Monday, December 5, 2016

How Teaching Ex-Cons How To Lay Brick Can Help Rebuild Their Lives

Seven or eight years ago, Stephen Shelton started worrying about the future.

It wasn’t just his own Pittsburgh-based construction company, but his entire industry.

Shelton had spent decades working in various trades — often as an electrician and brickmason — but as he looked around at fellow craftsmen, he realized many were getting old. Where was the next generation?

This story is part of Essential Pittsburgh, an ongoing series exploring how Pittsburgh lives, and how it's evolving.
It annoyed Shelton that high schools had ditched their trade programs. He hadn’t loved traditional schoolwork and had always been drawn to the wood and metal shops.

And Pittsburgh, where he lived, was a city built by tradesmen.

“You look at some of these cathedrals and these stone buildings and think, ‘Everything in this city’s made of masonry,’” said Shelton, sitting in his third floor office in the old Westinghouse building in Homewood.

“Back in the day when all of these buildings were brand new, these were the dudes that came over, they came over from Italy, from Poland, from Ireland. Those guys carried themselves with dignity. They were proud of being a tradesman.”

Johnathon Price, 28, of McKees Rocks crouches beside a practice wall inside the third floor of the old Westinghouse building in Homewood on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. Price is one of a few dozen adult students learning masonry at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh.
Today, kids like him don’t have a chance to learn the same trades in school.

“God created everybody to do something, and that means he created people to be carpenters, tile setters, plumbers, you name it,” he said. “But if you’ve never given the opportunity to do what it is God created you to do, you’re going to do something, even if it’s stupid.”

And doing something stupid can lead to prison time. Shelton made a simple plan: Get young men and women off the streets, teach them how to lay brick and get them jobs.

Steve Shelton, Trade Institute of Pittsburgh Executive Director
Hosanna House community center in Wilkinsburg offered Shelton a 1,000-square-foot former boiler room, so he bought some bricks and mortar and found a group of students. In 2009, the first iteration of the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh opened its doors.

Brick by brick

The Trade Institute has been through a few evolutions since it opened, but the same basic model still holds today: Over 10 weeks, the school teaches the basics of masonry — mixing mortar, simple bricklaying, and later, more complex patterns and cement blocking. Students advance at their own pace, and since the program offers rolling admissions, they are all working at different levels.

In August, Brandon Chandler, a 32-year-old from Coraopolis, was in his eighth week of the program. Only a few months earlier, he’d been released from federal prison after finishing up a seven-and-a-half year term on drug charges. Chandler was determined to chart a new course and found his way to the Trade Institute, which moved to Home wood in 2015.

He’d passed the first few skills tests and advanced to more complicated brickwork.

“What I’m building right now is a wall with an arc in it, with two pillars on the side,” he said.

Brandon Chandler, 32, commutes from Robinson shortly after 5 a.m. every day to make it to the gym Downtown, then over to Home wood where he practices masonry at the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh. One of his final projects was a decorative arch requiring "a little skill and a lot of patience," he said.
Nearby, a photo lay pinned of a former student standing next to a finished arch. He looked at his own unfinished rendering.

  “I put some soldiers in there — when the bricks go straight up and down, it’s called a soldier — and when there are ... three bricks stacked on top of each other next to (the soldiers), we call that a basket weave.”

Chandler eased his trowel across an ash-stained brick, pressing the gloppy, gray mud — a cheap, mortar-like blend of lime and sand — into its jagged edges.

“This is buttering the brick,” he said. “You want to spread it evenly so when you put it up it will make a nice bond.”

He set the brick on the wall and eyed it.

Courtney McFeaters, 38, edges a brick along a guideline on a practice wall Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, inside the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, which offers trade skills training to men and women looking for new opportunities after incarceration.
  “Right now, this brick isn’t all the way even,” he said. “I see it sunk a little bit, so I’m going to pick it back up. I didn’t even have enough mud in there to keep it even with the brick.”

