Expressing culture through marble and granite

May 2, 2002
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A total of 35,011 pieces of Mount Airy granite in polished, thermal and honed finishes, comprised the exterior facade of the United Arab Emirates Chancery in Washington, DC. Complementing the Mount Airy granite was 481 square feet of polished Azul Bahia granite from Brazil.


The exterior also featured two domes made of Arabic patterned mosaic tile, which were assembled in the field.
An embassy building is supposed to represent a nation at its formal best, and Washington, DC, is crowded with international candidates for the grandest structure. The latest entry is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Chancery. Paying homage to classical Islamic architecture while sounding a decidedly modern note, it provides the crowning touch to Washington?s International Drive, a bustling adjunct to Embassy Row.

For the United Arab Emirates diplomatic mission, the objective in building their first custom property was to make "a statement about our modern country, based on our culture and our history," said Embassy Project Director Hassan Abdulrahman. And this statement was made with the abundant use of marble and granite.

The design concept for the new chancery was created by architect Angelos Demetriou, principal of Angelos Demetriou & Associates, who said the point was not to imitate traditional Islamic architecture, "but to create out of it. "It is one of the most historical styles in the world, and the most important. You could not replicate it."

Demetriou, whose Washington, DC, firm had a branch office in the UAE for years, conceived of the grand structure as "unimaterial ? one stone from one quarry." Seeking the "serene sculptural effect" that stone can offer, the architect incorporated three surface types in the building?s granite exterior -- honed, thermal and polished -- sometimes within a single piece of granite. "It is a powerful material, heroic even," he said. In contrast, the inside marble walls and intricate marble floor medallions "are more tender, like silk you can touch," said Demetriou. "The overall effect is a serenity and a grandeur I haven?t seen in other embassy buildings."

The large dome consisted of 1,950 square feet of mosaic tiles, while 135 square feet of tile was employed for the small dome.

Confronting the size

The challenges of turning that vision into reality included the sheer volume of stone -- a total of 94,545 square feet. In all, 13 varieties of marble, granite and quartzite were employed throughout the interior and exterior of the building, according to stone and mosaic contractor Brett Rugo of Rugo & Carosi LLC in Woodbridge, VA, which includes a skilled team of mechanics and helpers from Local 1 Maryland/Virginia/District of Columbia of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC). Distinctive features in the design included two Arabic patterned pre-assembled marble "carpets" totaling 1,500 square feet, solid granite entrance portico pieces, polished radial granite spandrels at the rear of the building, a granite and tile fountain and pool, and solid marble and granite staircases. Additionally, the design included book-matched marble slab toilet partitions and vanity tops.

To break it down further, 65,795 square feet of stone -- 35,011 pieces or 65 truck loads -- was used for the exterior alone, according to Rugo. Of that total, 481 square feet, or 1,078 pieces, consisted of polished Azul Bahia granite. The interior was comprised of 28,750 square feet -- 12,651 pieces -- of patterned marble. All interior of the marble was factory blended for color per floor, per area. In total, 15 containers of marble were used, said the contractor.

Additional granite used for the project included Mount Airy granite in polished, thermal and honed finishes, polished Nero Assoluto and Impala Black with a thermal finish. Among the marbles used -- all with a polished finish -- were Statuario Raviccione, Verde Guatemala, Grigio Timau, Giallo Ghibli, Verde Saint Nicolas, Fior Di Pesco, Nero Belgio and Greca Bronzeo. Additionally, polished Azul Macauba quartzite was also employed.

Detailed stonework -- including several large medallion floor patterns -- is showcased throughout the interior of the chancery. In total, 13 different marbles, granites and quartzite were employed for the project.

Overcoming challenges

Installing the stone provided more than a few challenges to Rugo & Carosi and North Carolina Granite Corp., the fabricator for the project. The numerous pieces of Mount Airy granite employed for the exterior facade were inlaid with 1-inch-wide polished stainless steel strips. The steel inlays made it necessary for Rugo & Carosi to develop their own standards and all the drawings, with the help of SM Haw Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio.

The anchoring requirements for the blue medallions prompted Rugo to design two anchoring systems, both epoxying and anchoring them to a mother piece of white granite. "We used both belt and suspenders for this job," said the contractor, who hand-selected the blue medallion stone at Marmi Vicentini in Chiampo, Italy.

Even with the great care taken, handling the stone and accounting for dimensional tolerances "was extremely precarious," said Rugo. "It was a huge challenge to coordinate."

Inside, challenges included precise installation of two massive marble floor medallions resembling Arabic carpets, plus more than 20,000 square feet of interior Raviccione marble, meticulously blended.

Rugo returned with Demetriou and the general contractor to Marmi Vicentini to pre-inspect fabrication of the floor medallions, which surrounded the white marble. There, they ran through a complete dry setting of the stone, including some final placement of pieces by Demetriou. "It was an intensive quality control process," said Rugo.

Giorgio Furlani of Marmi Vincentini said they thoroughly enjoyed the labor-intensive work, a company specialty which calls for both precision computer cutting and experienced craftsmen. "The machine can do a lot, but you have to decide how to cut as well," he said, explaining that the extensive number of pieces were numbered before shipment to the site.

For chief estimator William Swift of North Carolina Granite Corp., calling the project unique "would be an understatement," he said. Along with sawing a recess in the stone to receive the stainless steel, and drilling holes for the welded studs, the job required an unusual amount of hand assembly. Some exterior panels also called for false jointing to create a unique look.

The team of Rugo & Carosi management and BAC craftworkers included 20 mechanics, three of them apprentices, plus 20 helpers for the stonework and nearly a dozen tile setters for the bathrooms and domes. "The workmanship was excellent," said Demetriou. "It was probably one of the most complicated projects we have done, and they executed it with great preciseness."

For Rugo & Carosi Project Superintendent Jim Ternent, who juggles several demanding projects every day, the challenge was met "one piece at a time," he said. "With that much detail, you really have to pay attention." And it certainly paid off. The end result, he said, "is a modern castle."

The interior design also included two Arabic patterned marble "carpets," which were pre-assembled and totaled 1,500 square feet.

CREDIT BOX:

United Arab Emirates Chancery

Washington, DC

Owner: United Arab Emirates, Washington, DC

Architect: Angelos Demetriou and Associates, Washington, DC

Stone, Tile and Mosaic Contractor: Rugo & Carosi, LLC, Woodbridge, VA

CMU Contractor: Caretti, Inc., Baltimore, MD

General Contractor: Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., Baltimore, MD

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