Reinforced Polymer Concrete Screen Walls

Merging the structural integrity of reinforced masonry with the environmental and aesthetic benefits of breeze blocks.



Photo of Brock DeSmit

Brock DeSmit


Belzberg Architects

Photo of Jessica Hong

Jessica Hong

Lead Designer

Belzberg Architects

Photo of Becher Eli Neme

Becher Eli Neme

Principal, Founder

Neme Design Studio



Apertures is a six-story, commercial building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City–a neighborhood severely impacted by the 1985 and 2017 earthquakes. In the wake of major seismic events, concrete and concrete masonry construction were subject to the most significant damage including collapse. Despite this, masonry continues to be prominent in Mexican construction due to its ease of installation, the familiarity of the local labor pool with the material, and their subsequent affordability (Fry 2008). In Mexico City, as in many other regions of the world, masonry is typically utilized in one of two manners with each affording a different set of benefits: reinforced masonry and confined masonry are used for their structural performance, but yield opaque facades which limit glazing and are less desirable for many commercial uses today (Rodriguez 2007); alternatively, breeze block masonry is used to create decorative screen walls and provides functional benefits such as solar shading, privacy, natural ventilation, and views, however they lack reinforcement and are limited in their potential use. The facade design for Apertures merges characteristics of both masonry types into a single system integrating concealed, structural reinforcement into custom, hollow-face breeze blocks. This system enables masonry facades to provide seismic resilience in addition to the functional benefits (such as daylighting, shading, and natural ventilation) while yielding new forms and aesthetics. Notable elements of the new system are the use of polymer concrete and the inclusion of embedded steel plates which allow continuous reinforcement through mechanically fastened connections, and each block can have large horizontal openings. Furthermore, subtle variations in the connections between reinforcing plates allows for complete assemblies to achieve complex geometries without sacrificing the structural integrity of the system.


Figure 1: Rendering of Apertures featuring a conceptual masonry screen wall. (Courtesy of Polynates)

During the early design phases for Apertures, a new, mid-rise commercial project in Mexico City, a concept

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Masonry construction in Mexico has been prevalent from as far back as the indigenous civilizations and through the period of Spanish colonization and rule. Both utilized heavy, stone masonry to

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Primary Considerations

The development of a new reinforced masonry breeze block for the façade of Apertures is best understood through the various studies, tests, and adjustments integral to the resulting system. That

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Evaluation of Façade System Design Concepts

Four concepts were conceived as potential methods for reinforcement and attachment which were evaluated for 1) impacts on architectural design intent, structural reliability, fabrication, installation, and long-term maintenance. The four

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Refinement of the Selected Façade System

The selected system was refined with regard to the block design, attachment details, material mixture, and installation sequence through additional mock-ups and testing. The following improvements were made (not necessarily

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Conclusion and Future Work

The façade design for Apertures was conceived with modest ambitions to capture the benefits from two distinct masonry systems, unreinforced breeze block walls and vertically reinforced masonry walls. The resulting

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The authors would like to express special gratitude to Francisco Mota who not only contributed toward the writing of this paper, but more importantly served as a material expert and principal collaborator in the project’s development. Francisco, your intelligence, deftness, enthusiasm and kind demeanor are exemplary of the qualities required of anyone who partakes in a challenging endeavor such as this.

Papers only get written when there’s something worth writing about. The authors would be remiss to not acknowledge all the people who participated in the development of this project, either directly or indirectly. Thank you to our clients and partners, Alberto Djaddah and everyone at Grupo Anima including Jacobo Levy, Hugo Balderas, Diego Hernandez, Carlos Pacheco, David Urbina, Omar Torres and all the others unnamed here who poured themselves into this. Thanks also to our creative and determined collaborators: Stephan Kordt, Antares, Civilis Ingenium, CEMEX, all the fabricators and all the laborers, and, of course, our friends and colleagues at Belzberg Architects and Neme Design Studio.

Rights and Permissions

Rodriguez, M. (2007). “Confined Masonry Construction.” World Housing Encyclopedia, (Feb. 9, 2012).

Fry, Matthew. (2008). Mexico's Concrete Block Landscape: A Modern Legacy in the Vernacular. Journal of Latin American Geography. 7. 35-58.