Page B2.2 . 23 October 2002                     
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    Architectural Stonework


    The procedure for cutting and finishing stone is important, because the expense of each piece increases in proportion to its level of refinement, and the number of times it is handled.

    On numerous occasions, I have found building products requiring neither the highest level of finish, nor the greatest amount of handling. Such lack of refinement often reveals the "making" process (split surfaces and drill and saw marks), left behind as an imprint. They can be used to considerable effect on a building's surface in much the same way that hand markings were previously.

    The main entry to the Middlebury College Center for Fine Arts has a portal that incorporates two 64-inch- (162-centimeter-) tall square granite quarry blocks with these types of marks. Imprints, from drilling and sawing, plus rough corners, contrast with the surrounding split stone to further distinguish this special place.

    Choosing Irregularity or Mass Production

    At one time, more than half of all material quarried was discarded during the production of a finished building unit, but new processing equipment has brought waste down to about 20 percent at some operations. For my projects, I employ stone fabricated in standard ways, pieces made to specific size and finish. I also use material not typically sold for buildings.

    The outer surfaces of quarry blocks are usually discarded due to their rough appearance (a result of the extraction process), but under certain circumstances, they can become building units. Normally intended for the scrap pile, these pieces are more economical than those cut from the center of the blocks.

    Because the stone fabrication process begins with the removal of the skins, I often ask fabricators to cut them at a greater than normal thickness to compensate for their irregularity. Suppliers are generally agreeable, because, instead of "filleting" out the most desirable portion and discarding the rest, they can utilize the entire block, thus generating income from all the material.

    This was the method employed at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts where the skins form a few horizontal bands and the material's remainder is integrated into the rest of the facade. I seldom work with only the least expensive products but search for ways to achieve the desired design results and the greatest value possible with the available material.

    Some fabricators have dual operations, where architectural building units are produced separately from other products. Because mass production of thousands of repetitive units is very economical, stone for cemetery monuments or street curbing is considered a different commodity from material destined for building walls.

    Using such standard-size units for building construction instead of their original purpose can yield significant savings. Dakota mahogany granite, initially intended for monument use, served equally well as wall surfacing material at both the Highland House in Madison, Wisconsin and the Weber Fine Arts Center at The University of Nebraska in Omaha.

    Stone and Gravity

    Ironically, a novel way for erecting walls similar to the centuries-old dry-set stone method has evolved in the last few decades. It allows wind and precipitation to penetrate an open gap between stone blocks. The elements, rather than being repelled at the exterior face of the building, move past it toward an interior water- and wind-proof surface beyond.

    First used on outdoor roof decks with habitable spaces below, this technique has been turned on end and is now a popular method of wall construction. After application to highrise buildings, it now appears on lowrise structures too.

    From a distance, a building using this method of construction may look as though its blocks have mortar between them. Up close, though, one will find that a continuous opening, generally not more than an inch, surrounds the edge of each stone block. (Most observers are unaware that concealed hardware, normally stainless steel, provides the physical attachment to the building structure.)

    Material installed in this way looks weightless and thin, appearing to defy gravity. The effect is cartoonish, almost as if the image has been reversed, because emphasis is shifted from stone to the dark gap that surrounds it. Though in some instances this method achieves economy of construction, it no longer acknowledges gravity one of the properties I value most about stone.

    Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, is one of the founding partners of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates. During three decades of practice he has designed a wide variety of notable public buildings throughout the United States. He publishes regularly as the American contributor to the Art Book and is on the editorial board of the Mac Journal of the Mackintosh School of Architecture.

    This article is excerpted from Stonework, copyright 2001, available from Images Publishing, from Antique Collectors Club, and at



    ArchWeek Image

    Stone fabrication shop at Gillis Quarries, Ltd.
    Photo: Henry Kalen

    ArchWeek Image

    Granite entry to Middlebury College Center for the Arts by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates.
    Photo: Steve Rosenthal

    ArchWeek Image

    Cemetery in Queens, New York. Mass-produced stone meant for cemetery monuments can be economically used in building construction.
    Photo: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    Juxtaposition of Dakota granite monument material, limestone, and metal shingles in the Highland House.
    Photo: Tom Kessler

    ArchWeek Image

    North facade of the Highland House, by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates.
    Photo: Tom Kessler

    ArchWeek Image

    Stone details in the Highland House.
    Photo: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates

    ArchWeek Image

    In the facade of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, the stone skins form striking horizontal bands.
    Photo: Craig D. Blackmon, AIA

    ArchWeek Image

    Stonework, by Malcolm Holzman, FAIA.
    Image: Images Publishing


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