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Blog updates by Watershed Materials. Developments for sustainable new concrete block technology funded by the National Science Foundation.

Stanford University Discovers Watershed Block

The new restroom building, nestled into the eucalyptus grove on Lasuen near Campus Drive, looks like it might have been there when Leland Stanford first bought the farm in 1885, except of course for the indoor plumbing. Recycled barn wood siding and Watershed Block structural walls capture a patina of well worn use. Image credit : © SkyHawk Photography - Brian Haux

Watershed Materials is thrilled to have Watershed Block incorporated in a beautiful new sustainable building on the Stanford University campus. This is the first project for Watershed Block at Stanford, but the company has a long history with the university. Rammed Earth Works, our sister company, built the rammed earth walls for the highly awarded Windhover Contemplative Center, and decades before that, co-founder David Easton was one of the first students in Stanford’s School of Product Design in 1970.

The project, set amongst a grove of eucalyptus trees, is one of the first buildings visitors see when arriving via bus tour or the adjacent event parking lot. The building offers public restrooms for the greater Stanford community as well as a welcome area for visiting tours. Chris Dorman, Principal Designer at Dorman Associates, worked with Alexander Eng, Kelly Rohlfs and Stacey Yuen at Stanford University to design the building.

Not for your run of the mill mason: stacked bond, three different block heights, four different colors, dark mortar and deeply raked horizontal joints. No big box store mentality here. Image credit : © SkyHawk Photography - Brian Haux

“We wanted to build a project that fit within its surrounding context and was inherently sustainable. The site was located amongst several groves of trees on the north side of campus so our intent was to create a durable, lasting building that would maintain a strong connection to nature while seamlessly blending into the environment,” said Alexander Eng.

“In addition to typical sustainability strategies including the use of natural ventilation through open air window screens and reclaimed wood siding, Watershed Block provided the unique opportunity to introduce both a more sustainable and aesthetically pleasing building solution. The availability of the material to come in a range of colors and sizes allowed us to celebrate the natural tonality and texture of the block's composition of recycled earth minerals in a way that added a richness to the project.”

The new restrooms near the tour bus parking lot on Lausen will be one of the first building many visitors to the Stanford campus see, followed quickly by Hoover Tower, Memorial Church, and the other one hundred year old sandstone buildings that make up the central quad. Image credit : © SkyHawk Photography - Brian Haux

Chris Dorman noted that his firm was first attracted to Watershed Block because it offers the functionality and durability of concrete block with a reduced environmental impact and a color and texture that rose above the uniform appearance of concrete block. Chris and Alexander collaborated on the stacked bond block pattern that incorporates deeply raked horizontal joints and uses three different block dimensions. The Watershed Blocks used in this project were designed with a hue inspired by the rich reddish-brown sandstone that underlies the Stanford campus.

Construction proceeded without a hitch, under the direction of Steve Mitchell, the site superintendent for general contractor Hillhouse Construction. Hillhouse prides themselves on their commitment to sustainable construction practices. The best feedback for Watershed Materials from Steve was how seamlessly the blocks fit into established masonry building practices - the classic example of “no news is good news.” In this case, no complaints from the tradesmen.

David Easton inspecting the block work in progress. One of the drawbacks to stacked bond rather than running bond is that vertical reinforcing bars are required in all cells prior to grouting with high strength low carbon concrete.

All in all, a great new project for the Watershed team to display the beauty and versatility of our low cement blocks. Next time you’re on the campus, be sure and stop by to take a peek. And keep your eyes on these blog posts to see what’s next from the Watershed. Spoiler alert - zero cement blocks.

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