Summer camp is usually for kids, but imagine trading your drafting pencil and computer mouse for a hammer and chisel—or laying the bricks that form a building you design. Some 40 early-career architects did just that at a weeklong masonry camp, which ends today, hosted by the International Masonry Institute (IMI) in Bowie, Maryland.

Masonry Camp for Architects

Masonry Camp for Architects

Photo: by Hazel Bradford, Courtesy the International Masonry Institute

Some 40 early-career architects spent the week learning six different masonry techniques from journeymen at a camp sponsored by the International Masonry Institute in Bowie, Maryland. For their final project, which is being critiqued today, the architects teamed with craftsmen to build sections of a school facility they designed.

The goal of this summer camp, says Maria Viteri, AIA, IMI’s director of program development, “is to foster a level of collaboration between the people who are designing and the people who are building.” Young architects from 39 firms nationwide teamed up with masonry journeymen who taught them skills with six different materials or project types: brick/block, stone, terrazzo, plaster, tiles and restoration. Armed with this knowledge, the architects then designed a neighborhood school and worked with the craftsmen to build small sections of their plans. Guest architects for a critique included Jeanne Gang, Monica Ponce de Leon, and Stanley Tigerman.

Some participants compare the camp to a condensed version of studio—only more practical. “Building it with your own hand is an experience I never had in school or on the job,” says Valerie Towe, an architect with Einhorn Yaffee Prescott in Boston. “Architects are very focused on the design process and may lose sight of the reality. But to design along with craftsmen, it’s a way of stepping back.”

Seth Wentz, a first-year architect with LSC Design in York, Pennsylvania, says that he has learned how to design a project more efficiently from the builder’s perspective. “When you work side-by-side with the actual craftsman, you learn what you do in [the office] may not always be the most logical thing to do. It may actually make the job harder for the craftsman.”

The IMI has offered its summer camp, which takes place in two weeklong-sessions during August, for 12 years as a way to revive the tradition of architects as master builders. Although previous participants labored in an outdoor tent, this year’s campers enjoyed the indoor convenience of a new 60,000-square training center. Designed by Tigerman, the building officially opens next month and will be home to the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, which supports the IMI.