Masonry History Integrity: An Urban Conservation Primer
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Masonry History Integrity: An Urban Conservation Primer was recently published by the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
According to the United States census and the NYC Department of Buildings, there are approximately 8.2 million people and over 975,000 buildings in New York City. Many of the buildings are over one hundred years old. Most are constructed with some sort of masonry material, to meet fire code regulations, and to endure the effects of time, weather and aging.
It is also noted that amongst the construction trades, there is a generally accepted understanding that the preservation, repair, conservation and maintenance of older buildings requires a different set of skills than those required for new construction. Presently, there are a half dozen college programs offering specialized hand-on masonry conservation training. But, there are no schools or programs in the United States providing an introduction to masonry conservation at the high school level.
There is however, one such program in New York City, provided by the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC). It offers young men and women the opportunity to obtain a high school general equivalency diploma (GED) and learn about various construction careers, including masonry, masonry conservation and green building technology.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church is the oldest African-American Baptist church in the state of New York. It was organized in lower Manhattan, in 1809, by Ethiopian merchants who gave it the title Abyssinia, the ancient name of their home country. The congregation moved to Harlem in 1923 where the area became a hub for African American culture and renowned for its music during the Harlem Renaissance.
The Abyssinian Baptist Church has played a major role in American history by striving for social justice through the elimination of racial discrimination and through the leadership of its Pastors, Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and Jr., who served in the United States Congress. The church is a political, spiritual and social icon of New York City with one of the largest African American congregations in the country. It also has a world-wide reputation for its gospel music tradition.
Abyssinian Development Corporation was founded in 1989 as a not-for-profit, community and economic development corporation dedicated to improving the quality of life in Harlem. It has developed over 1,500 units of affordable housing and enhanced the delivery of social services to the families, children, elderly and homeless. ADC has also fostered economic revitalization through the development of both large and small businesses in the community.
ADC’s educational and developmental programs include Literacy Build, Strengthening Families and Stronger Fathers. Its children and youth services include the award-winning Abyssinian Schools Initiative along with after-school, summer, college prep, workforce development and Youthbuild programs.
Youthbuild USA is nation-wide program, founded in New York City in 1979. It addresses truancy and substance abuse through academics, counseling, life skills training and career development. Since 1994, Youthbuild students have built 19,000 units of affordable, increasingly green, housing.
The ADC YouthBuild Program helps out-of-school young adults, between the ages of 16 and 24, obtain a GED, learn hands-on construction trade skills and pursue post- secondary education opportunities.
The (ADC) Workforce Development/Youthbuild Masonry Preservation program teaches general masonry, masonry conservation and green technology skills for students to gain pre-apprenticeship level trade skills. These basic skills enable them to enter the NYC building restoration and energy conservation work force.
To help develop the student’s self-confidence, personal integrity and an appreciation for quality craftsmanship, the hands-on masonry training activities are combined with stories from U.S. history and life skill lessons.
This textbook is the culmination of the ADC training program and curriculum. It has been developed as a primer and practical teaching manual through a grant from the National Park Service and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. It serves as the first step of exploration for young people interested in construction, masonry preservation, green technology, building repair and the conservation of the urban environment.
About the bookEach chapter is built around a particular masonry material, such as mortar, brick, stone, or stucco; or an aspect pertaining to the masonry trade, such as maintenance or green building technology. There is a pattern throughout the textbook which follows this general order:
Each chapter’s opening paragraph provides an informal conversation about the featured masonry material. This helps the reader to recognize or identify this particular type of masonry by linking it to another material, a personal experience or an identifiable location. A brief description of the masonry material is then provided, along with an explanation of its history, manufacture and use in general construction. Common reasons for the material’s deterioration are explained along with a basic repair method or practice. Word definitions, and their origins, are included throughout the chapter to provide a better understanding of masonry tools, materials, methods and practices.
A description of a tool (or tools) most readily associated with the particular masonry material is included in each chapter. After completing the book, a student should have not only a mental understanding of these various tools, but hands-on experience in their use. (Note: A collection of all the tools featured in this primer would provide for the start of a very useful tool bag.)
Time span for People, Places and Things
Each chapter contains a time segment, beginning at 1789, that follows in chronological order to correspond (loosely) with the featured masonry material. Each time segment cites significant historical episodes and highlights a few noteworthy people and locations. The time segments are of various lengths and proceed to the present, with a continuation into the future.
One individual is featured in each chapter to provide a human element to the events occurring within the historical time span. The intent is to narrow the focus from a wide range of events onto one person’s role or involvement. The format contains a series of dates and/or facts, designed to foster curiosity about that person, who is then identified at the conclusion of the statements. The featured person aligns with the chapter’s time span but is not always associated with the masonry trade, materials or tools featured in the chapter.
A photograph, portrait or drawing of the individual, along with a quote, is included to help crystallize their character and enliven the schedule of facts.
A personal attribute of each “Who?” individual is provided as an example to be considered, admired and perhaps imitated. These traits can be used during class to promote topics of discussion amongst the students.
A geographic location is provided to connect a place with the events and people of the historic era. An attempt was made to provide different locales throughout the United States so that the text was not regionalized, but applicable across the country. These locations commence along the northeast coast, travel south, then westward, returning east to conclude in the mid-west.
Building of the Era
A specific structure, or a type of building design, was selected to represent the era of each chapter.
These provide a visual image of the life style, construction method, architectural design or advancement of technology that were touchstones of the period. An attempt was made to select a representational building within the chapter’s “Places” region, and associated with the featured masonry material.
