Stone Column

Stone Column: Architects and education

July 1, 2005
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Over the past decade, suppliers of stone, installation materials and maintenance products have placed a great deal of emphasis on educating architects on the technical aspects of natural stone. A prime example of this educational effort was seen at the recent American Institute of Architects (AIA) Expo in Las Vegas, NV, where a broad range of natural stone producers -- as well as suppliers of installation materials, restoration products and other related items -- offered AIA-certified Continuing Education sessions right at their booths. This not only ensured solid traffic on the show floor, but it also positioned these companies as industry experts that were not only there to sell a product, but also to ensure that the finished installation will be successful -- which is critical to long-term industry success. And in addition to individual firms, representatives of the Marble Institute of America and Natural Stone Council were once again among the educators present at the AIA Expo. These organizations not only offered Continuing Education credits, but also educational literature and videos -- all with the end goal of promoting the stone industry as a whole.

Of course, the education between architects and stone industry professionals can also go in the opposite direction -- with architects playing the role of educator. Over the years, I have seen an impressive array of architectural stonework where the architect “pushed the envelope,” so to speak. They envisioned something in natural stone that had never been done before, and with a combination of practical knowledge and inner creativity, they made this vision a reality. These successful installations were not only satisfying for the architects, but also for the stone suppliers -- who were proud to be part of a pioneering effort in natural stone use.

In this issue of Stone World, our Architects Roundtable with SmithGroup (page 36) highlights several examples of the architectural community serving as educator for the stone industry. One of the participants in our roundtable was Michael Dobbs, AIA, principal of SmithGroup, who was fresh off the completion of the National Museum of the American Indian, a literal showcase of innovative stonework on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The predominant material on the project is Kasota limestone from Vetter Stone Co., and Dobbs explained that the architects utilized some material that was headed for the scrap heap. “At Vetter's quarry, I believe we showed them a new use for one of their materials that they normally threw away,” he explained. “When they open up a new part of the quarry, they blow off the dirt, the trees and the bushes with dynamite. The first material that is exposed has been saturated for millions of years with water and mineral-rich soils, and it is has a “rusty” appearance. They thought it was sub-grade material that nobody would want, and they would slice it off and throw it away. We used it -- without touching it -- on the base of our building in the largest blocks that they could cut out of the ground.”

Another roundtable participant was Paul Urbanek, AIA, NCARB, vice president, who also spoke of going directly to the source of the stone to economically specify a project. “I've used Fon du Lac limestone probably about half a dozen times now. [The stone is extracted] like shale or slate in layers, and the layers are priced in three different manners,” he said. “The way to [make it economical] is to create a blend of the three types of stones and use as little as you can of the most expensive stone and as much as you can of the least expensive stone, but still get a coursing that helps lean it towards the softer beiger colors of the expensive stone.”

The third roundtable participant, Andrew Rollman, AIA, vice president, discussed installation methods and their contribution to an economical stone installation. “On Terrell Place, one way that we value-engineered was that we went to a thinner stone on the floor. We went from 3 cm to 1 cm, and used a crack isolation membrane to help reduce cracking,” he said. “On the exterior of the building, we did stone on a pre-cast backing. We priced two different finishes of pre-cast versus stone, and it was only a little bit more money to use natural stone. It was very thin, and we casted it into the concrete.”

All three cases here -- and countless others taking place every day in our industry -- are examples of how the relationship between architects and the stone industry needs to be a collaboration, where each learns from the other on a continual basis.

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