Local history set in stone

October 10, 2001
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White Carrara and Nero Marquina marble tiles provide a visually appealing backdrop for the mosaic Maryland State Seal created by New Ravenna of Exmore, VA.

The 10-foot diameter mosaic is comprised of 40,000 pieces, which were cut by one person at New Ravenna in two week’s time.
The main design concern of the Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. Senate Office Building in Annapolis, MD, was to make sure the building would blend in rather than stand out, according to Joe Noussair, project architect with Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors in Washington, DC. "Our design goal was mainly to be a decent citizen in Annapolis," he said. "This is a public building that had to fit into the context of the surrounding buildings, which range from the classic structures of the 1930s to 30-year-old renovations, all in the midst of two-century-old buildings. This is a very large building -- it was a bit like trying to hide an elephant."

To make the new building fit in with its surroundings, the architects researched other local government buildings. The pattern in the marble flooring of the Senate building was inspired by similar floor patterns in the nearby U.S. Naval Academy and State House -- a reflection of the attention the architects paid to local, historical precedent. "There's an alternating checkered pattern in those buildings that specifically changes the scale of how you read the space," Noussair said. "A direct checker turns into a very small pattern and a very busy one. However, in these designs, the geometry isn't as strong. In those two cases, we saw banding that made the geometry a lot more interesting."

And because this pattern was available off the shelf, the installation was easy as well. "The 12- x 12-inch tiles we used were easy to set and look at close up," Noussair said. "The weren't imposing and could be easily manipulated in scale for the big space."

These black and white marble tiles were supplied by Marble Systems of Fairfax, VA, through Majolica Tile of Middletown, VA. White Carrara and Nero Marquina marbles were chosen to comprise the checker pattern.

The tile provided a visually appealing backdrop for the mosaic Maryland State Seal, created by New Ravenna of Exmore, VA. According to Eyre Baldwin, managing director of New Ravenna, the seal was originally supposed to be done in travertine. However, after a visit to New Ravenna's factory, Maryland Senator Robert Neall was impressed with the idea of using a marble mosaic.

"We went through the process of researching the state seal," Baldwin said. "There were several copies of the seal in the archives, since the seal was altered a few times throughout history. Then, we did the artwork and a strike-off of a couple square feet. The developers were really excited about it, and immediately ordered it from us."

New Ravenna oversaw the entire mosaic process from the design stage to the installation. "We made the whole mosaic at the factory and laid it out as it would be in its final spot," Baldwin said. "Then we taped it together -- a system different than most in the country -- and we took it apart in pieces -- not by the tesserae, but breaking it into six larger pieces. We crated it between plywood and drove it to Annapolis."

Once they arrived onsite, the installers from New Ravenna put the puzzle back together again beneath the dome of the rotunda. "We dry set the seal first," Baldwin said. "Then we wet set it and grouted it in." The 10-foot-diameter mosaic is comprised of 40,000 pieces, which were cut by one person at New Ravenna in two week's time.

The state seal was an important detail in the construction of the new Senate building, which also features a 20-foot-diameter antique Tiffany stained glass dome in the rotunda, and an exterior clad with hand-made bricks from a local brickyard established by Victor Cushwa and Sons in 1872. Construction is scheduled for completion in December.

Credit Box

Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr. Senate Office Building

Annapolis, MD

Architect: Brennan Beer Gorman Monk/Interiors, Washington, DC

General Contractor: Coakley & Williams Construction, Inc., Gaithersburg, MD

Stone Supplier: Marble Systems, Fairfax, VA

Stone Contractor: Majolica Tile, Middletown, VA

Mosaic Fabricator: New Ravenna, Exmore, VA

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