Twenty feet away, Courtney McFeaters slowly lined another course of brick on a practice wall. The 38-year-old, who had recently served a sentence for identify theft and credit-card fraud, was in her second week of the program, but said she was picking it up quickly.

“The hands-on part of it is what I like,” she said. “I like to build something and look at it and be like, ‘Hey, I did that. That’s my work.’ That’s what excites me about it, and the job opportunities that come out of it. They’re always going to need masons; they’re always going to need bricklayers. It’s like an industry that will never die.”

Inside T3, the first mass timber building in the US

Dive Brief:

  • With a planned opening for later this month, the seven-story, 220,000-square-foot T3 (Timber, Technology, Transit) Office Building in Minneapolis will be the largest contemporary wood building in the U.S., according to Architect Magazine. Most of the wood is from Pacific Northwest trees killed by the mountain pine beetle. Minnesota's building code classifies the wood as Type IV Heavy Timber.
  • The building features a grid-based framing system using a combination of spruce-pine-fir nail-laminated timber (NLT) panels, spruce glulam and concrete. Crews framed 180,000 square feet in a little more than nine weeks, translating to 30,000-square-foot of floor space installed each week. The lightness of the almost all-wood building has reduced the seismic load significantly.
  • Its architect, Michael Green Architecture, left much of the interior wood exposed, which saved money on finishes, while using indirect lighting for illumination after dark to highlight the use of wood as a structural material. The building will also feature a ground-floor space for public use.

Dive Insight:

Wood buildings are popping up all over the place, and plans for future structures run the gamut from doable to conceptual. Currently, the tallest wood building in the world is the $39-million, 18-story Brock Commons residence hall at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Cananda, which is scheduled to open in September 2017. The tower will be able to accommodate 400 students.
Meanwhile, Perkins+Will has proposed an 80-story all-wood tower along the Chicago River. River Beech Tower would feature a center atrium and an aluminum veneer over a lattice of wood beams. If built, it would be the tallest wood building in the world.
In the relatively new space of all-wood buildings, there are many candidates for the title of tallest wood tower waiting in the wings, but building codes and fire safety are an ongoing concern. While not part of the cross-laminated timber (CLT) or NLT discussion, but still dealing with wood, Sandy Springs, GA, recently changed its building codes to eliminate wood as an option for multifamily structures more than three stories high and larger than 100,000 square feet.
While city officials said the motive was safety, Justin Mihalik, president of the American Institute of Architects New Jersey chapter, told Construction Divelast month that the necessary fire ratings can be attained using most any material. "If it's tested and meets requirements," he said, "wood is safe."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Behold the Brick Khalifa: The World’s Tallest LEGO Building

This week, we were reminded yet again of the possibilities offered by the famous plastic bricks: A LEGO version of the world’s tallest building has been unveiled. The LEGO Burj Khalifa was built by a team of experts at LEGOLAND Dubai, which is slated to open this Halloween. The model celebrates the crown jewel of Dubai’s skyline and is sure to provide Dubai natives with the uncanny thrill of recognition only architectural models can offer.

At 56 feet (17 meters), the Brick Khalifa is claimed to be the tallest building in the world made out of LEGO. The mammoth model contains 439,000 LEGO pieces and weighs in at 1 ton. Construction took over 5,000 hours.

Like the real Burj Khalifa, the LEGO version features LED lights and is surrounded by water features, which can be used to put on elaborate light and fountain shows.
Readers unable to make it to LEGOLAND Dubai who nevertheless think the Burj Khalifa looks pretty in plastic should check out the LEGO Architecture Burj Khalifa set, which can be built at home. This 15-inch model may lack the grandeur of the Dubai version, but it is elegant in its own right and makes a great gift

Singapore puts drone plans in motion-

Singapore is looking to expand its use of drones to support public services, for instance, to help monitor dengue-ht areas and construction sites.

