.

A catenary line like a hanging chain
Turned upside down in your brain
Represents the lines of thrust
In the arch’s thickness it must-

Be constrained within that wall
Or a hinge will form and it will fall
This is the old traditional way:
To show an arch with this display.

But now there is a newer block
Whose edges each interlock
Hinges will no longer suffice
To show how well and truly nice

And stronger too these arches are
Conjugate shearing is the star
Of this newer model which is much better
Made of improved block that lock together

They do not hinge or buckle wide
Against each other they simply slide
And if you get this simple point
It is a better masonry joint.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dumb as a rock

Blockheads are dumb
So they say
“Smart as a box

Of rocks”
Or thick
as a brick
But to be really really really
Really dumb
Watch ESPN
All day.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Union Masons

Some out there do not fully support

Organized labor, or “unions” for short

But I believe in paying the working man

A living wage so that they can

Make a living and prosper alright

So that they flourish, and build it right

To have it made right you should employ

A union mason and spread the joy:

There’s enough to go around

Spread the wealth and build it sound.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Masonry homes are now built

Every place you could think

Desert, forest, mountains:

In jungles, valleys and soon

They will be found on the moon.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Roger Waters, mason

Is there masonry in the figurative sense?

Or is brick & mortar necessarily dense?

Can masonry be a social cause?

And point us to humanity’s flaws?

I suppose that masonry can

Represent the troubles of man

Justice the lady and those that brought her

To the ideals of Roger Waters

Not another trick by them all,

Not another brick in The Wall.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Brick Noir Mystery

The fog rolled in like a concrete truck

With old ideas, just my luck.

The sultry blonde wasn’t a fraud

She was clearly just a broad.

Abroad there seemed more innovation

But precious little in this nation.

So I asked her as she hit on me

“Why’s innovation dead in masonry?”

She paused and told me “tuck point and blow

Your naiveté out and show

The way our industry works with bricks

We don’t like new-fangled tricks.”

There’s tort law, and there’s building code

Academics, researchers, designers showed.

“Leave twenty bucks on the boudoir

And I’ll help you solve this mystery noir”.

Masonry Innovation was clearly dead

And it was stuck in my head

To figure out why history stopped

And this clichéd mystery quickly flopped

Against inertia of status quo

It was on me to cleverly show

How innovation wasn’t dead:

There’s a better way to build instead.

Make a roof, a dome with block

Triangles that interlock.

A better mousetrap must be shown

To be better than what is known.

A better brick will solve this case

Better buildings will save some face

Of innovation in a conservative

Industry with much to give.

New ideas on solid footing

The proof of it is in the putting

One better brick atop the other

Mystery solved, believe it brother.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ottava Rima

I must begin with a short apology

For having to explain

The meaning of mason’s topology:

Bricks make a curving plane.

Inspired by nature, this ontology

Allows structures to remain

A comprehensive mystery

Rooted deep in history.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Premises to a Simple Question

Concrete block is a success of the last century.

Concrete block is found wherever it’s meant to be.

Concrete block is in all continents 'round the earth.

Concrete block is tough and has proven its worth.

Concrete block is only used now to build vertical walls.

Concrete block can also make big domes and balls.

Concrete block is in a new renaissance.

Concrete block meets many needs and wants.

Concrete block can be uplifting and inspiring.

Concrete block can be elegant and uprising.

Concrete block takes fires, hurricanes and tornadoes too…

Now doesn’t concrete block sound better to you?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Mason's Valediction to Winter

‘Tis time to say our farewell

To icy cold and wintry hell

To all the piles of drifting snow

And all the frozen mud below


Goodbye to frosted trowels

So long to ice-filled barrows

Adieu to mason's tools which

Go with Ivan Denisovich.


Greetings to this warm weather

Which soon we hope is here -or whether-

We must endure another season

Of cold for no apparent reason.


For sometimes it is a mason’s fate

That Spring shows up a little late

Can I work?  Yes or no?

Not if we get another snow.


We offer Spring this benediction

While winter gets a valediction

For only block made from snow

Make igloos for an Eskimo.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Pentagonal Cinquain

a block is laid

to bend this curving dome

the wonder here begets a full

way round.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Fine Disregard for Awkward Facts

The concrete block industry

Isn’t all that it could be

Every single product made

And every single block laid

Have right angles: top and side

Rectangular: so long, so wide

The facts of the matter are just this,

So what about it did you miss?

All your fancy, and new fangled

Ideas  propose block triangled?

Your disregard for status quo

Now you’re bound to let us know

These awkward facts are very hard

To ignore or disregard!

There is room for much improvement

Time to show us just what you meant.

(This poem owes its many thanks