Mississippi State 2020 NCMA Concrete Masonry Unit Competition Video

2020 submission for the National Concrete Masonry Association Unit Design Competition

Second Place

Mississippi State's "The Void" team: Juniors Caya S. Perry of Huntsville, Ala.; Jackson “Jack” B. Harrell of Clinton; Ruth “Ruthie” E. Southall of Acworth, Ga.; and Jon R. Zeipen of Jenison, Mich.; Professor: Jacob A. Gines


- Hello, my name is Jacob Gines, I'm an associate professor at the School of Architecture at Mississippi State University. It's my privilege to be able to introduce our team and their entry to this year's Unit Design Competition. First, I would like to say thank you to NCMA for all of your efforts to ensure that this competition as well as the mid-year meeting is going off as a success. So thank you so much for all that you do, the support that you give to the students and to universities. You know, this competition is a really wonderful opportunity for our students to get some hands-on experience understanding the particularities of these products and of concrete, in particular. It also helps bring to the forefront ideas of innovation and creativity, and thinking about the future of what are the next steps, what are the next things that this industry is looking at and doing in the future. I would like to thank NCMA as well, for developing this virtual format that allows us to still present this material during this time. Our students competed in their local competition right before our spring break and during spring break is when everything began to shut down, and so we were worried about being able to enter into this competition and we're grateful for the opportunity to do this even if it is in a digital format. We'd love to be there, in person with you, but understand the unique situation that we're in at this time. Without further ado, I want to introduce our team which is Jack Harrell, Caya Perry, Ruthie Southall, and Jon Zeipen, four students who have worked tirelessly to develop a solution that is beautiful and functional. I'd also like to thank our industry supporters, Fred Dunand with Saturn Materials who has been with us in this partnership for several years now, and we appreciate all that he does to help ensure the success of our students for the years in the past and the years to come, as well. So without further ado, I'm gonna kick it over to our students and let them present their project, the Void. Thank you.

- My name is Jack Harrell.

- My name is Caya Perry.

- Hello everyone, my name is Ruthie Southall.

- Hi, I'm Jon Zeipen.

- And we are third-year architecture students from Mississippi State University. Today, we are bring to you Void, the concrete unit based on Saturn Materials' Monarch Masonry Unit. Throughout our design and construction processes we were guided by our professor, Jacob Gines, and we also had the chance to work with Saturn Materials who mentored and sponsored our project. Professor Gines took our class on a field trip last semester to Saturn Materials. There, we met Fred Dunand, the President and owner. On our trip, we were given a tour of the production facilities, saw just how concrete masonry units were produced, and got to explore the family of masonry units Saturn has to offer. After the trip, we began a new project, a local competition for an innovative concrete unit design. The class was split into 12 groups with four people in each. Instead of using the standard, modular brick measurements, or typical gray block CMU size, we chose to explore a new design while utilizing the sizing for Saturn Materials Monarch Concrete Unit, measuring at 3 and 5/8ths of an inch by 3 and 5/8ths of an inch by 15 and 5/8ths of an inch. These dimensions allowed us to explore the horizontal nature of the unit while providing a beautifully proportioned surface area to develop and engage. The local competition hosted at MSU was judged by Thomas Stewart, President and owner of Architectonics, Terry Jones, the General Manager of Geo Products, Fred Dunand, President and owner of Saturn Materials, and our professor, Jacob Gines, Associate Professor of Architecture at MSU. When beginning the design process for our brick, our goal was simplicity in form and execution. We wanted to create a concrete masonry unit with one graceful gesture. After many meetings, models, and sketches, we can to the conclusion that our design would reference a torus, a surface of revolution generated by revolving a circle in a 3-dimensional space about an axis that is coplanar to the circle. The second goal of our design was to create a brick whose purpose extended beyond aesthetics. In the end, this overall curvature along with a hole running through the center, allowed us to use this brick in a screen wall or in conjunction with soundproofing materials, opening us up to a world of acoustics.

