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The Skinny on Thin Brick

07.24.12 / Gary Stein, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

In 1994, ARC designed the expansion of Boston College’s Alumni Stadium from an original 32,000 seat occupancy to its current 44,500 seat capacity.  Since then, we have worked with BC on several projects in and around the stadium, as their NCAA Division I athletic program has grown.  The latest project involves the replacement of the artificial turf playing surface and installation of a new masonry wall around the field.  This wall will replace the aging metal panel skirting that is currently hung from the front of the stands.

The original football field was an artificial turf surface which directed storm water to a perimeter drain located below the front edge of the bleachers.  The new playing surface will allow much of the storm water to drain through the field, however, some surface water will continue to flow to the perimeter drain.  Construction of a solid masonry wall with a footing would have restricted the flow of storm water to this drain.  The decision was made to build thin brick wall panels and hang them from the existing bleacher support, thus allowing the field drainage scheme to remain intact.  These wall panels are constructed of galvanized metal stud back-up with thin brick cast onto lightweight glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) sheets. 

A precast concrete cap finishes off the top of the wall.  Thin brick allows us to get the durability and aesthetic BC desires, while keeping the weight of the wall down.  As these panels are being attached to an existing steel bleacher system, care was taken to make the panels as light as possible.  GFRC was selected for its light weight, high strength and durability to weather.

As the project manager from ARC, I recently accompanied McCourt Construction, the project manager, on a visit to the fabricator’s shop in Quebec to review the construction of the masonry wall panels.  BPDL is located in Alma, Quebec, and is one of the largest precast concrete fabricators in the northeast.  Their factory is impressive, and I was able to see how the panels are made.  The first of over 90 wall panels were just coming off the line, and were being reviewed for quality of finish and construction.

How the panels are made

Fortunately, the Belden Brick used in the 1994 stadium was still manufactured and we were pleased to discover that it was now available in a ¾” thin brick.  

The back of the thin brick has grooves which help it bond to the concrete. 

The face of the thin brick is waxed so that it does not stick to the rubber mold.

They are then laid in the rubber mold, with the GFRC poured on top to create a 1 ½” thick panel which is fastened to the metal stud backup.  The fabricator can position the forms around the mold to get the exact brick coursing required by the shop drawings.

The 18 foot long panels vary in height from as low as 2 feet, to as high as 8 feet, and are shipped to the project site on flatbed trucks.  Each panel is unique, as it must fit on the carefully surveyed existing structure.  The panels will be hung from the bleacher steel inches above grade, and the new turf surface will extend below the wall panel.

The first panels look great, and match the existing stadium very well.  We are excited to see these get installed on site, and to see how this wall will improve the appearance of the stadium.  At ARC we are always committed to fully understanding the architectural products that we specify.  Going to the factory to witness firsthand the production process ensures that the manufacturer is providing the quality control and ultimately a finished product that is consistent with our specifications and meets the client’s expectations.

Stay tuned for a project update showing the panels being hung at the stadium.  The project is on schedule for an early August completion in order for the stadium to be ready for 2012 NCAA football season.

The Boston College Eagles will host the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday, September 1st, in the first home game on the new field.  This game is scheduled to be televised on ABC/ESPN2. 

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