Tapping the natural qualities of stone

August 22, 2001
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In this issue of Stone World, we are presenting a focus on "cubic stone." And while this set of articles has become an annual standard in the magazine, I am continually presented with the question - by architects and designers and even by my own editorial staff - "What does 'cubic stone' mean?"

The answer is relatively simple. "Cubic stone" refers to any type of stonework other than standard slabs or tiles. In other words, it means the use of stone that takes advantage of the material's three-dimensional qualities. Our two features on stone sculpting (pages 148 and 158) are obvious examples of "cubic stone," but the concept goes beyond the sculptural pieces themselves.

For example, at the historic Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, MN, a three-block-long streetscape features Academy Black granite boulders that were meticulously sculpted to appear as if they have cubes emerging from them (page 100). This not only provides seating in a high-traffic area, but it also gives a signature look to the space.

And the use of cubic stone for this project goes beyond the pedestrian mall. The U.S. Bancorp Center - which is located along Nicolette Mall - utilizes granite sculpture as a feature element. And despite its conservative stature as a financial institution, it employed some very progressive stonework to complement its traditional granite cladding and flooring. Using materials to match the stone cladding, landscape architect/sculptor Brad Goldberg created three monoliths in Rockville White granite, along with nine other works in Academy Black granite. The black granite pieces are used in the form of blocks roughly 5 feet in diameter, which are embedded into the ground in various stages. Three of these blocks were actually placed inside the building, while the other six can be found in the adjoining urban plaza.

Another example can be found at The Sanctuary, an 1,800-acre wildlife refuge, private estate and residence in rural northwest Illinois. For this project, massive granite boulders were employed for the main structure to reflect the large scale of the property (page 122). One of the most impressive aspects of this project was the exterior fireplace mass, where stone pieces - some 9 feet long - were to be in the character of both the large landscape boulders and the interior fireplace. The material was wire and hand cut, textured and flamed to "grow up" out of the land itself. The use of cubic stone on this project was not only reflective of the creativity of the owner and designers, but it serves as a testament to the skill of the stonemasons and even the crane operator who delivered the stones to the proper area of the job site.

The architects roundtable in this issue (page 62) offers several other examples of cubic stone usage. For a private residence in Pennsylvania, the architects used Wissahickon schist for a variety of three-dimensional applications, such as the rough-faced exterior and interior walls. Moreover, the architect on the project personally discovered the stone to form the lintel on one of the fireplaces.

So even with the continued strong sale of stone tiles and slabs, the creative use of cubic stone remains alive and well, thanks to the thoughtful minds behind the completed projects.

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