- So after getting our ideas down on paper, we knew our next step was essentially to begin 3D modeling this brick with the various form that we had come up with as a group. And since we were consistently using the 3D modeling program, Rhino, in our studio course, we figured it would be best if we used that same program in this brick project. And rather than selecting one design on paper and modeling it, we decided it would make more sense if we took all the designs we came up with and started modeling them so you could see how each brick interacts with itself, and digitally lay it up in the various bonding patterns that you can do. And with this simple and elegant form, the brick really only needed basic Rhino tool sets. We didn't need to do any sort of external plugins, like Grasshopper. The main torus shape on the front was essentially used used four curves on each side and it was just lofted to make this little funnel-type shape, and then the rest of the brick was just a box encasing that shape. And the simplicity of this unit design made the modeling process super quick and gave us a lot of time to start working on a CNC machine in physically making this brick. So moving into the production side of the brick, we started first, by laminating MDF sheets to form our block which would then be used to CNC out our brick design, using our Rhino 3M file. And then from there, we sanded the brick down, sealed it, used a spray, the non-stick formula on it, and then bolted it to the bottom of our other MDF form that we'd created. And this would essentially be used to house the polyurethane that we'd be pouring in the empty space between the block and the form. And to get this specific volume of the space, we used a Volume command in Rhino to calculate the negative space and get the exact amount of polyurethane that we would need to fill it with. And then from then on, we used this mold and this rubber framework to basically form all of our concrete bricks. We made our own mix for the brick using a wet concrete mix, and then gradually learned how to produce a sturdy brick by perfecting our water to concrete ratio, eliminating excess bubbles, inconsistent color, and cracking. And this process has really showed us the importance of specificity in the materials and the ratios, and really how to go about them, and create our final product.

- For our concrete masonry unit, we intended on having a few different module coordinations for aesthetic purposes. The concrete unit can be oriented in a vertical, horizontal, running bond, 45-degree running bond, or any other alignment in which the brick runs parallel to itself. This concrete masonry unit can be used to alter light and sound. The masonry units are best suited for aesthetic purposes such as a partition wall in a garden or museum, a screen wall which would be extended from a glass wall. This brick will also be good to use for the ceiling with a skylight to bring a beautiful pattern and control lighting for art galleries, museums, and other buildings that require a certain amount of heat-sun exposure. The concrete masonry unit is manufacture-ready due to working closely with professionals during this process.

- Throughout the design process, we continually noticed the possibility of an acoustic affect through the horn-shaped hole in the concrete unit. To better understand what capabilities our design had, we reached out to a local acoustic engineer, David Woolworth. Initially, we believed that the shape of the hole would act as a high-pass filter that would allow mostly high-range frequencies to pass through by funneling them through the hole, and simultaneously, we thought that this would make the low-range frequencies blocked or really diminished in effect, on the other side of the wall. After performing some simulations, we have determined that by-and-large, the hypothesis was correct. In an outdoor setting, we believe that passing through the opening of the unit, sound would be amplified by roughly 5 to 10 decibels from a range of about 500 Hz to 5,000 Hz and on the other side, it would be rather filtered and similar in volume to any sort of screen wall that you've seen in your everyday life, in a garden or so. The effect is, of course, limited, based on the surroundings of the wall. Like if it is an indoor space, the walls that are around it, if you're walking down a hallway, the screen wall's on your left, if there's a path around the wall, that's gonna, of course, diminish the amount of amplification that's seen because that path would allow sound to subvert the use of the wall. In a larger, outdoor setting like a major park, the determinations, so far, are a little more unclear. In theory, the effect should be about the same, however there are a lot more variables to consider like neighboring buildings, heavy vegetation, environmental turbulence, et cetera, et cetera. We believe that overall, the acoustic amplification seen in a larger, outdoor environment would be diminished comparative to the indoor environment. The barrier that you would need in an outdoor environment would need to be pretty large to achieve a similar effect. Of course, it would be scaled, because there's so many more variables, so much more ambient sound outside than there is inside. However, there's still a few possible use cases where the narrative fits, like an outdoor amphitheater or a backing wall for a outdoor theater space, outdoor presentation space. Those are very possible applications for this unit. In more controlled environments that are outdoor, like a central courtyard area, we suspect that it will be relatively similar to the indoor environment but still diminished a little bit by those outdoor variables.

- Hello, this is Fred Dunand, President of Saturn Materials, LLC, Columbus, Mississippi. Our engagement in the community has brought close collaboration with Mississippi State University. It has been evident that this partnership benefits students and reveals a potential of the industry through NCMA product design competition. Students have been dedicated to bring the best through teamwork, competing with 15 other student during the local competition. MSU School of Architecture, with active participation of assistant professor Jake Gines, has brought inspiration for the next generation of decision makers. There is no limit to creation, and innovation is a pass forward. All the best to all of us.