Modeling Every Brick in the Well
Positioning and Rotation for Precision Creates Award Winning Work of Art at St Mary Mercy Hospital Chapel
PLY+ participated in an early planning meeting with Davenport Masonry regarding the chapel at St Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia Michigan. This working session was the beginning of an exciting and rewarding process that blended digital and tactile knowledge and truly showcased the exceptional masonry skills of the Davenport team.
Each company modeled this chapel project. PLY+ used 3D modeling software to model every brick in the wall as it rotated in the overall design. This model was exported to Davenport, who used the digital model along with traditional construction documentation to develop strategies to guide the construction of the complex geometries in the field.
Brick was identified early in schematic design as a material that could bring craft and detailing of façade as a counterpoint to the chapel’s expressive windows. Brick’s modularity enabled the resolution of a geometrically prominent corner of the chapel that transforms from an orthogonal 90° corner to a rounded arc at its highest point.
Once the basic approach to the layout of unique brick patterns was established, a digital model was developed that studied the position and rotation of brick on the special conical corner to develop an approach that would achieve this surface without cutting brick. The basic approach involved rotating a course of masonry in a clockwise orientation from a running bond pattern to a rotating pattern and back again to running bond after rounding the corner. The subsequent course follows the same logic with a counterclockwise rotation, thereby establishing a cross hatch pattern at the corner.
A digital model was developed that studied the position and rotation of brick on the special conical corner to develop an approach that would achieve this surface without cutting brick
A physical study model was constructed from the digital model and, in combination, both were used to communicate the development of the corner with Davenport and to test and adjust the degree of rotation and subtle variations in mortar joint spacing to ultimately establish the brick coursing pattern for the entire corner. This process of collaboration facilitated discussions about strategies of how to achieve this design concept in the field.
PLY+ was selected to provide architectural services for the design and construction of a Chapel addition to the Hospital in March 2016. The vision for this project began earlier when a committee was formed to establish scope of the project and its alignment with the hospital’s mission to “share the spirit of the Gospel to be a transforming, healing presence.” As part of this process, St Mary Mercy Livonia invited Father Gilbert Sunghera, SJ, associate professor of architecture at University of Detroit Mercy, to serve as a liturgical space consultant and to lead a visioning exercise with hospital staff and chapel. Their hard work yielded the following chapel vision statement:
“If this chapel does nothing else, it should… serve as a beacon of hope and peace within a quiet and prayerful environment to promote spiritual and emotional healing and facilitate personal and communal encounters with the presence of God through reflecting the beauty of light, nature and our religious heritage.”
Furthermore, the RFP requested applicants specifically address the design approach that would be taken to relate four themes (beacon, prayerful environment, healing spaces and manipulation of light) to the vision statement. These clearly articulated ambitions in combination with weekly meetings with a chapel design committee guided our design approach and eventually led us to explore the use of brick to express the material and formal qualities that allowed the chapel to serve as a beacon for the hospital.
In addition to the chapel, the project’s scope included a nondenominational reflection room and a Muslim prayer room. The early conceptual design development of the project was largely focused on developing strategies to bring these three spaces into a relationship that respected differing orientations, organizations and presence or absence of religious imagery on a tight and challenging site as an addition to an existing hospital.
In order to estimate labor, Davenport broke the work down into surfaces that could be constructed quickly, slowly andextra slowly. Running bond was estimated using regular pricing. Medium pricing was for brick with sloped tops. Slow install was for radiuses and curves. Super-slow install was for conical corner.
Location of the addition was determined during the initial conceptual phase of design and was selected because of its visual prominence from the approach to the north entrance of the hospital and to allow the new chapel to visually borrow an existing cross on the north façade of the hospital. To accomplish this, the chapel’s form begins low where it meets the existing hospital and rises up to provide a more vertically generous space in the chapel and to convey the importance of this addition. The overall smoothness of the building form was the strategy adopted to achieve unity across a variety of uses and give an overall expression of a spiritual center that provides for all of the members of the Saint Mary Mercy community.
Fostering a spiritual community has always been at the heart of the mission of Saint Mary Mercy Hospital. Its origins expressed this in the form of the original hospital campus. In 1936, a group of Felician Sisters purchased 320 acres of farmland in Livonia MI to build the Motherhouse and the first Chapel. By 1959, St Mary Hospital opened its doors to serve a community in urgent need of healthcare, owing to the fast pace that township growth underwent as fueled by the local auto industry. Since this time, population of the region has continued to grow and become more demographically and spiritually diverse. These dynamics set the stage for the hospital’s need for an updated Chapel. They prompted an interest in exploring the potential for brick to extend a rich heritage into a form that also embraces both present and future.
Developing Form to Meet Function
Along with establishing a visual relationship with the existing hospital cross, the form of the chapel also expresses the importance of specific orientations of apertures for light with a high, east window to provide early morning light for the daily 6:00 am mass, a southern opening that holds a special installation of dichroic glass that bounces spectral colors into the space, a western row of windows that hold a relationship with a futurephase healing garden. While these punctuations play an important role for both the exterior elevations and interior spaces, there are also large portions of the façade that do not hold openings, but instead showcase distinctive brick patterning.
Innovative Budgeting Allows Special Effects
Davenport Masonry was asked to establish budget numbers for Construction Manager Granger Construction’s pre-construction building cost estimate. While these numbers helped establish the overall project budget, they also provided important feedback that played into the development of masonry detailing. In order to estimate labor, Davenport broke the work down into surfaces that could be constructed quickly, slowly and extra slowly. Running bond was estimated using regular pricing. Medium pricing was for brick with sloped tops. Slow install was for radiuses and curves. Super-slow install was for the conical corner. Since the extra slow corner was one of the aspects of the project that was important to protect, other brick patterns were adjusted to balance the amount of typical construction to gain enough economic efficiency to afford other special moments. Budget numbers were approved. In the end, the bricklayers became more efficient than anticipated. To everyone’s delight, pricing was under budget.
