2021 Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston Golden Trowel Excellence Award – Educational Facility (College/University)

Rice University Music & Performing Arts Center
The new Music and Performing Arts Center (RUMPAC), now known as the Brockman Hall for Opera, is a transformative addition to the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. Designed by the celebrated classicist architect Allan Greenberg, the 84,000 square foot facility houses a three-tiered, 600 seat European style opera theatre with an orchestra pit for 70 musicians. The Center offers premium performance space for opera, chamber music and theater; meets the growing need for rehearsal and practice space; and provides a hallmark venue to attract and host high-profile speakers.

Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd. (CMS) provided the engineering for cast stone, stone anchorage and support elements; shop drawings for the brick and cast stone; design, erection and dismantling of the scaffolding; the supply and installation of the concrete masonry unit structural walls; brick (in seven different bonds); cast stone units; terrazzo; waterproofing; and flashing for the project.
The masonry portion consisted of 172,000 concrete masonry units grouted solid at the perimeter and partition walls. In keeping with many of the campus building facades, 360,000 modular size brick manufactured by St. Joe Brick Works were installed on the exterior brick veneer. The brick was installed in a running bond pattern with several different accent bonds that provide visual interest. A modified herringbone pattern was installed at the frieze panel, a Flemish bond was used at the corners of the building and a garden wall pattern was used on the 2nd floor on the north and south side of the building. In addition, basket weave is used extensively inside, below and above many of the arches and stack bond strips are utilized to separate bonds throughout the façade. Approximately 9,960 pieces of cast stone were used as accents at the wall base, water tables, window and door surrounds, parapet caps, chevron panels, lunettes, finials, columns, arches, vestibules, front main entry and as banding pieces.

Material procurement for this project required careful planning. The brick supplier, St. Joe Brick Works in Pearl River, Louisiana, was founded in 1891 and is one of the oldest family-owned brick manufacturers East of the Mississippi River. They are a small batch plant making brick as it was made in the early colonial period utilizing the soft mud process where the clay is formed into individual bricks by pressing it into wood molds. Then the bricks are fired at different temperatures in order to create different colors, inclusive of the three colors required on this job. Such a time-consuming process performed in a small plant creates delivery challenges on a façade of this magnitude. This risk was further exacerbated by the hurricane exposure along this area of the Gulf Coast. To manage this, CMS was able to get the brick order released early and prior to hurricane season. Also, CMS was able to secure an area on the Rice campus adjacent to the site where brick deliveries could be stored. In this way, an inexhaustible inventory was always available to ensure an uninterrupted façade installation.

The lead time for manufacturing the cast stone for this project was 10-12 weeks. In contrast to the brick, the cast stone, especially the highly ornate profiles and shapes, is extremely fragile. Given this fact and the shear amount of stone required for this job, storing the material onsite was not an option. To reduce the possibility of damage and increase installation efficiency CMS, with close coordination with its cast stone supplier, released the cast stone in phases. Given the fact that there were 9,960 pieces of varying sizes; inventorying, tracking, protecting and moving stone was a full-time job.

CMS utilized several innovative installation techniques on this project. One of them was used on the cast stone arch and soffit pieces throughout the project which commonly weighed over 300 lbs. Since our manpower could not physically lift these pieces and a forklift could not be used due to the web of scaffolding and the possibility of damaging the stone, another means of suspending the pieces was needed. CMS built cribbing on a hydraulic transmission jack which cradled the stone at its required angle and allowed us to lift the pieces into their approximate positions until the engineered anchorage could be installed. The pieces were bolted to the CMS designed and installed miscellaneous steel backup such that the deadload and windload could be transferred to the structure. Another technique utilized was for the installation of the cast stone base and front lobby pieces which had lifting eyes cast into each piece. The lifting eyes were located such that the stones hung properly but their locations were invisible after all pieces were installed. A lifting clutch was attached to each eye and chain falls suspended from beam trollies were used to lift, move and install the stones.

