Stone World

Limestone provides 15th-century Italian style

May 1, 2012
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Rich in history while still anchored in its modern home at the University of Texas in Austin, the Kappa Sigma fraternity lodge is built of local stone that gives the house a rustic feel.  Over the 11-month period of construction, the design goal was to take the 5,390 square feet of space and create a lodge-inspired dining/study hall while keeping the fraternity’s unique history in mind.

The brotherhood of Kappa Sigma began in 15th Century Italy and was founded as a society for mutual protection against the violence and robberies being perpetrated on students by the henchmen of a corrupt city governor. The design model for the lodge is deeply rooted in the fraternity’s history and culture.

“There wasn’t any question about using local limestone for the lodge,” said Katheryn Lott, AIA RID, LEED AP BD+C of Katheryn Lott Architects. “There were two fraternity alums that were very involved during the project. One of the alums, from Houston, TX, was involved in the overall design decisions. He said he had seen the regional stone and loved it.”

The stonework — both inside and out — including the stately arches, directly reflects the Old World European craftsmanship and style of 15th Century Italy. The entire exterior of the Tau chapter’s lodge is made of a native cream-colored limestone from the surrounding Austin area. All of the interior walls are the same native stone as the exterior, split on all sides with random heights and lengths. Sizes include a combination of 25% of 4-inch pieces, 30% of 6-inch pieces, 25% of 8-inch pieces and 20% of 10-inch pieces. “A major concern was making sure that all of the materials used were to be durable, and able to withstand constant wear and tear by fraternity members,” said Lott.

The structural stonework was crafted by using a Tuscan-inspired technique of precisely matching the mortar color to the stone and then hand rubbing it into the surface to give it a clean texture and high-quality finish. “For contrast, the fireplace and chimney were built of Tuscany Hickory stone, split on all sides and of random heights and lengths,” explained the architect, adding that the stone was dry-stacked. Alternatively, the concrete floor was stained and sealed to provide a marble-like finish, making the Kappa Sigma Crest the focal point of the Great Room.

Though there weren’t any other types of stone considered, the selection process was still very in depth. Prior to construction of the stone walls, the contractor built three sample boards on site so that Lott and the building committee representatives could choose the right mortar color and technique.

The architect explained that she spent a great deal of time on the jobsite during construction. “We had weekly construction meetings,” she said. “One of the alums lives in Austin and was here to attend the meetings — making decisions and keeping the project on schedule.”

The reaction to the lodge has been very well received as the pledge classes have increased in size for the last two years since its opening. “Membership has increased from 66 members in 2009 to 184 members in 2012,” said Lott.

The Lodge was completed and dedicated in November 2010 and is said to “embody the strength, character and spirit of the Kappa Sigma Renaissance predecessors of Bologna.”