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Preserving Legacy and Integrity: The Timeless Role of Masonry in Modern School Architecture

Modern and traditional are categories for many focuses, broad or minute. Whether it is in décor, fashion, societal structures, architecture, or even baby names, as with all things, there are developments over time that allow for growth and positive change or simply advancement; oppositely, sometimes ideologies, structures, trends, etc. wither and fail to develop; and, of course, there are those tried and true things—like masonry—that don’t require many alterations because they have proven their positive elements, century after century, making them just as much traditional as modern.  

Architecture has shifted—some may see it as growth, and in ways, elements have blossomed, but removing integrity from a structure to meet tight timelines and cut costs feels like a turn in the wrong direction, especially when the modern materials being used can’t compare to the benefits of block, brick, and stone. In masonry, the materials used are durable and long-lasting, have safety benefits, and leave a positive mark on history. To narrow the focus, realizing how schools were built by our ancestors and how we have further developed the structures to meet modern codes and needs, continue to emphasize the need for masonry.

The Schools

Architecture has been marveled at for as long as there has been man; be it palaces, places of worship, homes, museums, schools, and much more. While architecture may still look beautiful, a lot of construction has lost the depth of its integrity. Yes, buildings are to code; yes, they’re structurally sound; yes, they’re made to look beautiful; yes, they fulfill needs; but the materials being used in modern building are often lackluster compared to their predecessors: block, brick, and stone. However, given the large emphasis on safety in school buildings, masonry is still at large for recommended use.  

Researching the history of school buildings has been a fun quest. Here in America, we all go to school—likely for a very long time, but do we ever stop to think about the building itself or the developments that brought us to have the schools we have? I had never given it much thought; well, not before I entered the world of masonry almost a decade ago. Masonry, more specifically its advocacy, is my career, but sharing general knowledge and engaging thoughts that span the gauntlet of masonry, building structures, and their societal effects highly resonates with me.

As I write this, my mind goes straight to that huge, old brick schoolhouse in a nearby town. Its façade hasn’t changed much; its breadth is all-engaging; its roots are based in history; and, the best part: it is still an operating school. Originally built in 1900, it has cycled through renovations to maintain safety and adhere to current codes, but all its original structure still exists. In fact, the town had voted to renovate the school to preserve the “village feel” as opposed to building a new school. That says a lot about the legacy of masonry. Not only is the look of this building desired by the townspeople, but the structure is safer than those built with wood and plastics. Not to derail from schools, but given the known benefits of masonry, why aren’t more types of structures focused on this same type of safety and structural reassurance?

The Details

I found many sources with pertinent information regarding schools in the United States, though a few really stood out. From the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities—a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences in Washington D.C.—and written for Doctoral purposes by Lindsay Baker: A History of School Design and its Indoor Environmental Standards, 1900 to Today provides a detailed look of the “behind the scenes” we need. She opens with: “Public education is one of the central tasks of a democratic society, and the buildings that house this important task not only shape the way we teach, but provide icons and symbols for the


values we hold common as a society.” Because of this principal focus, it becomes easy to agree that the schools housing our children need to be met with strict safety guidelines and positive learning attributes; be symbolic of societal standards; and represent encouragement for growth within the pupils, the teachers, the staff, and everyone within a community. These elements begin with the basic, yet necessary, factors that create a conducive learning environment: lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, and acoustics. Baker explains, “The history of school construction is one of careful research, standardization and calculated design.” She follows up with a notation from an architectural professor at Columbia University in 1910, quoting, “The data for the designing of public-school buildings have been more completely standardized than for any other type of structure, except the American public library.” Over a hundred years later and emphasis on the construction of school buildings remains paramount. We are fortunate because the art of masonry has the brawn to uphold the high standards placed on these astute structures.

What we've explored here is merely scratching the surface of the vast topic surrounding schools and masonry. As I've outlined, the advocacy for masonry must extend beyond the confines of educational institutions to encompass our entire society, from towns to cities. This necessitates a concerted effort to inspire and guide our youth towards considering trade school and masonry as viable career paths. By embracing and nurturing this ancient craft, we can ensure that both our societal structure, literally and figuratively, will only reap the benefits of masonry and will continue to blossom. There's no room for stagnation when it comes to the arts and practices that bring tangible benefits to individuals and communities alike. With continued understanding and development, the enduring legacy of masonry will only serve to enrich our collective future.

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