Number 6
March 2020

Natural stone:
a modern tradition.

Stone has lost its ancient structural role since the early twentieth century, yet its use has increased in modern architecture. No longer considered for loadbearing purposes, stone has become the main material for construction features, including façades, flooring, wall finishes and interior design. Contemporary towns look like landscapes in which steel, glass and stone communicate in line with new design solutions.
The Austrian architect, Adolf Loos, was one of the pioneers of ‘ the principle of cladding’, and made considerable use of precious marble as a neutral surface with no decoration. Works such as the Karma villa in Geneva (1903-6) and Michaelerhaus in Vienna (1909-11) had an impact on the artistic vision of other experts, including Josef Hoffmann in the Stoclet Palace in Brussels (1905-11). Mies van der Rohe inserted the travertine, gilded onyx, and green marble in the celebrated Barcelona Pavilion (1929) and in the Tugendhat villa in Brno (1928-30). These architectural designs gave rise to modern aesthetics, and an unprecedented sensitivity towards the value of stone was consolidated.
villa Karma in Geneva
Adolf Loos, villa Karma in Geneva
Stoclet palace in Brussels
Josef Hoffmann, Stoclet palace in Brussels
Tugendhat house in Brno
Mies van der Rohe, Tugendhat house in Brno
The wide variety of stone materials in Italy explains the spread of cladding in the era of rationalistic architecture. Giuseppe Terragni envisaged the Casa del Fascio in Como (1932) as an exclusive shape in Botticino marble, completing the interior with marble from Trani and black marble from Belgium. Adalberto Libera used travertine for the Palazzo dei Congressi building in the EUR district of Rome (1938), and this solution was also adopted in the same period for the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana building (more commonly known as the Square Colosseum) by the architects Guerrini, Lapadula and Romano. At the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence (1932) Giovanni Michelucci ensured the stone communicates with the old town. Inside, the commonly-termed ‘imposing stone’ on the ashlared exterior accompanies white Apuano marble, red Amiata marble, Rapolano travertine, yellow Siena marble and Alpine Serpentinite. Even Giuseppe played with a two-tone scheme for the exterior of the Post Office building in Naples (1933-36), thanks to Baveno Diorite and marble from Valle Strona.
New collective living designs require spaces that combine tradition with experimentation, be it for large museums, high-rise blocks, sports facilities or shopping centres. Contemporary architecture views cladding as a technological ‘skin’, and leading designers capitalise on stone with an appropriate sense of urban identity, such as Renzo Piano (Beyeler Foundation in Riehen), Frank O. Gehry (Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao), Álvaro Siza (Expo Hall ’98 in Lisbon), Peter Zumthor (Spa in Vals) and Norman Foster (Beijing Airport). Even living space is viewed as a customised ‘accessory’, therefore the ancient sophistication of marble and granite blends with contemporary lifestyles and the need for day-to-day comfort.
"Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana" in Rome
Guerrini, Lapadula and Romano, “Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana” in Rome
Santa Maria Novella station in Florence
Giovanni Michelucci, Santa Maria Novella station in Florence
Post Office building in Naples
Giuseppe Vaccaro, Post Office building in Naples
New collective living designs require spaces that combine tradition with experimentation, be it for large museums, high-rise blocks, sports facilities or shopping centres. Contemporary architecture views cladding as a technological ‘skin’, and leading designers capitalise on stone with an appropriate sense of urban identity, such as Renzo Piano (Beyeler Foundation in Riehen), Frank O. Gehry (Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao), Álvaro Siza (Expo Hall ’98 in Lisbon), Peter Zumthor (Spa in Vals) and Norman Foster (Beijing Airport). Even living space is viewed as a customised ‘accessory’, therefore the ancient sophistication of marble and granite blends with contemporary lifestyles and the need for day-to-day comfort.
In the blue of the “Pierre Bleue”.
Bluestone, or pierre bleue, is a carbonate sedimentary rock from the Soignies basin in Belgium. It takes its name from the bluish shades produced by a variety of work procedures, but in its original state it is grey.
When newly cut, bluestone sparkles in the light due to the presence of organic fossils (corals and shells), which stand out among the calcite crystals of the dark background, with their lighter-coloured features.
The very compact nature of bluestone, combined with its considerable strength, explain its longstanding use in regional Belgian architecture. Significant examples include the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert in Brussels, built halfway through the 19th century. By the end of the century, bluestone had started to be exported throughout the world.
The Art Nouveau period saw Belgian architects, including Victor Horta and Paul Hankar, spread the word about the material’s potential, both for sculptural and decorative applications. This long tradition has continued until present day, as can be noted by the stunning impact of the Liège-Guillemins railway station, designed in 2009 by Santiago Calatrava.

Current technologies enable bluestone to undergo various types of treatment, resulting in a wide range of shades for numerous applications. While grinding the surface emphasises the original colour, polishing accentuates and darkens the black background, highlighting the fossil pattern of the white features. Even bush hammering – be it fine or coarse grain – creates a uniform effect in shades of grey, combining the density of the raised, light-coloured features with the darker base. A fired finish obtained with high-temperature jets makes the surface slightly rough, and enhances the homogeneous colouring. Other mechanical procedures involve etching the surface with lines of various size, shape and depth.

The excellent characteristics of bluestone enable its use in all weather conditions, either in or outside. It is easy to work with manually or with equipment, making it possible to try out new construction and interior design solutions. Indeed the compact structure of the material, along with its resistance to atmospheric agents, impermeability and convenience for cleaning, mean it is recommended for flooring, wall coverings, anti-slip surfaces in swimming pools, toilet facilities and kitchen worktops.

The signature of Italy is at the EMA

European Medicines Agency

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Following the Brexit vote, the headquarters of EMA, the European Medicines Agency, were moved from London to the Amsterdam’s sourthern Zuidas financial district.

After a controversial dispute over the assignment of the new host country (Milan for Italy had proposed itself as an alternative to Amsterdam), the building was completed in record time: 18 months from the contract signed in March 2018.

Marmi Ghirardi contributed in the the supply of stone elements, for which the choice fell on the Belgian Blue stone.

Enhanced by the honing, the stone offers an almost satin-like hue that adds value to the compact, even structure. But it is in the entrance hall that the flamed Belgian Blue Stone becomes the true protagonist of a scenic effect, since it literally “climbs” into the vertical garden designed by OKRA.

 

 

EMA
EMA
EMA
EMA
EMA
Location

Amsterdam
Netherlands

Architectural design

Fokke van Dijk (RVB),
MVSA Architects,
OKRA Landscape Architects,
Fokkema & Partners Architects

 

Stone contractor

Ghirardi team
Italy

Materials
Pierre bleue
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