The Ministry of Transport announced on Tuesday that it had awarded a main contract for the deployment of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, to three key vendors, from which government agencies would then approach to deploy the technology. This "master contract" arrangement would allow for economies of scale, said the ministry, adding that more public agencies were expected to conduct pilots using drones to support their daily operations.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore would administer the two-year master contract, which would end October 31, 2018.
Aetos Security Management and Avetics Global had been selected to offer both tethered and non-tethered drone services, while CWT Aerospace Services would deploy non-tethered drone services, said the transport ministry, which had called for the tender in April.
It described a non-tethered UAS as a drone that could take flight without any attached cables, while a tethered system would require the use of cables attached to the device. Tethered systems would have access to power supply and be able to send and receive data.
The Transport Ministry in February had unveiled plans for more than 25 use cases in which the public sector could tap drones. Singapore's Maritime and Port Authority, for instance, could deploy UAS from its patrol boats to respond to marine incidents including oil spill surveillance and support for search and rescue operations. Codenamed Water Spider, the drone in such use cases would improve operational efficiency during such emergency situations and complement traditional use of helicopter flights and satellite images.
The National Environment Agency also would use drones to support dengue control initiatives, such as monitoring roof gutters to ensure these were not clogged. In addition, a UAS could be used to deposit bacillus thuringiensis israelensis larvicide into roof gutters and exterminate mosquito larvae.
According to the Transport Ministry, the Land Transport Authority would expand ongoing trials at 10 work sites involved in the construction of Singapore's subway Thomson-East Coast Line, including Upper Thomson, Orchard, Marina Bay, and Havelock. The pilots were expected to run for up to a year.
Here, the drones could be deployed to study construction work, such as excavation and onsite traffic flow.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Future of the Field: From trade school to the job site, the impact of technical education

Paul Tse, 30, isn’t afraid to admit that he wasn’t the best student in high school — he even told Congress. In May, Tse testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education as part of a push by the Associated Builders and Contractors to bolster spending for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Training Act, which aims to improve technical training opportunities.
In his statement, Tse, who emigrated with his family from Hong Kong to Montgomery County, MD, in 1996, explained that enrolling in the HVAC program at the Thomas Edison High School of Technology, in Silver Spring, MD, gave him necessary direction. “Spending my mornings in a typical classroom and afternoons at Edison, I was introduced into the world of construction and the skilled trades,” he told Congress.

A few weeks before he graduated, Tse was offered a job as an apprentice with local contractor Shapiro & Duncan Mechanical Contractors, in Rockville, MD, attending the Air Conditioner Contractors of America apprenticeship program in the evenings. “Even before my peers packed up their cars and headed out for freshman move-in day, I accepted a [position] and got right to work,” he said in his statement.
We talked with Tse, today a project manager with Shapiro & Duncan, about how he’s forging a path in the industry, the role of technical education today and what it was like to share his story with Congress.

As your friends were heading off to two- and four-year colleges, what did you think of your decision to pursue a trade?

TSE: It was nerve-wracking. Everybody was going to go tour different colleges and talking about their campuses and so on. I had nothing to show for it. To me, I was taking a big risk. I wasn't sure what the road ahead was going to be like. Nobody had told me whether it was going to be easy or if it was going to be hard, or if I was going to have a decent-paying job. All those things were unknown to me.

What did your instructors say about the decision to go into the apprenticeship program?

TSE: My teachers were positive. They were all tradesmen who had retired or stopped working in the trade to become teachers. They were all like: "You can definitely get out of here and be able to find a job right away. That’s a skill set that's going to stick with you for the rest of your life."

What are some of the biggest takeaways from your four-year apprenticeship?

TSE: Showing up on time and being prepared for whatever you're doing that day, as well as your craftsmanship — putting pride in your work. Not only does that show to your mentors and your superiors but, at the end of the day, it also shows to your customer, which will reflect on how you do with your supervisors and your mentors. Also, being prepared to learn every single day. You have no idea what you're going to encounter on your next project or even the following day on the same project.

Can you describe the experience of testifying in front of Congress on the importance of technical training?

TSE: It was very scary. The opportunity came up randomly through the ABC. It was a normal day of work for me and then I got a phone call, which became a phone interview, which eventually evolved into going in front of the panel to testify. They were looking for a success story [for technical training programs].