While the original installation was extremely difficult, one of the most challenging conditions was encountered when the project was nearing completion. In the process of performing the dirt work for the landscaping, the subcontractor’s tractor hit the corner of the building and broke a piece of cast stone. The broken piece was a critical load bearing component and the bottom course of a column that was stacked more than 50 feet tall. The stone measured 46” wide, 29” tall and 15” thick and the weight bearing down on it was more than 21,000 pounds. The challenge was to replace the broken piece without removing the 33 pieces of cast stone that were stacked on top of it, thereby damaging those stones and all adjacent material. CMS and its engineer designed a solution that allowed the entire stack of stone to remain in place. This was accomplished by carefully cutting away a small corner of the broken stone until a modified hydraulic jack could be inserted to support the stone above. Once the jack was in place CMS was able to cut away a quarter of the broken stone and install the first of two 4”x4”x3/8” steel posts, which would act as load bearing elements. After the first post was in place the same process was completed on the opposite corner. When both posts were installed, the remaining broken stone was removed and a new replacement piece could be installed. Since some of the area previously occupied by the base stone was now taken up by the steel posts, the new piece was hollowed out to accommodate them. This could be done now that it was no longer a load bearing element. The new stone was attached with threaded rods that were epoxied into the concrete/CMU substrate. Once the repair was complete, there was no visible difference between it and the other base units.

Another innovative installation technique occurred at the four finial pieces located on the roof and weighing over 10,617 lbs. each. These finial pieces and the accompanying 4 panel pieces and 2 cupola pieces were prefabricated on the ground into finial units. Lifting accommodations were built into each such that it could be lifted safely with no damage to the stones. The tower crane was utilized to set the finials into place ninety feet above ground. This technique limited the opportunity for damage to awkwardly shaped heavy pieces that were not easily accessible and reduced the likelihood of an injury.

Another challenge on the project was the size and shape of the mortar joints. The horizontal or ‘bed’ joint was 1” tall and had a reverse weathered strike. Normally, a typical brick joint is 3/8” so making a smooth bed joint that tall is extremely difficult. This is especially true, when the normal joint is struck with a concave joiner but Rice requires a flat reverse weathered strike. In addition, the normal weathered strike requires that the bed joint be beveled outward from top to bottom in order to shed water like a roof shingle but the reverse weathered strike utilized on this job requires that the jointer be recessed in on the bottom of the bed joint and lean out towards the top (opposite of a normal water shedding joint). Then, to compound the difficulty, the vertical or ‘head’ joints are flush. So, you have an intersection where the top of a flush head joint intersects with the bottom of an indented reverse weathered bed joint. On a façade of this size, this condition occurs constantly. In order to execute this jointing smoothly, special jointers were issued to all masons and special instruction was given to each to ensure proficiency.

Another unusual feature is the CMU and brick shop drawings required on this project. While it is common to prepare shop drawings for cast or dimensional stone, this project had intricate details with 2” to 4” offsets in both the CMU back up and the brick and cast stone pilasters. Shop drawings had to be prepared for all materials so that the offsets and corresponding wall cavity could be maintained. Every brick and piece of brick had a specific location on the job that was indicated and checked via the shop drawings. Many pre-construction meetings, as well as weekly progress meetings with the construction team, design team, and owner representatives were held to review the difficult conditions. CMS shop drawings were consistently utilized in this effort to be proactive and resolve any unforeseen issues prior to installation. In addition, CMS shop drawings were used to monitor installation progress and quality, with the goal of zero punchlist.

Another interesting challenge of working on the campus is that Rice University has earned a “Tree Campus USA” designation because of its long history in caring for its 4,300 trees. To comply with this designation, the project team was involved in carefully planning truck routes so that the overhanging branches would not be damaged.

While this was an extremely complex project requiring highly skilled craftworkers, CMS completed its work ahead of a very ambitious schedule. At peak, CMS had over 120 employees onsite inclusive of three full time foremen, two designated full time safety supervisors and a host of bricklayers, marble setters, scaffold builders, operators, marble setter helpers and laborers. The bulk of our work was completed in approximately twelve months with zero recordable or lost time accidents. From planning, shop drawings, engineering, material procurement, scheduling, anchorage design, scaffolding systems, hoisting, prefabrication, equipment development, material handling and ultimately, installation precision, this truly is a remarkable project.

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