Friday, August 18, 2017

Building Another Masonry Prototype

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1547958.  Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

One year ago (late summer, 2016) I began working on a masonry prototype which would use the novel topological interlocking manufactured concrete arch block, described and discussed here.

I had been teaching a Senior Project engineering class at Alfred University's Inamori School of Engineering, and asked my students to help design this structure.  The students I had the pleasure of teaching include undergraduate students Pavel Boyuk, Patrick Byrne, Wanrui He, Nolan Jessop, Sanket Patel, Nick Roberts and Alex Wessner; under their professor Dr. Ehsan Ghotbi, and also graduate student Martin Monk under his professor Dr. William Carty.

Here are some of the drawings these students did for this structure.  The actual design was changed somewhat from these drawings to what was actually built. These changes include switching from a round profile to a catenary profile on both the main arch for the roof, and also on the flying buttresses which are located on either side of the building.  I also went from seven buttresses per side (as per the students' drawings) to six buttresses.  Finally, I also included two Gothic windows on one side of the main arch.

This building was erected on my own personal property in Alfred, New York. Site preparation began with felling several trees and clearing the logs from the site.  I'll just let the pictures tell the rest of the story, beginning with the building site as it was.

This is the retaining wall, built around the site.

Retaining wall behind, foundation (footer) in the front.

Lots of gravel for proper drainage, very important.

Vertical walls erected.

Those are the flying buttress foundations, on the left.

The slack chain hung in the picture below was used to create the catenary form for the flying buttress.  This is much stronger than a simple, round form.  This shape was traced onto a piece of plywood, the plywood was cut, flipped upside-down, and used as a guide form.

This shows my method for assembling the flying buttresses.  These went up quickly, each flying buttress took around one hour for me to assemble.

This shows the scaffolding, made from the trees which I cut down from this same site.

Here is a concrete block delivery truck, placing block on the scaffolding.  The scaffolding held around 50 tons!

Here is how I made the catenary form for the roof.  I traced the curve made from the slack hanging rope onto wood, and cut out that shape.  I then flipped this shape upside down, and used it as a guide to assemble the roof.

Gothic windows on the side of the structure.

I covered the arch in wood, so that I could apply conventional tarpaper and shingles.

Here is the inside of the structure.  It's an interesting space inside, very roomy.
Here is a concrete 'apron' for the beginning of the driveway.  This will have a pattern stamped concrete driveway, which is about to be made.
These trenches for drainage are 4 feet deep, and hook up to a large drainage pipe.

Here I am beginning to apply architectural shingles.  This building is almost complete.

This was an exciting and fun project.  Much was learned, this first prototype is somewhat crude, since it was a first attempt.  The arch span is over 25 feet, and the depth of the arch is over 30 feet.  The reader should also note that while I was building this, I simultaneously wrote and filed a patent, wrote a Phase II Proposal for the National Science Foundation (successfully, it was funded) and several other large tasks at the same time.  This building actually went up very quickly.  They will only get better!


  1. Peter,

    Very nice work and demonstration to show how these special blocks can be used to make curved structures!

  2. I really like the fresh perpective you did on the issue about EIFS repairs this topic . I will be back soon to check up on new posts! Thank you!


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