The new Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas proves that a high-security building need not look like an armory. The structure makes extensive use of masonry to combine strength and beauty in a design by architect Michael Graves, renowned for creations that add a touch of whimsy to classical themes.

Brick trick

To break up the monolithic brick façade, courses of 8-in. x 8-in. x 4-in. blue factory-glazed block are used to outline panels of 4-in. x 8-in. x 4-in. utility closure brick. From a distance, this design creates the illusion that the 297,000-sq-ft building is clad in huge red brick with blue mortar joints.

The façade uses 537,000 utility brick, 31,400 blue block, 90,000 modular accent brick, and 3307 cu ft of cast stone. Masonry contractor Lucia Group Inc. engineered the anchorage for the 988-lb cast stone headers at the fourth-floor windows. Lucia crews set the cast stone and placed brick at the sides to cover the ends of the cast stone. “This arrangement provides a unique architectural look to the window in that the header does not appear to bear on the sides of the window, and instead stops flush at the jamb,” said Troy W. Garrett, president of Lucia.

Dollar-green masonry accents the entrance and public cash-processing areas. Green precast pavers lead to the entrance, forming “a money path to the money store,” quipped Garrett. Walls of green-glazed structural block enclose the cash receipt area. The interior also uses more than 5800 sq ft of Hadrian limestone and Palamino tile in the main entrance lobby and other public areas.

The exterior walls were designed to be blast resistant under the security guidelines issued following the terrorist attacks of September 11. More than 178,450 fully grouted and extensively reinforced concrete masonry units were used for backup and partition walls.

Monetary vault

The building has a 186-ft-long, 65-ft-tall windowless wing that houses the second largest vault in the Federal Reserve System. Built of solid, high-strength concrete, the vault exterior picks up the brick cladding design of the main building and features a large barrel-vaulted roof with green roof tiles. Large, evenly spaced brick-clad ribs, or fin walls, form pilasters that provide visual relief over the vast expanse and are topped with cast stone copings. The vault features a fully automated cash storage and retrieval system.

To maintain the tight two-year schedule, Lucia provided a crew of more than 50 brick masons and stone setters, and as many as 70 workers at peak construction times.

The $95 million project received an Honor Award and the People's Choice Award in the Mason Contractors Association of America's International Excellence in Masonry Awards Competition, and an APEX Award from the Houston chapter of Associated General Contractors of America.

Project Participants

Masonry Contractor: Lucia Group Inc., Houston

Architects: Michael Graves & Associates, Princeton, N.J. and Goodwin Alexander & Linville (PGAL), Houston

General Contractor: Linbeck, Houston

Structural Engineer: Walter P. Moore, Houston