Grand Rapids, MI, is home to one of the nation’s premier sculpture and botanical gardens -- Frederik Meijer Gardens. In 2017, Meijer Gardens announced plans for a $115-million expansion, including a new 69,000-square-foot Welcome Center, as well as expansions and upgrades to their amphitheater. More than 71,000 square feet of Echo Lake granite from Coldspring®’s quarry in Orr, MN, played a significant role in meeting the design vision.

According to Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects of New York, who designed the project, goals included tying together the many components of the Garden into a coherent and understandable whole and creating a Welcome Center that amazed everyone who entered.

Requirements included a durable, cost-effective and timeless material that felt warm in tone and natural to its location. A stone with the visual appeal of life and movement was a must, as the architect wanted visitors to see a different building in the morning than in the afternoon. Echo Lake granite is a warm beige-colored granite with numerous sporadic, dark black markings and subtle accents of rose – making it the perfect choice to achieve the architect’s vision. Before the design team made the final decision on the granite selection, they visited the quarry, which assured them that the site was a viable source for providing the large quantities of granite that was required. During the quarry visit, Coldspring provided a large-scale mockup to demonstrate the panels in various finishes, and Coldspring’s Diamond® 5 finish was selected for most of the project pieces – exterior and interior facing, roof coping, amphitheater benches, ramp and wall facing, and stair guardrails. A polished finish was selected for the Welcome Center’s information desk.

“The architects had very specific requirements for the allowable color range, markings and inclusions for the granite, which we were able to provide,” said Ken Hogan, Coldspring’s regional sales manager. During extraction, Coldspring’s experienced quarry team did an excellent job chasing the desirable black markings and not allowing unwanted markings in the product. In the fabrication phase, Coldspring expertly handled the large pieces moving through the plant.

Many of the panels for the Welcome Center were extremely large rectilinear pieces – measuring 2 feet, 8 inches x 9 feet, 4 inches to 10 feet, 10 inches. The large pieces required special detailing for anchors and relief angles for installation, with type 31 anchors on the back. In addition, minimizing joints for the large piece sizes was a requirement in the stone detailing. An exceptionally skilled installation contractor, JK Masonry of Comstock Park, MI., handled the unique requirements and large, heavy 2-inch-thick piece sizes.

“For the 70-foot-tall walls of the Welcome Center, our team used a series of wall cranes mounted to the wall and bolted on with trolleys,” said Corey Knauf of JK Masonry. “Every elevation had its own set of challenges. To set the granite along the roof, we followed Coldspring’s advice on using clamps to set the stone.”

Upon completion, granite provided a beautiful material to ground and define the landscape at Meijer Gardens. When the architect fell in love with a particular stone, the challenging work began among the team to meet the project’s high expectations. The beautiful upgrades now allow Meijer Gardens to continue serving an expanding audience with the vision of connecting the community, land and the arts.


Behind the Scenes

Hogan shared with Stone World several more details about the collaboration between Coldspring and the architectural team on the renovation of Frederick Meijer Gardens, as well as the thought process and discussions that went into making the most appropriate stone choice for the project.


SW: What were some considerations that were discussed when the architect visited the quarry?

KH: The quarry visit was needed to support the architectural team’s desire to validate the quarry’s viability, source and availability of the stone. A very important aspect of the material needed to be seen by them on location to understand the amount of inclusions in the quarried stone. Working with our quarry manager at the site allowed them to understand the breadth or limitations of the stone characteristics. In the end, the quarry visit gave the architectural team the knowledge they could then present to their client on not only why Coldspring, but why Echo Lake granite, was the best stone for the vision of the building.


SW: Did the architect know from the start that they wanted to use this particular stone for the project? If not, what were some points discussed to convince them it was the right stone for the job?

KH: No, there was discovery for what stone would best fit their vision all the way up to the Echo Lake quarry visit. Early on in working with the architectural team, we had discussed many stones as options: Lac Du Bonnet, Iridian and even Kasota Valley limestone. In the end, granite was chosen for durability and ease of maintenance, but overall, it gave them the look they wanted. 

The architects had described in detail that the building had to look very different when viewed at various angles -- at evening versus morning and from 500 yards away to close up. The building had to have life. Echo Lake had all of the characteristics in a stone that presented them with the perfect option for the cladding.


SW: What would you say was the most challenging aspect of this project, in regards to quarrying and/or fabricating the stone?

KH: There were specific guidelines for the color variation and amount of large dark inclusions that would be allowed. This was a bit of a challenge, but not entirely a deal breaker. In the end, the finished product was exactly what they had specified in there details to be met. 

There were no outstanding fabrication challenges. Large panels with reveals and multiple finishes, but this was not outside of the Coldspring capabilities to provide.


SW: What is one particular memory that stands out to you about this project?

KH: Upon nearing completion, I met one of the architectural team members on site to walk through the project. It was important to me to know how Coldspring did. Given this was a multi-year-long process from stone sampling, detailing to completed project, I wanted her honest input. The response was more than I anticipated. Everyone was thrilled with the stone and how it met their vision. Also, they were happy with how attentive Coldspring’s entire team was integral to helping to make this to happen.