Did you realize you were a “success story” before they told you?

TSE: Not really. I just think I'm a normal American who immigrated to the States and this is, to me, the American Dream. Starting out with next to nothing and getting that education you're looking for, getting out of your education without accruing debt and then having a normal life.

After the testimony, did you find that your position on the role of technical training and mentoring changed?

TSE: It did, a little bit. After everybody told me how they felt about my testimony, I was a little shocked because I didn't think I was doing anything special. I thought this was a normal path, and that's when I started hearing that a lot of these other people still have a bad taste in their mouth of looking at construction workers as blue collar, inappropriate, disrespectful, uneducated. But that’s not the reality. The path of going down a four-year technical program in lieu of a four-year or two-year college should be open to everyone, not just people who couldn't make it in school.

What kind of mentoring opportunities have been available to you?

TSE: I would consider myself extremely lucky in terms of having mentors in this trade. A couple of incredible individuals at Shapiro & Duncan have taught me from 75% to 80% of what I know today. They took my hand and showed me how to do the things in the field. And then whatever I did by hand during the day, I went into school at night [as a part of the apprenticeship program] to get a more technical explanation, which reinforced my background of this trade.
I was never the best student in high school, and going into the classroom made me cringe a little bit. But in this case, it was encouraging. It was different than my high school career because whatever I learned during the day by hand, I was getting the explanation that night. It was like two pieces of a puzzle and a light bulb coming on.

What do you think the industry could be doing better in terms of bring up younger people through the ranks?

TSE: Awareness and advertisement. Being able to explain to kids that being a construction worker [is a positive], that's step one. Step two would be having school systems be more open to having contractors go to their school to show kids that there are apprenticeship programs that they can go into and they're not going to owe anybody a dime and are getting a skill set that they can take anywhere.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

TSE: My hope is that I will still be here at Shapiro & Duncan, and for the most part doing something similar but maybe at a higher level, like looking at multiple projects at a time as a senior project manager or some type of project executive. But maybe 10 years is too soon. Maybe I need more time.

How do you move a 140-year-old synagogue? Very carefully

It wasn't a fast or long ride, but it was a significant one.

A sophisticated system of hydraulics and steady wheels going about 1 mph moved the 140-year-old former Adas Israel Synagogue about 30 feet from its Third and G streets NW location on Thursday. The relocation clears the way for the continued construction of Capitol Crossing, Property Group Partners' $1.3 billion, 2.2 million-square-foot development atop I-395
This is the second time the building — currently home to the Albert and Lillian Small Jewish Museum — has been relocated. In 1969, after Metro purchased the entire block near Judiciary Square, a group of Jewish historians petitioned to save it. An act of Congress cleared the way, and the synagogue was then moved from Sixth and G streets NW to Third and G.
“It’s not every day you see a building as historically significant and important to the region as this one relocated for a second time,” Bob Braunohler, Property Group Partners regional vice president, said in a statement. “We are pleased to support this effort that gives the synagogue a bigger and better location that will benefit future generations of Washingtonians.”
There is a third move in the building's future. In about 2 1/2 years, the synagogue will be relocated to Third and F streets NW, atop a Capitol Crossing parking garage. There, it will be part of a new, larger museum complex. Until then, the building will be closed to the public as it rests on a steel platform.
"This is an exciting day for the Jewish community and for Washington in general," Renaissance Centro founder Albert "Sonny" Small Jr., whose parents' names adorn the museum, said at the move. Small's grandfather, also named Albert Small, was important in the fight to save and move the building 46 years ago.
Thursday's move cost about $500,000, Property Group Partners said.
The synagogue was built in 1876 by German immigrants. Original construction cost: $4,000. In 1908, the first Adas Israel congregation moved out and the building became a series of storefronts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How to Keep Buildings From Killing Hundreds of Millions of Birds a Year

ARCHITECTS’ GROWING AFFINITY for glassy buildings has given the world better views, more natural light, sexier skylines—and a lot of dead birds. The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 750 million birds perish annually flying into glass façades, which can be hard to distinguish from open airspace. The problem is so bad in some places that skyscraper owners hire workers to remove expired birds from the bottoms of their buildings.

