2021 Natural Stone Institute Pinnacle Award of Excellence – Public Landscapes

Houston Botanic GardenCamarata Masonry Systems, Ltd. was responsible for the shop drawings, supply and installation of 6,100 square feet of 1” thick Calypso Coral Stone, 560 linear feet of 3” thick Calypso Coral Stone coping, 6 carved stone scuppers and 64 hand selected Greenwall fountain blocks. The project is divided into four primary areas: the Botanic Garden Entrance, the Pavilion, the Alcove Wall and the Fountain. The 46 foot long walls at the entrance to the Houston Botanic Garden set the tone for the project with the Calypso Coral Stones’ unique and rustic appearance. The Pavilion’s stone cladding continues with the theme for a natural outdoor appearance while serving as a guide and welcome center for visitors. However, without any doubt, the focal point of the project is the adjacent massive 470 foot long Alcove Wall with its 1” thick Calypso Coral Stone cladding on one face and split face block finish on the opposite face.

The Alcove Wall required considerable planning and coordination between the masonry and stone cladding and the layout and requirements of the plant life. To add to the complexity of the layout, the stone cladding has an intricate recessed groove (2” wide x ¼” deep) in the face which interfaces with the specific location of 55 individual planter boxes that are built into the wall. These planter boxes are sized to equal one full masonry block, as such CMU installation tolerances had to be closely watched to assure the proper location and alignment with the masonry planter box opening on one face and the combined stone cladding and the recessed groove on the opposite face. The planter box opening at the stone face is 2” tall by 15” long to cover the planter box in the masonry wall but still allow ample room for the plant to grow and “feed” through and down the face of the stone cladding. The stone wall cladding with its recessed groove will ultimately serve as a trellis for the plant growth. The planter box leave-outs also required that the plant watering system be built into the block wall substrate. Additionally, the stone coping was sized to align with the ductal column coping for the canopy. The 11” deep stone coping also required very tight tolerances in order to align with the stone facing and the ductal column coping and still provide a nice appearance at the interface with the irregularities in the split face finish of the 10” CMU at the opposite face of the wall. Once the stone installation was under way, the architect immediately noticed that the textured finish of the wall cladding was not as noticeable as preferred. In order to bring more attention to this material finish transition, it was decided to offset the flush plane of the stone cladding in selected locations. The architect provided elevations of the walls noting specific pieces that were to be recessed by ¼” of the design plane and pieces that were to be ¼” proud of the design plane. These selected pieces are intentionally located within and around the textured finish wall cladding, creating the eye-catching affect that was originally intended.

The Calypso Coral Stone was quarried and fabricated in the Dominican Republic. The quarry is unlike most stone quarries in that the select portion of the material – the Greenwall portion is located at the top of the natural ground surface. There is very little overburden, just a few inches of sandy top soil above the Coral Stone. The proximity to the surface is what yields the unique finish with the characteristic sizable voids. This finish was the critical component needed to achieve the desired appearance and maintain the function of the Alcove Wall Fountain. The blocks had to be hand selected in the Dominican Republic by the architect, while taking into account their size, location within the fountain and surface area of the Greenwall finish, as each block is unique unto itself. Initially, attempts were made to select the blocks via photos from the quarry; which proved to be a good starting point, but ultimately it was determined that in the interest of time and assurance of the proper selection a visit to the quarry would be needed to allow for a hands-on perspective in these critical block selections. As is often the case, being afforded the opportunity to see this material in person made the decision process much easier, as the entire team was confident with the final selection.

The Greenwall blocks used in the Alcove Wall Fountain are unique, eye-catching and impressive. The fountain offers a rustic, natural appearance with the perfect environment for the plant life to thrive. The characteristic natural voids (depth and diameter) are ideal for the placement of the plant life. At selected and specific locations, a number of the voids had to have ½” diameter holes drilled from the back of the void through to the back side of the block for the placement of the plant water sprinkler lines. The fountain water movement comes by way of the six carved stone scuppers that are strategically positioned within the cubic Greenwall blocks creating a continuation of the desired natural appearance of the fountain.

In that the project is located on an old golf course, there was ample space for work area and storage of material. However, the site is separated by water in three areas making access to some of the areas of the site a daunting task. Adding to the challenges, during the construction of the Alcove Wall, there was no access to running water or electricity.

The Botanic Garden is a beautiful addition to the cultural environment of the Houston area. The stone / masonry walls with the Greenwall fountain blocks are sure to be remembered features for any visitor. The material, planning, and workmanship of the masonry and stone were executed in the detail needed to achieve the architect’s envisioned design. The design of the wall cladding and fountain is as unique as the material itself. While the green wall concept can be seen in many different settings, this design and use of the Calypso Coral Stone material is one of a kind.

2021 Texas Masonry Council Golden Trowel Award for Outstanding Educational Facility (College/University) Craftsmanship

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.

2021 Texas Masonry Council Golden Trowel Award for Outstanding Hardscape/Landscape Craftsmanship

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston -Nancy and Rich Kinder Building is the final component in the eight-year project to expand and enhance the museum’s campus. The area around the perimeter of the building is easily recognized as an extension of the art being exhibited within the Museum of Fine Arts. The Carnelian granite site [...]

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2021 Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston Golden Trowel Honor Award – Residential (Multi-Family)

Village of Southampton

The Village of Southampton project is a luxury senior living high-rise complex located in the Rice Village area in Houston, TX. The building’s façade is constructed with a combination of two different colors of brick, cast stone cornices and Arriscraft masonry units that are either anchored to the CMU backup or thin-set on metal stud [...]

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2021 Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston Golden Trowel Excellence Award – Residential (Multi-Family)

01 Novel River Oaks 0563 512

Novel River Oaks is a mixed-use complex located in the River Oaks area of downtown Houston. As with many projects of this type, something old was torn down in a popular, and crowded, area to build something new thus creating jobsite space constraints. Camarata Masonry Systems, Ltd. (CMS) has become accustomed to creating solutions such [...]

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2021 Associated Masonry Contractors of Houston Golden Trowel Excellence Award – Educational Facility (K-12)

Bay City Junior High School

The new 143,600 square foot Bay City Junior High School enrolls approximately 800 students in grades 6-8 and is located about 90 miles southwest of Houston, TX. We were responsible for the supply and installation of over 300,000 utility sized Acme Brick in 3 different colors, 3,000 pieces of RockCast manufactured stone, 110,000 CMU and [...]

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