Applying New Tools
Triangle Aquatic Center, Cary, N.C.
In North Carolina's Triangle area, which encompasses thriving boom cities like Raleigh, Durham and Cary, local architects identify masonry as the preferred building material to achieve a modern, clean look in demand from the pharma and bio research firms flocking to the region. Carolina architects have come to rely on masonry for its host of benefits, including durability, thermal performance, fire protection and cost efficiency—as well as its unique aesthetics. However, architects also note that designing with masonry creates challenges.
Because of the complexity and vast number of individual units required for projects, masonry can be challenging to model in existing software. Leading modeling platforms that are more focused on steel or monolithic wall structures are not equipped to manage the amount of data contained in a masonry projects. The result is a significant burden on the designer to manually produce and maintain 2-D content for patterns, sections, details and specifications.
Michael Sutton, AIA, LEED-AP for Integrated Design in Raleigh, N.C., has experienced the frustrations and limitations of masonry modeling first-hand. In 2019, he designed a multi-phase renovation of Cary's Triangle Aquatic Center, a two-story, 60,000-square-foot facility that added close to 13,000 square feet and 500 parking spaces. Two building additions also accommodate a new fitness center, multipurpose room, and a 50-meter outdoor pool.
The existing aquatic facility had a complex masonry façade that included a mixture of three colors, two textures and two sizes. During Phase I, Sutton manually applied color through photo design software to produce the required elevations for the Town's approval. For Phase II, Sutton discovered Masonry iQ, a new Revit plug-in that automates much of the time-consuming manual modeling work. This tool delivered design flexibility, modeling accuracy and photo-realistic rendering capabilities—allowing him to focus on designing—not modeling.
Masonry iQ was developed in response to the gaping hole in the ability to model masonry in current architectural design software. A cloud-based plugin, the tool maintains all the Revit workflows that design pros are already familiar with, but adds invaluable capabilities for automatically handling the most time-consuming elements of masonry modeling with a single click, without bogging down the model.
Modeling Colors, Shapes, Sizes
According to Tom Cuneio, founder and president of 3DiQ Inc., the developer of Masonry iQ., masonry has been difficult to model in Revit because of its complexity—different shapes, sizes, colors and textures—and sheer number of units contained in even a moderately-sized project.
"Often for masonry, the user has to do a lot of hand drawing to get to spec-ready details and ultimately, to get to final construction," explained Cuneio. This translates to dozens of hours of work, added costs and can still result in inaccuracies—especially when successive rounds of changes come into play. Worst of all, these inaccuracies often aren't realized until the construction phase, resulting in change orders and costly delays in the field.
The time savings from using the plugin during design of the Triangle Aquatic Center were significant, according to Sutton. "When we specified Oldcastle APG's Echelon Masonry products for the first phase, we did it the long way by photo-shopping block images onto a 2-D drawing to produce the final rendering," said Sutton. "In the Revit modeling, we had to hand-draw the different block sizes because of the shape differences—not to mention all of the time spent thinking about cuts, penetrations, movement joints and the like." The project included more than 7,100 units of split face and smooth face block in three colors and two textures.
"Using Masonry iQ during the second phase in 2019 had a definite impact. It was much easier, with dozens of hours of time savings," noted Sutton.
One challenge for the aquatic center expansion was that the colors on the two additions' elevations had significantly different wall patterns compared to the existing building.
"Typically, we'd take CAD elevations and try to bring it into Photoshop, but with the Masonry iQ plugin, all of the locally-produced products were available right in the program. We could select the colors and textures and lay out a pattern very easily, then render it out in photo-realistic detail," Sutton explained.
Sutton was particularly impressed when the plugin caught something that no one realized—a pinkish block color had been selected based on the existing building, but the submittal rendering brought up a brown block. It was discovered that the original plan called for brown block, but had been changed to the pinkish block during the original construction.
"Masonry iQ was able to call out that the wrong block was in the existing building plan," he noted. This was a game-changer for Sutton, who is not only a fan of masonry, but often has it widely requested in North Carolina's Research Triangle.
"We often specify Echelon's split-face and smooth face block because it works really well for lab and research projects where block is used," he said. "With the technical expertise of Oldcastle APG's team and our upgrade to Masonry iQ, we've unlocked more ability to experiment with masonry and have achieved an even higher level of accuracy in texture and color pattern."
Improving Estimation & Integration With Trades
"The original design was way over budget due to increased parking space requirements and the complex configuration of the two additions," recalled Choate Interior Construction's Jim Baker, Associate AIA. "During the renovation, we also contended with the Town of Cary's stringent building requirements, COVID delays and need to continue with scheduled swim meets. Masonry iQ gave us the flexibility to change things up to accommodate these challenges on the fly."
With a better software system, Michael created a 3-D drawing of more simplified steel configurations and relocated electrical, reducing the scope, helping to stay within budget.
For a project with an extremely tight budget, getting the design right in order to avoid in-the-field issues was critical. Sutton relied on Masonry iQ's ability to extract unit shapes, materials and quantities directly from the design model to provide a more accurate take-off and materials list for Baker and his team. This ability to rationalize masonry at the unit level early in the process goes way beyond traditional area or volume estimates for a production order level of material cost, taking out a great deal of uncertainty from the build.
For Baker, meeting the budget challenges and color-matching were essential to bringing the project in on time and with accuracy—and delivering a phenomenal, modernized facility for its 450,000 annual users. "I personally wanted this project to work out well as a former competitive swimmer and now a volunteer starter for swim meets."
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