Groan if you must, my other thought was "Just another brick in the wall." But I prefer the Commodores over Pink Floyd.
So, why the bad music puns? Because the article I wrote about MacArthur Genius John Ochsendorf, an associate professor of building technology in the MIT School of Architecture + Planning, is up on the Architect website. Ochendorf's research looks to the history of masonry, specifically, Catalan vaulting—thin tile vaults that can stretch across large spaces without formwork:
Engineer and architect Rafael Guastavino Moreno brought this Mediterranean masonry technique to the United States when he emigrated from Spain in the 1880s. Simultaneously structural, decorative, and fireproof, the vaulting system is known for its use in, among other notable structures, Manhattan's Grand Central Terminal, by Reed and Stern/Warren and Wetmore, and McKim, Mead, and White's Boston Public Library.
Between 1885 and 1962, the R. Guastavino Co. (the founder's son Rafael Guastavino Esposito inherited the business) erected nearly 1,000 buildings across North America, a body of Beaux Arts structures largely neglected by historians. The Guastavino Project, created by Ochsendorf and managed by the MIT's architecture department at guastavino.net, documents the company's Boston-area oeuvre.
Although Ochsendorf draws on masonry's past, his work is decidedly forward-looking. In September, he received a prestigious MacArthur fellowship, more commonly known as the "genius grant," for his research on structural engineering history and technology. With research assistant and Ph.D. candidate Philippe Block, he is developing 3-D modeling and parametric tools that can decipher the compression loading in historic structures and assess their safety. Called thrust network analysis (TNA), this same computational method makes it possible to design and engineer new kinds of structural vaults. Currently, the MIT Masonry Group, led by Ochsendorf, is using TNA in conjunction with Buda, Texas–based Escobedo Construction to erect a privately owned pavilion with a free-form, compression-only, unreinforced stone masonry vault outside Austin, Texas.
Also under way, though on the far side of the globe and at the other end of the technology spectrum, is the Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Centre, located a few hundred miles north of Johannesburg, South Africa. The ambitious sustainable project, situated in a UNESCO World Heritage site and designed by Lerotholi Rich Associated Architects, makes exclusive use of Catalan vaulting to form the interior spaces of the center's handful of buildings. The vaults were designed by Ochsendorf, Block, and Masonry Group alumnus Michael Ramage in collaboration with South African engineer Henry Fagan.