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The 2004 winning design was a double octagon block.

The National Concrete Masonry Association's (NCMA) annual Collegiate Competition for original concrete block design gives students a hands-on chance to learn the industry. College students compete in this national contest for scholarship money and a chance to present their original designs to industry leaders at national NCMA meetings.

The competition has benefits for both producers and students. Young designers bring a fresh new perspective to concrete masonry, and the industry makes a positive connection with future architects and engineers. “Masonry may be one phase of their learning, but if we create a positive experience, it could turn out to be one of their areas of expertise,” says Harry Junk, NCMA's residential market manager. “The competition identifies and supports developing new designs and products.”

The finished products display ingenuity and versatility. One student design has already been adopted as a viable product. Oldcastle Adams Products has produced 100 prototypical units of the double octagon block, developed by North Carolina State University's (NCSU) winning team in 2004.

Design students qualify for the national Collegiate Competition by winning state competitions established by their schools, local producers, and regional concrete masonry associations. BlockFest is part of NCSU's design school's curriculum. About 60 students in teams of four design a new block unit each year as part of a materials class. After visiting a local block plant, students then have two weeks to create a design and a prototype, which is judged by a local producer, masonry contractor, architect, and landscape architect.

Students gain an understanding of masonry unit design from the producer's perspective. In addition to aesthetic qualities, the new units are judged on practical concerns, such as size restrictions, cost-efficient production, unit strength, and stability.

NCSU, Carolinas Concrete Masonry Association (CCMA), and local producers Oldcastle Adams Products and Johnson Concrete Products developed the program almost 15 years ago. Duke University has also incorporated the competition into its design program curriculum. Other schools in the Northeast have shown interest.

“There are several ways to establish a local design competition at the university level,” says Frank Werner, vice president of marketing at Oldcastle Adams Products, marketing committee chair of CCMA, and chairman of the Student Unit Design Competition for NCMA. “Producers can take the idea to a local school or work together with a state masonry association. Schools can also contact a local producer if they are interested in adding it to their program.”

The deadline for submissions for NCMA's National Collegiate Competition is May 15. For more information about the Collegiate Competition or establishing a new local competition, contact Rick Ardalan at 703-713-1900 or rardalan@ncma.org.