Every year, more than 100 students from New Jersey Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture and Design come together to compete in Masonry Contractors of New Jersey’s annual Masonry Design/Build Competition. Established in 2003, the team-spirited competition tasks NJIT architecture students with researching a project site and then building a masonry mock-up based on a critical element of their design.

More than just a fun event, the Masonry Design/Build is a great opportunity for students to get inspired about masonry as a building material, learn proper installation techniques and gain a better understanding of the trade by working directly with contractors, union craftworkers and masonry professionals. It has become so successful that the school has made it part of the architecture students’ second year curriculum, tasking students with designing and building a real project.

“The Masonry Design/Build Competition establishes understanding and mutual respect between design and building professionals,” says Urs P. Gauchat, Dean of the College of Architecture and Design. “Architecture students are introduced to the parameters of masonry materials and, as you would imagine, a more informed designer will certainly create a higherquality product.” 

The students research a site in a real-life location and design the building in accordance with established criteria. Masonry professionals offer guidance throughout the design process, including assisting with estimating the masonry materials needed for the build. Then, after months of work, masonry professionals and union craftworkers collaborate with students for the build portion of the competition. All of the masonry materials are donated by members of Masonry Contractors of New Jersey.

Union craftworkers teach the students how to spread mortar and lay brick while mentoring them in proper installation techniques. By working directly with masonry professionals, the students gain a better understanding of the masonry trade – a lesson we believe the students will remember throughout their careers. “Dealing with actual people that are part of the trade is a completely different experience from studio,” stated a former student competitor.

“It’s a really incredible and unique experience. The guys on our team are very experienced and have been in the field 10 plus years. One of our masons was actually on the winning build last year, so we had a lot of good insight as to what we were doing and ways to be a little more productive. It’s a great experience overall and makes us all look forward to getting into the field later,” said another former student.

NJIT faculty member and lecturer, Julio Figueroa, who has been involved with the competition for several years, recognizes that the competition fosters increasingly high-quality design. “The students really took advantage of the great example that last year’s projects presented and have certainly done their part to produce builds that match, if not exceed, that. The designs are off the charts and I’m looking forward to seeing how their builds come out,” he commented of the 2015 competition designs.

The students watch their visions come to life as they are built in only two days on the entrance to the college. The masonry mock-ups—which can stand as tall as 8 feet high—stay up all year and are judged by a diversified team of well-known architects and distinguished industry professionals.

“A week ago these design/build teams were studios of 16 students trying to figure out how to get to today, and in the past week they’ve become these incredible machines of production,” commented NJIT faculty 2nd Year Coordinator Henry Grosman on Build Day One of the 2016 competition. “These students are learning that architecture is about building and not just about making pictures on paper or having digital models,” adds Dean Gauchat. “This is the real thing.”

The climate of the competition is more than a mere introduction to masonry as a building material and takes students well beyond the classroom. It connects and engages them to fully participate while it imparts the knowledge of masonry design and union construction to our next generation of architects.

Bricklayer Foreman, Richard Joyce said, “Anytime you can interact with a young person who is looking for knowledge that you might be able to give them … certainly, there’s a contribution level there—just to society in general—that makes you feel good. It’s a nice feeling working with the kids. They have good spirits, good hearts, good intentions … so it works out well for everybody involved.”

“When we began this program years ago no one ever imagined it would turn into such an integral part of the NJIT educational process and one of the most unforgettable experiences in the students’ academic pursuits at the College of Architecture and Design,” commented Michael Schmerbeck, President of Masonry Contractors of New Jersey.

For videos, please see the gallery below. To learn more about the Masonry Design/Build Competition, please contact Carol Ciesielski at (609) 324-1140.

2018 – TEMPLE OF FREEDOM – Harlem, NY

2018 – TEMPLE OF FREEDOM – Harlem, NY – Judging Deliberations


2016 – Pavillion Kiosk NJIT – Newark, NJ

2015 – Police Station – Perth Amboy, NJ

2014 – Fire Station – Boonton, NJ

2013 – PATH Station – Harrison, NJ

2013 – Judging

2013 – Awards

2012 – Water Taxi Terminal – Bayonne, NJ

2012 – Judging and Awards