Masonry Software: Wall Systems Library for Designers

Words: Megan Rajner

Words:Megan Rajner
Photos: IMI 

Wall Systems Library  

For years, architects and design professionals have been specifying a variety of wall assemblies, sometimes reinventing the wheel drawing after drawing. Many firms create wall assembly details and reuse the ones that are standard to their work’s project types, which means younger firms often spend more time researching and identifying the correct way to build all different types of walls. For both graphical reasons and by way of understanding assemblies, this can result in inconsistencies in the industry where they could otherwise be prevented.  

Scott Conwell, FAIA, CDT, LEED AP BD+C, of International Masonry Institute, has identified this issue as the underrepresentation of masonry in the development of BIM tools. Knowing back in 2012 that BIM (Building Information Modeling) was expanding quickly, Conwell began an initiative specifically intended to advance BIM for the field of masonry. Working closely with BIM-M, the International Masonry Institute has conceived a comprehensive and smart “Wall Systems Library,” which is thought to be a well-organized solution to any design problem. 

The main goals of the Wall Systems Library (WSL) are to simplify the process of specifying masonry for design professionals, standardize the way masonry walls are identified, and to summarize useful data that is unique to each wall. This was accomplished by creating an online resource free to all professionals that breaks down the materials in a masonry wall assembly, and diagrams it in a layered axonometric graphic annotated with material tags. Each tag in the diagram corresponds to a subassembly, which the user can specify from a series of drop-down options.  

The subassembly categories include wall structure, cladding, sheathing, air/moisture barrier, insulation, drainage, attachment, and interior finish. This software was designed to force the user to choose wall structure and cladding first, since those are typically the first choices a designer or their client makes when specifying a wall assembly. These choices will then dictate the options provided for the other categories. The program is even smart enough to detect when one of the other categories is not applicable with previously specified materials.  

When using this tool, users are presented with eight decisions that will determine the design of the wall. Thus, creating a logical, linear decision process, in the hopes to help make masonry a user-friendly system to work with. For example, if a concrete block wall is selected as the main structure it will not give you options for sheathing, rather it will only allow you to choose “No Sheathing” from the drop-down menu.  

While to some designers this aspect of the resource may feel limiting, the intention is that WSL will provide a new standardization. Standardization in terms of wall names and numbers will unify the masonry industry and will introduce a new system for classification that will be helpful to design professionals. Conwell’s hope with this initiative the WSL will be able to inform an architect’s construction documents, which will also inform the specifications. 


Currently, WSL assigns each created wall with a unique three-tier number beginning with a very basic first tier, a more descriptive second tier, and a third tier communicating even further detailed wall properties. According to Conwell, the first tier is meant to be an indication of the exterior material, and intentionally simple since this is the first decision an architect makes.  

For example, if the exterior material appearance is brick, the first-tier digits would be 01. The second tier is all about the wall’s system and structure and acknowledges three ways of doing this: single wythe masonry wall systems, anchored veneer masonry wall systems, or adhered veneer masonry wall systems.  

The digits used for these systems also describe material variation in the structure and nominal thickness. The third tier in the number describes the remaining applicable components of the wall, such as sheathing, air/moisture barrier, insulation, drainage, attachments and interior finish.  

For those who are already familiar with Conwell’s initiative or the International Masonry Institute, you may have already heard of their Masonry Detailing Series (MDS), which set the precedent for the WSL numbering system, was originally published in 2007, and has already been used by thousands of architects. These details are developed by IMI’s technical team of architects, and engineers. They are then reviewed by International Masonry Training and Education Foundation (IMTEF), masonry apprentice instructors, Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC), journeyman, craftworkers, and BAC union contractors to ensure their constructability.  

Conwell’s vision for the numbering system is eventually for an architect to be able to say, “I want wall number on my project,” and everybody knows what that wall is because it has become a part of the library. Something to note is that the library assemblies will not always include everything, because projects will vary. They will not refer to flashing, special conditions of the wall, windowsills, or other details not included in the scope.  

The primary value of the WSL is meant to be in the design development phase of a project and early into construction documents, with the idea that the basic graphic representation of wall components as well as a text representation could be key in creating consistencies in the profession. Recent integrations with this tool and other applications are currently limited- users simply download a pdf after the creation of their preferred assembly. However, using something called dynamo scripts this can be converted into a Revit file and then wall details can be saved into SketchUp.  

The ultimate premise behind this initiative could result in an entire bank of information available to all architects and designers across the board, and masonry could just be the portal to a library of information that contains so much more. 

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