Stone World

A different concept in architectural stoneworking

March 2, 2011
Since its inception 12 years ago, Rhodes Architectural Stone of Seattle, WA, has flourished by providing architectural stonework. Much of the company’s work is fit into three-dimensional models using AutoCAD, and then processed in China.


Founded 12 years ago by a master stonemason, Rhodes Architectural Stone of Seattle, WA, specializes in the supply of three-dimensional architectural stonework for residential commercial and public institutions. The goal for each project is to tailor the stone selection to the specific needs of the individual client.

“Our founder started as a master mason, so our approach to quarrying, fabricating and delivering stone is different,” said Steve Alamin, President and COO of Rhodes Architectural Stone. “We start with the end [product] in mind. Because our founder worked in stone and masonry for decades, he understands and educates us that not all stone is created and expressed equally. We make it easy for architects to express with stone and for homeowners to select something that will last for centuries.”


(This picture and the next) Detailed project templates are made in the U.S., and they are sent to China, where the fabrication and carving takes place.

Alamin further explained that two unique advantages would be clear when the company started: One, Rhodes Architectural Stone would be in the dimensional stone category, providing only high-density, very structurally sound materials, and two, it would ensure that the hand-finished stone products imbue a most “expressive” and visually credible experience.

“We assist the architect’s orchestration of the stone’s scale, hand-finished texture and pattern for each area such that regardless of the season and changing light, all of these nuances come together to achieve the designer’s vision in stone vernacular,” Alamin said. “Our clients recognize we’re not stone brokers. Our role includes our quarries and fabricators and our team of employees in Asia managing the process to ensure the stone expresses our client’s goal. And for the folks that only want 500 square feet of pavers, we provide that and more.”

Operations

Rhodes Architectural Stone takes on a different method than common shops when it comes to processing architectural stonework. All of the shop packages are developed in Seattle for templated assembly pieces, the work is fit into three-dimensional models using AutoCAD, and then it is laid out flat at the company’s facility in Seattle. These plans are then sent to their office in China, where the stoneworking process begins.

“Our China fabrication process still relies in 12th century techniques combined with 21st century CAD drawing specifications,” said Alamin. “There’s not a lot of heavy equipment moving around. We typically have smaller to medium quarries - three to four set on a mountainside. The environmental footprint is very small with a low emission output.”

The stone is then processed using a combination of sawing equipment and hand-finishing. Workers use a range of hammers and chisels to hand-finish each piece, and materials can feature a range of finishes.

Alamin explained that the process control at Rhodes Architectural Stone is extensive. “There’s sampling of stone, testing of stone and qualifying of stone from the ground until the departs China,” he said. “Our China team has the expertise in the core disciplines - quarrying, fabrication, CAD design, carving and logistics - and there are cross-trainted employees. This includes our highly-skilled carvers - banker carvers and figurative carvers - that create leaves, fruit, clawfoot, egg and dart relief, etc. It takes years of training to get there.”

With the capacity to produce more than 1 million square feet of material a year, the company serves a variety of geographical regions, including all over the U.S., Asia and Europe. “Many U.S. clients build multiple residences in various locations,” said Alamin. “Understandably, when you do a good job, folks invite you back. We’ve been fortunate to work with excellent designers and clients that continue to refer us. A significant portion of business is referral and repeat business.”

Some of the company’s most recent commercial projects include the Ralph Lauren Store in Greenwich, CT, the W Hotel in Miami, FL, the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO, and Mercy Hospital in Upstate New York. “Each involved talented design teams and a mix of our unique hand finishes and carved architectural elements,” said Alamin.

The company recently did work for the Ralph Lauren Store in Greenwich, CT, using New Pearl limestone for the store’s veneer, balustrades and corbels.

Setting itself apart

For Rhodes Architectural stone, the biggest advancement in the company’s business has been the high caliber of employees - on both continents - and the transfer and application of stone knowledge to the design community. “The way we cut and finish stone hasn’t changed for 2,000 years,” he said. “Stone has rules and guidelines forged from millennia of practice to achieve the most pleasing aesthetic. Designers welcome that insight and often invite us in to present our AIA-accredited “lunch and learn” Stone Specification lecture.

Additionally, Rhodes Architectural Stone has managed to increase efficiency while not sacrificing quality - aiding in its survival for today’s market. “I think for fabricators today, the biggest challenge is managing all of the custom features and costs to deliver high quality and value,” said Alamin. “Quarries and fabricators around the world are faced with cost challenges. Our China employees are local and present to ensure that quality is met, and our sales growth through client satisfaction tells us we are on the right path,”