The Story of the Construction
A 16 foot span, 1- 1/2 inches thick, 720 bricks throughout the vault surface – all within a construction schedule of FIVE days. Was it possible, we asked? Yes, conceivably. Did it leave any room for error, however? – Not a stitch! These time constraints – from the beginning – were the driving factors in the vault design which emerged for the Cooper-Hewitt: a creative, innovative outcome for the desired geometric complexity, which could still be buildable within this very limited time-frame.
However, all design must anticipate material and human error, and confront inevitable problem-solving on site. As was the case with our construction – which could certainly not afford such delays. So, after a rather gross formwork tolerance error – which cost us one whole day! of delay – the race was really on!
The result was one of the tightest deadlines and most fast-paced constructions I have ever participated in. In three days, with two bricking teams and four other crew members on various critical support tasks, we finished the vault! I am reminded of the old adage, “Haste makes waste!” However, in our case, we already had waste… 4 whole palettes of it, formed into beautiful bricks. Our break-neck speed certainly required certain moments of clear reflection, as we observed small errors and the manner in which they needed to be corrected. At all moments, we had to be critically attentive of such small errors to insure that they did not cascade into problems which could not be corrected – either deviations from our structural catenary geometry or deviations from the pattern system of the masonry. Under the constraints of this time, it is very satisfying to look up at this vault, to remember our hands as they placed bricks, to celebrate the idiosyncrasies in the position of each masonry unit, and to praise our stars that there are bricks overhead!