As expected, gauging the position of each brick within each course was challenging since the rotation and joint spacing varied within and across all of the courses.
In parallel with the geometric development were discussions with the building design committee regarding the selection of brick color. The majority of the existing hospital is brick, however it was constructed at different times using different colors. As with the development of formal expression of the chapel, material color selection played an important role to help distinguish the chapel as a unique and special component serving the greater hospital community. Magnesium ironspot was selected due to its rich deep color providing tonal punctuation against the generally tan tones of the existing brick and because of its light reflective qualities, which provided exciting opportunity for a solid material to appear dynamic as light reflected off of curving and rotating iridescent brick throughout the façade.
String Template and iPads
Field work proved to be challenging in some ways that were expected and others that were not. As expected, gauging the position of each brick within each course was challenging since the rotation and joint spacing varied within and across all of the courses. This string template had to be reset each day to account for the changes that happened vertically as the overall geometry transformed from a squared to rounded corner. In addition to the string lines, the Davenport crew also used field iPads loaded with a digital model of the brick that allowed them to turn on and off each successive brick layer. In combination, the field strings and digital model provided precise, localized information about the transformation of the patterning.
We didn’t expect, however, that the scaffolding would make it challenging to see how the overall surface of the corner was developing relative to all of the localized decisions. As a consequence, the masons had a limited ability to see the overall corner and decided it was best to continue to build it all the way to the top and then go back to correct any imperfections later. In the end, there was one section of the corner that needed to be reworked. Davenport was able to do this in relationship to the overall geometry, which worked beautifully.
The successful completion of the St Mary Mercy Chapel began with the foresight and visioning of a number of very committed individuals that made it possible to build a team of design and construction professionals to work together to bring expression to and construct a shared vision. The use of brick played an important role in the overall project development as well as its final articulation and was one of many stories of strong teamwork and exceptional quality in tradecraft. Achieving such a high level of detail and quality on time and under budget (the brick work came in under the initial budget estimate generated by the CM), was in large part owing to the level of professionalism and passion that Davenport brought to this ambitious project and is a model that we hope will serve to set the stage for future projects that continue to explore the possibilities and opportunities in building with brick.
Together Craig Borum, Jen Maigret and William Carpenter are PLY+, a collaborative architecture practice in Ann Arbor MI dedicated to design excellence. PLY+ has developed an approach that combines rigorous research and creative invention. This approach has yielded success across a wide range of project types and programmatic uses. Innovation in implementation also lies at the core of our design philosophy and is achieved by close attention to material fabrication, assembly and detailing. In combination, these priorities yield projects that deliver a rich experience of spaces and an identity unique to each building.
Craig Borum, FAIA is the founding principal of PLY (1996) and has overseen the growth and transformation of the practice into PLY+ architecture, urbanism, design. At PLY, his work has been recognized with a Progressive Architecture Award, and an Award from ARCHITECT the magazine. He has been the principal designer on eight projects which have won Michigan AIA Design Awards across the building and interior design categories. Additionally, his designs have also won an American Architecture Award from the Chicago Athenaeum, and a Wood Design Award from Wood Design and Building Magazine. He is a recipient of the highly competitive Young Architects Prize from the Architectural League of New York, and in 2007 he was included in Wallpaper* magazine’s list of 101 of the World’s Most Interesting New Architects. His design for the Mies van der Rohe Plaza in Detroit won first prize in Urban Design in the 15th Quito Biennale of Architecture, as well as prizes in numerous national and international competitions. His work has also been featured in major publications in the US and internationally. He is a Professor at the University of Michigan where he served as Director of the Master of Architecture Program from 2010- 2012. Borum received his architectural training from the University of Virginia. firstname.lastname@example.org | 734-827-2238
Jen Maigret, AIA is a founding principal at PLY+ architecture, urbanism, design. Maigret’s education and professional experience within the field of biology and architecture inform her approach to designing architecture as a component of broader environmental systems. Maigret currently holds a position as an Associate Professor of Architecture at Taubman College at the University of Michigan where she teaches design studios, construction and a required graduate lecture course in sustainability. Through her previous practice, MAde-studio LLC, Maigret has garnered recognition with an American Collegiate Schools of Architecture Faculty Design Award, a Boston Society of Architects Award and three Michigan AIA awards. She is a licensed architect in the State of Michigan and holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan, a Master of Science in Ecology, Evolutionary and Organismal Biology from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Art in Biology from Hartwick College. email@example.com | 734.827.2238
With over 26 years of architectural experience, William Carpenter has worked on a wide range of project types ranging from Institutional to multitenant residential to large-scale retail developments. His project management experience ranges from zoological projects, parking decks, regional malls, senior housing and retail planning. During Carpenter’s career, he has established a strong reputation for collaboration, customer service and client satisfaction. His ability to translate the client’s program into creative design and programmatic solutions and his ability to manage complex professional teams over large geographic boundaries has fostered a track record of successful projects from design concept to documentation to final punch list and project closeout. He has successfully completed national projects in Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, California, and international projects in Japan, Myanmar, China, Dubai and the Philippines. Carpenter received his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the University of Detroit. firstname.lastname@example.org | 734.827.2238
Upon reading the article you will be able to:
1 Identify ways form and use of masonry materials established a connection to existing structure, while also creating a structure of independent prominence
2 Express how brick can create visual interest on walls without openings
3 Identify benefits to early communication between design and construction teams