“Beyond text, beyond image, there is a craft of making with masonry.” – Franca Trubiano

This seminar and workshop organized and led by Associate Professor Franca Trubiano introduced students to the subject of masonry tectonics by investigating new design opportunities made possible by clay brick and terracotta tile materials. Innovation was channeled via this most ancient of materials and the seminar was focused on the art and science and the construction and modeling of masonry structures.

In reviewing the history and theory of masonry construction, students acquired fundamental knowledge on the materiality of tiles, vaulting techniques, form finding, and its associated labor. The seminar was supported by expert consultants who, with first-hand knowledge of masonry techniques, led hands-on masonry workshops for students to engage the material reality of masonry. Students worked alongside Penn Design alumnus Jonathan Dessi Olive (MArch’15) and union-trained masonry apprentices from the Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers (BAC) Local 1, in Northeast Philadelphia.

The seminar is grateful for the support of Roy Ingraffia from the International Masonry Institute, Boston Valley Terracotta, and BAC.


Funicular script in Grasshopper and Rhino for modeling and load testing


Test of force diagram and form diagram 01


Test of force diagram and form diagram 02


Vault Design. Three vaults connected on one side and splits on the other side. Each vault has a different height.


Formwork design for construction.


Formwork on site. Different heights already visible. 


This technique rely on the force distribution overall geometry. Even thin triple layered terracotta would be strong enough so self-sustain structurally


Building the arches first, followed by the skin in between.


Widening the arch to increase strength as part of the Funicular tested design.


As the arches get layered, their strength increased. Thickness to strength ration was studied in Grasshopper.


The vault split into three different heights where the arch split to create secondary arch that establish the following vault.


Splitting the arch into two is a crucial tectonic aspect of the design. It has a quality that brick usually doesn’t do.


Expanding the arches to build the skin in between. Professor Franca first hand working with the team 🙂

Structure is stable and the day is over. Just smiling for the memory.


The finished vault is self standing without any tensile forces anywhere. Vault hierarchy is looking neat.


Lesson Learned: Translation of digital to reality is very crustal. If not thought and implemented thoroughly, the result might not be satisfying.


Lesson Learned: Always consider the time of post completion to clean and inspect.




  1. Sandrine Haest
    December 2, 2020


    I’m a student from UCLouvain in Belgium currently working on a vault project using funicular polygons. I was wondering what extension of grasshopper was used for the fabrication of the vault?

    Thank you in advance,

    Sandrine Haest

    • Musab Badahdah
      December 6, 2020

      We Actually used Kangaroo to get the loads, curvature and sections. Then fabricated the formwork using PVC pipes according to the cross sections.
      The tiles later just followed the PVC curvature. Finally, PVC formwork removed.


Leave a Reply

University of Pennsylvania
School of Design

Masonry Tectonic
Fall 2017

. Franca Trubiano
. Jonathan Dessi-Olive

. Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers (BAC)
. International Masonry Institute
. Boston Valley Terracotta

. Ahmad, Alina
. Badahdah, Musab
. Baothman, Joud
. He, Mingxin
. Kim, Chae Young
. Kim, Joung-Hwa
. Li, Dongliang
. Li, Yang
. Li, Yisha
. Najem, Jeffrey Luciano
. Peng, Yunzhongda
. Sun, Tianyi
. Swysgood, Mary Stephens
. Tu, Shangzi
. Wang, Chwen-Ping
. Wang, Siqi
. Welch, Morgan Leigh
. Xiong, Shuoqi
. Zha, Yili
. Zhou, Xieyang