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In praise of the New Stone Age


27 Jan 2020
By Vanessa Norwood
News

Structural stone and pebbled mosaic demonstrate a sustainable approach to materials at a new Building Centre exhibition.

 

When the Building Centre came into being under the staircase at the Architectural Association in the 1920s as a materials bureau, one can imagine earnest young students examining samples of sculptural stonework as part of their education. Stone has a long history; the Normans’ military prowess might be owed in great part to their discovery that stone, kept freshly wet from the quarry, was easier to carve before it calcified to form the castles that became emblematic of their rule. Stone seems the most poetic of materials; somehow honest and noble. Even the ground from which it is hewn has a romantic quality; the steep sides of stone that remain echoing the architecture to come. The expertise of the stonemason speaks of dedication and skill. 

The Building Centre officially launched in 1931 with the aim of demonstrating to students, architects and the public, the best contemporary products and materials available, thus connecting the world of manufacturing with the study and practice of architecture and the built environment. The public programme at the Building Centre continues the tradition of forefronting the materials and process of making architecture by focusing on the use of specific materials through the lens of the best contemporary practices.

Our upcoming exhibition The New Stone Age will be a celebration of structural stone; of its potential and beauty as well as its inherent sustainability. Curated by Amin Taha of Groupwork, Steve Webb of Webb Yates and Pierre Bidaud from the Stone Masonry Company the show will take the award winning Clerkenwell Close by Groupwork as the starting point for this survey of the contemporary use of structural stone.

As well as being widely recognised as a new London landmark, Clerkenwell Close received notoriety for the wrong reasons when it was threatened with demolition, now happily resolved, when Islington Council wrongly believed that the scheme had not received the correct planning. Clerkenwell Close is a love letter to structural stone with its limestone carved and fallen Ionic columns where the fossilised coral, ammonite shells, quartz pockets and seams of the material remains. The choice of stone ensures that the scheme has serious sustainability credentials; reducing the embodied carbon of the structure by 90 per cent compared to typical steel or concrete frames. The attention to detail continues with the black and white pebble mosaic floor that begins at street level and is continued on the roof terrace.

The exhibition at the Building Centre will provide an opportunity to broaden the discussion of stone, to acknowledge past architectural achievements and introduce a new generation of stone architects and landscape architects.

 

The New Stone Age exhibition runs from 27 February to 15 May 2020.

This article was originally published in Landscape, the journal of the Landscape Institute.

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