Winning block designs created by North Carolina State University students over  the past couple of years were a double octagon (top), serpentine (left), and  a version with added aesthetic features (right).
Winning block designs created by North Carolina State University students over the past couple of years were a double octagon (top), serpentine (left), and a version with added aesthetic features (right).

Some of today's most innovative design ideas for concrete masonry are coming from architects in training. As part of their college education, young designers are being challenged to create an old medium in new ways, and the results are impressive.

The BlockFest competition was established almost 15-years ago by North Carolina State University, Carolinas Concrete Masonry Association (CCMA), and local producers Oldcastle Adams Products and Johnson Concrete Products, as part of the design school's curriculum. Duke University has also incorporated the competition into its design program curriculum, and other schools in the Northeast have shown interest.

After visiting a local block plant, students have two weeks to create a design and prototype, which is judged by a local producer, masonry contractor, architect, and landscape architect. In addition to aesthetic qualities, the new units are judged on practical concerns, such as size restrictions, cost efficient production, unit strength, and stability.

The winning BlockFest design each year qualifies for the National Concrete Masonry Association's (NCMA) Collegiate Competition. In this national contest, students compete for scholarship money and a chance to present their original designs to industry leaders at national NCMA meetings.

One student design has already been adopted as a viable product. Oldcastle Adams Products has produced 100 proto-typical units of the double octagon block, developed by North Carolina State University's winning team in 2004.

New designs are owned by the students, although the university can facilitate communications and technology transfer between students and producers.

For more information about student block designs, the Collegiate Competition, or establishing a new local event, contact Rick Ardalan at 703-713-1900 or rardalan@ncma.org.

System builds level floors

This system consists of concrete block placed between open web steel joists, resulting in strong and level floors. The system is fast and easy to install, with no shoring, forming, welding, or cranes required. The floors are wind resistant, energy efficient, termite proof, and fire resistant.

Block Joist Co LLC, 804-285-1250, www.blockjoist.com

Hydraulic cutter handles several materials

The A03ST hydraulic cutter handles any block, paving tile, slab, or similar material made from concrete, stone, or granite. The cutting blades are spring mounted to allow for a snug fit with the irregular thickness of the material surface, while a pressure release screw offers speed and control. The product is powered by a hydraulic drive and has a cutting width of 24 in.