Of the top five stone supplying nations to the U.S. market, Brazil is the only one located in the Southern Hemisphere. With the growing importance of stone exports from Brazil, Veronafiere and the Vitória Stone Fair decided to team together and organize a study tour — appropriately called “Designing with Natural Stone - Brazil” — during the 2014 Vitória Stone Fair in the Brazilian State of Espirito Santo.

This study tour, which was held from February 17 to 22, was the perfect occasion to celebrate the tremendous performance of Brazilian granite exports to the U.S. market during 2013. In a year that overall product exports from Brazil to the U.S. dropped by more than 14%, Brazilian stone exports to the U.S. far surpassed the previous year’s totals — registering an increase of over 30%. This growth confirmed Brazil as the leading supplier to the U.S. market with a 27% market share, followed by China with 18% and Italy with 17% of the imported market. Veronafiere recognized this growth and responded by taking their show on the road.

For over a decade, Veronafiere has been organizing study tours for architects during Marmomacc, the leading international trade show for stone materials and related design and technologies, held annually in Verona, Italy. A participating architect from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. or other countries can take part in a program that will satisfy their required continuing education credits for the entire year in just one seminar-packed week. Not only do these courses offer information to architects that is not included in their formal university training, it also gives them the chance to network with stone industry professionals from around the world.

This year, Veronafiere decided to expand the Marmomacc Stone Academy into yet another country. Janina Mathiasz, the Manager of the International Department at Marmomacc, and yours truly, Vince Marazita from Stone Trends International, went down to Brazil in December to go on a scouting trip to choose a quarry and top-level processing plants to include on the study tour. After returning home, we set to the task of organizing, authoring and registering the courses with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC).

The sponsors chose architects and designers from Canada, Brazil and the U.S. to compose the first bilingual program that the Marmomacc Stone Academy has ever offered outside of Italy. During the scouting trip, we prepared potential speakers to comply with the requirements of CES regulations. Presenters were also asked to prepare powerpoints in both English and in Portuguese, and we added a simultaneous translator to be present during the entire course.

“Breaking the ice”

It’s not easy to break the ice when it’s 90-degrees outside. Remember: Southern Hemisphere, it’s summer in February! And it’s not an easy task to get a group of professionals who speak different languages, and who have never met, to open up and get along with each other — all on the first night; however, the results of the entire week of study tours often depend on the success of the opening night.

The international team at Marmomacc and Milanez & Milaneze, the Brazilian partners of the event, understand these group dynamics and worked hard to prepare a welcome dinner that created a friendly atmosphere from the onset. Not only were the participants greeted to the welcome dinner by their hosts from around the world, but they were also greeted by Samba music, a Capoeira demonstration, and they even had the opportunity to take pictures with the King and Queen of Vitória’s Carnival 2013.

After a dinner of local fish delicacies cooked in traditional clay pots that are made in the city of Vitória, there were brief introductions of all the hosts and sponsors of the event, and we proceeded to present the itinerary for the entire week. After presenting the program, all the English speaking participants had to introduce themselves in Portuguese, and all the Brazilians, in English. By the end of the night, the stage was set for a wonderful week of education, of networking amongst themselves and of working with stone industry professionals from around the globe.

A trip to Marbrasa

The first day started with a trip to the Preto San Gabriele quarry — owned and operated by Marbrasa in Colatina, Espirito Santo — about an hour and a half from Vitória. As a good friend and fellow stone consultant, Paolo Marone, says, “Italy was blessed by God as the paradise of marble. Without a doubt, Brazil is the paradise of granite.” Even on the road to the quarry, we were entertained by the beautiful landscape and the dark igneous outcrops of all sorts of stone formations.

Because many architects and designers spend most of their time in front of a computer screen, we try to interrupt that pattern. When we poll the participants, less than 10% have ever visited a quarry. There is nothing like putting on a hard hat, and taking the employees bus into the heart of one of the largest black diorite quarries in the world.

Our host, Claudio Carniero, the quarry foreman, did not speak any English, but his preparations and his hospitality superseded all language barriers. Carniero is a mining engineer, and he studied at the National University of Minas Gerais, and specialized in dimensional stone. He has been the director of quarrying activities at Marbrasa since 1997.

For those of us learning some Portuguese, Preto means “Black,” and this is a black homogenous stone that has been used on installations around the world. This quarry has been in operation for 35 years. The monthly production has reached 3,500 cubic meters, which means approximately 115,500 slabs in one month. The Preto San Gabrielle, or San Grabriel Black, is considered the world’s biggest black granite quarry.

San Gabriel Black is geologically classified as Diorite, meaning, “one rock constituted by Plagioclase.” It is a resistant material, with a density around 2,960 kg/m³, and is appropriate for areas that require strength, such as airports and shopping corridors, floors, facades, countertops and stairs.

Samples of diamond wire, diamond bits and drilling tools were on display in order to explain the drilling and cutting process of preparing the benches to the designers. Carniero also displayed one of the steel bladders used in spreading the bench away from the mountain and inserted it into cuts that had already been prepared in advance. We realized that the plane we were standing on would not be there in a matter of days, and that it would be removed and destined for the international block and slab markets.

On the bus ride to the quarry, we had seen a PowerPoint presentation with an overview of the deposits and the types of equipment necessary in granite quarries; the types of tools that are used, as well as the basic quarrying techniques. The presentation also showed excellent drawings of the drilling patterns for both the horizontal and vertical holes that are cut in order to thread the diamond wire for the cutting of the bench.

Once we arrived at the quarry, Marbrasa had also prepared areas that were cutting the horizontal and vertical cuts with diamond wire. There was also a third area that was preparing for the tipping of a bench of Preto that was approximately 20 x 12 x 3 meters onto a prepared rubble bed. While we were there, they literally moved mountains to show us how the tipping of the bench was carried out. For a good view of this process, feel free to visit this link: www.stoneworld.com/preto_san_gabriele.

After the cutting and falling demonstration, the speakers also covered the current regulations and controls that are required for quarries in Brazil, as well as the reclamation activities to return the area to its natural state once the quarrying operation is completed.

When leaving the quarry, Claudio pointed out various locations nearby that had already begun the process of land reclamation to restore the area to its previous state. On a side note, from recycled and filtered water supplies, to dust abatement, to well posted safety signs, to quarry reclamation already underway, this operation is state of the art in terms of sustainability and “best practices” when it comes to quarrying and primary stone processing.

Visiting the Marbrasa quarry in Brazil was a perfect start to a content-rich week of seminars organized by Veronafiere and the Vitória Stone Fair, and the sponsors and organizers are already working on the planning stages of Designing with Natural Stone Brazil 2015.

If there are architects or designers that you would like to suggest for the study tour in Brazil, or any of the other study tours organized by the Marmomacc Stone Academy, please contact: (In Italy) Janina Mathiasz, Director of the International Department, Veronafiere, e-mail: mathiasz@veronafiere.it; or (In U.S.) Sebastiano Brancoli, SBDC Consulting — U.S. Representative, Marmomacc Stone Academy, e-mail: sbrancoli@sbdcllc.com.