All hell would break loose if an architect walked up to a mason on a jobsite and started to discuss the project's design and construction. It's simply not done. But what if it were done as a matter of course? And what if it happened long before a dollop of mortar was mixed? Construction problems would be addressed while the plans were still on the drawing board. Masonry would be specified with more confidence and imagination. And masons' skills would be used more. That's in theory anyway. And if the International Masonry Institute's Masonry Camp is anything to go by, it would work in practice too--for masonry camp plays out this scene in a microcosm of the real world of construction. Masonry Camp is a week-long program during which architectural interns and students and apprentice masons get a crash course in mutual respect. They arrive on a tiny island in a far-flung corner of Maine with their bags and their preconceptions. A week later they leave with their bags and more open minds, having traded in those preconceptions for more understanding. Over the course of a few days this summer, I watched this process unfold. Masons lost their fear of architects and approached them with suggestions when they felt they could help the design process run more smoothly. Masons started to appreciate the kind of meticulous details architects must render. And the architects (students and interns) realized that there are many skilled masons who take pride in their work and welcome a challenge. How was this done? Masons and architects were thrown together randomly into small groups and given a task. These strangers rose to the challenge with impressive zeal. Together they designed a 122-unit, low-to-moderate-income development with loadbearing masonry for a dramatically sloping (1:12) piece of the island. Then they built a mockup of a certain feature. The operative word is "together," as that is the secret of this program's success. As they labored to complete their task, the team members learned exactly what each other does out in the real world--they were amazed and impressed with what they saw. "I never realized all the things they have to take into consideration," said apprentice mason Eugene Jakobi from Wisconsin. Like his fellow masons, he watched as the architects aired ideas, reasoned out the best design for the project and meticulously crafted the designs. "Their drawings were very well executed; their craftsmanship was excellent," said mason trainee Jacqueline Schuler of New York. But the masons also participated in the process by pointing out when the design would be difficult to execute. The masons built up their confidence and drew on their experience to suggest alternatives. Slowly, the architects learned not to try to "fit 10 pounds into a 5-pound bag," as one mason put it. After much discussion, each team reached a compromise and workable designs evolved from the process. The designs benefited from the face-to-face discussion of two groups of people who work intimately together but hardly every communicate with each other. The designs were well thought-out, and most construction problems were resolved in the design phase. Taking it outside When the time came to leave the drawing board behind and move outside to create the mock-up, the masons and architects reversed roles. "The masons were great teachers," said Colleen Muldoon, an IMI instructor based in Fort Ritchie, Md. (see Instructors Came in Many forms). "Initially the apprentices laid it out, then they stepped back. The architects handed back the trowels when they were pressed for time." "It made us understand what it's like to be out there," said Elizabeth Roberts, an intern from New Jersey. And understand they did. As problems arose, the team members put their heads together to troubleshoot them. One team had to deal with a falling mantle. Another had to change the brick bond pattern of a sharply curved fireplace wall from running bond to Flemish bond so that it could be built with such tight curves. "These aren't things I was taught at school," said Robert Aumer, an intern from Pennsylvania. By the end of the week, the most successful teams had bonded, and every member was heavily invested in his or her project. The night before their work was to be judged (not ranked) by a panel, they burned the midnight oil together, perfecting their drawings and mockups. So strong was the feeling of camaraderie that many masons stayed by the architects' sides until the small hours even when they could no longer help with the mockups and drawings, simply to provide moral support. Long-term benefits As they packed their bags and bid each other farewell, all the campers were impressed with how much they had learned. Obviously the benefits were multiple and long-term. Architects' designs improved after they worked with the materials, according to one of the judges. They also vowed to specify masonry with vision in the future, having gained respect for the materials. They will also stop and think more about what goes into the details they design. "You can do so much more if you appreciate and understand each other's work," said Roberto Rovira, a student from Rhode Island. "There should be more interaction with the contractors about what their concerns are; that way, any problems can be addressed in keeping with the general intent." The masons realized that they can draw on their onsite experience to help solve problems. "I respect them more because one little change in the field can throw off the whole design," said Jakobi. Such newfound beliefs show how sharp the learning curve was in that one week of hard work. If nothing had been learned, the masons and architects could have simply exercised their skills independently and the projects would have been built. Fortunately, they reasoned, explained and compromised with each other instead and the projects were a product of the two working in unison. All hell did not break loose--harmony did.