Artifacts (things) help to bridge the time/distance of events long ago with the present. They also enliven historical figures that might seem ghost-like, and places that perhaps seem irrelevant or have never been heard of before. Besides artifacts, “Things” includes significant events ranging from large movements of people (Great Migration) to political up swells (Anti-Masons).
Quotes and Lyrics
A few statements relevant to the people, places and events of the era are provided in each chapter. But the quoted individual is not always featured in that section of the text. The thoughts, words and expressions are intended to be pertinent to the information provided, and more so in the context of integrity rather than masonry or history.
A few song lyrics are included throughout the book as a representation of a moment in history, a way of life or a person of notoriety. Although indigenous to a particular era, some songs transcend time and become ageless.
The featured songs in the early chapters start with a few lines from the chorus and include a historical reference. The songs then lead up to include all lyrics in later chapters. The final song features a photo essay to accompany the lyrics, along with a with web link for listening.
The chapters are color coded for ease in identification and each contains a few separate, qualifying items under a colored banner to provide additional information or insights about the featured material, work, tools, people or history.
Nine to twelve words selected from the chapter are provided as touchstones, to help students remember or identify an aspect of the masonry explored, explained and practiced. The open space after each word is for note-taking to assist in the memorization of the term. This is done by writing a personalized way of remembering and identifying the definition.
Several students who graduated from the ADC masonry preservation program provided statements pertaining to their post-trades education experience. These statements are included to offer encouragement to students in other cities.
Each chapter has two or three activities that are associated with the featured masonry material or tools, to provide an understanding of masonry construction practices, building conservation techniques or green/sustainability technology. The activities materials and directions are explained succinctly, not to be vague, but rather to avoid confusion.
Safety is always emphasized while undertaking these activities. Concerns for time, expense, space, the conservation of materials and the reduction of waste have also been taken into consideration.
The Activities section does not require a large assortment of specialized tools. The intent was to reduce the need to purchase sophisticated equipment in order to teach the basic skills of the masonry trade in a practical, direct, and fun manner.
Three math problems were included in the text to emphasize the important association between math and masonry construction.
This textbook is a free publication that can be downloaded at no expense to the reader. The Web Resources section was provided so additional books would not have to be purchased for follow-up research on a number of subjects. Numerous web resources were investigated. Those featured offer more information with a clear and understandable description of the subject.
Unless otherwise noted and/or documented, the photographs illustrating the text were taken by the author during the course of work, teaching or specifically for this training manual. Credit is given to Rand Engineering & Architecture P.C. for allowing the use of photos taken during the course of work.
The release of photos of students has been provided by Abyssinian Development Corporation. A painstaking effort was undertaken to provide credit for all other photographs and illustrations and to maintain the integrity of the work of photographers, artists, inventors, architects, craft workers, etc. Reproducing or linking to images provided in this publication is prohibited without express permission by the rights holder as referenced in the image credits. All photographs without an image credit are copyrighted by the author, all rights reserved.
Using this bookMasonry
This primer was meant to be printed and referred to during classroom teaching and trades training sessions. The general overview of construction materials, methods, tools and basic training activities provides willing learners with an opportunity to explore the building trades and discover ways to repair aging masonry structures. Many of the featured topics (e.g. “Why are bricks red?” “Terra –Whatta??”) were initiated from the student’s questions.
This book contains stories that can be read by students in a class room setting or discussed while practicing the masonry activities. Many of the stories are of people who faced great difficulties, and are not dissimilar to the problems of young people today. Students might be able to identify with these people, the situations they faced, the struggles they overcame and the fears they conquered.
Some New York City construction companies provide their best brick layers with a salary and benefits that amounts to $60.00 an hour. That’s $120,000 for a forty hour week, fifty weeks a year— which is a lot of money. Providing masonry trades skills and an acumen in history to become a craftsman able to earn this income would be incomplete without the inclusion of some sort of moral compass. Life stories of historic and heroic individuals, words of encouragement or guidance, along with personalized testimonies of former students have been provided for that purpose.
This primer does not promote specific social, political or spiritual ideologies. The religious references and inspirational quotes are included for individuals to explore the means and methods of achieving personal integrity and to develop their own standards for achieving excellence in their work, home, community and city.
There are numerous ways to undertake the repair of masonry buildings, to present historical information and to provide for the development of personal character. It is understood that this book does not contain exhaustive information about the numerous topics it touches upon and that it is limited by its simplicity and brevity. Everything written in this primer is sure to have another interpretation or an easier technique as there is always a better way to do something, anything or nothing.
This book does not provide definitive answers to questions or claim to have the last word on any subject. It is merely an attempt to engage young people in the conservation of the urban environment and to provide a start for the exploration of their role in that task.
There are many young people who have not had an opportunity to fathom the mental and physical work that went into the design, construction and upkeep of the city surrounding them. Perhaps this primer will reveal the uniqueness of their neighborhood and promote an interest to undertake the repair of its aging buildings.
This realization might also awaken an admiration for the people who long ago constructed these buildings and a respect for those who now repair them. It is hoped that this understanding would mature into an appreciation for honest and hard work, the dedication necessary to achieve excellence in craftsmanship, and the dignity of making tough, but right, decisions.
It is further hoped that a glowing spark of curiosity might grow into a light of awareness, to reveal a noble heritage and an amazing future, filled with masonry, history and integrity.
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About the Author
Thomas E. Russack is a third-generation New York City bricklayer with 40 years experience in the construction trades. He is the author of Masonry, History, Integrity - An Urban Conservation Primer.