Guy Maxwell, a partner at New York-based Ennead Architects, is on a mission to mitigate this fowl holocaust. A bird lover his entire life, he first became aware of architecture’s deadly impact on avifauna 15 years ago, shortly after the completion of his firm’s Rose Center for Earth and Space at NYC’s American Museum of Natural History. The enormous glass cube afforded unimpeded views of the spherical Hayden Planetarium within, but was a deadly invisible barrier to birds. Maxwell has been working to protect feathered species ever since.

Working with him is an informal circle of anti-collision advocates that includes members of the American Bird Conservancy, New York City Audubon, New Jersey Audubon, and the Bird Safe Glass Foundation. (“It really takes a gang of merry pranksters to pull this off,” says Maxwell.) Together, they’ve made progress on bird-safe research, bird-safe building regulations, bird-safe glass, and bird-safety awareness, spurring changes that have already had a large, ahem, impact.

Among their recent accomplishments is the American Bird Conservancy’s creation of two avian research facilities—one at the Powdermill Nature Reserve, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, the other inside a modified shipping container at the Bronx Zoo. (The Bronx tunnel’s design was overseen, in part, by Maxwell and his colleagues at Ennead’s research-intensive division, Ennead Lab.) Spearheaded by American Bird Conservancy Bird Collisions Campaign Manager Christine Sheppard, these testing tunnels are the only ones of their kind in the US, and allow researchers to investigate which glass treatments and lighting conditions birds will fly toward or avoid. They’ve learned, for instance, that birds won’t try to fly through vertical line patterns that are less than four inches apart, and that line patterns tend to be more effective at preventing collisions than dotted ones.

Using this knowledge, Maxwell, Sheppard, and their confederates have consulted with glass manufacturers like Viracon, Guardian, Bendheim, and Arnold Glas to help produce products like ceramic frit patterns and UV coatings—treatments that are visible to birds and can alert them to the presence of dangerous physical barriers.

The group’s biggest policy achievement came in 2011, when it partnered with the US Green Building Council to launch a LEED pilot credit #55 for incorporating “bird collision deterrence” into new buildings. The goal: Make buildings as visible to birds as possible, through glass technologies, exterior building treatments like screens and louvers, and decreased night lighting levels. Maxwell says it has since become LEED’s most popular pilot credit. Other victories include legislation (initiated by Golden Gate Audubon) in San Francisco, Oakland, and other Bay Area cities establishing citywide bird safe building standards. Mandatory and voluntary ordinances have been passed in New York, Minnesota, and Toronto, as well.
Much of the team’s research is embodied in Ennead’s Bridge for Laboratory Sciences at Vassar College. The bridge-like classroom-cum-laboratory is a case study in bird-safe architecture. Vertical metal sunscreens cover its long, curving façade. Its windows are coated in Arnold Glas’s Ornilux, a UV coating visible only to birds, and various hues of ceramic fritting (the range of colors ensures that the lines are visible to birds from a variety of species).
The concept of bird safety is changing architecture, Maxwell says. Exceptional bird-friendly designs have been completed across the country, from the fritted glass windows of Weiss Manfredi Architects’ Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitor Center, to AJC Architects’ Tracy Aviary Visitor Center in Salt Lake City, which is fronted by fractured metal screens that keep birds from flying into its windows. “There’s generally an awareness of this problem now,” says Maxwell. “You see architects considering this when before they had no idea it was even a problem.” The public is becoming more aware of the problem, too. New York City Audubon has even created an online portal, called D-Bird, where people can report building-related bird mortalities.
Meanwhile, Maxwell and his band of bird advocates are seeking funding to ramp up their research and advocacy. They would like to build several more labs along the east coast, fight for more bird-safety legislation, and see bird-friendliness become an automatic consideration for architects.
“I’m amazed that there are still many people who don’t realize the enormity of the problem,” Maxwell says.