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Architects advocate for the return of ancient building material: ‘We are sitting on the cold dry skin of boiling magma’

“Any stone building is a quarry.”

"Any stone building is a quarry."

Photo Credit: iStock

Despite offering many beneficial properties for construction, stone has often been overlooked in favor of other materials when building homes and commercial properties in modern times.

To try to make sense of why the plentiful resource has been supplanted by concrete, steel, and brick, and why it should see a resurgence, The Guardian’s Rowan Moore has spoken with three stone advocates.

Engineer Steve Webb, Pierre Bidaud from the Stonemasonry Company, and architect Amin Taha noted that stone is a low-cost material despite being perceived as something only the rich can afford. 

Affordable homes in Palma, Mallorca, in Spain, boast stone ceilings, while a social housing project in Geneva, Switzerland, is entirely made from stone. Taha added that cutting stone into bricks is much cheaper than the fired-clay variety.

Concrete, steel, and brick are also not as environmentally friendly as stone, which is typically ready to use. It only needs to be cut from the quarry and moved to the building site to be installed. 

As Moore observed, the three other materials listed above need “several different energy-consuming activities” before they can be utilized for construction.

Meanwhile, stone is strong, fireproof, and readily available locally, with Taha adding, “We are sitting on the cold dry skin of boiling magma.”

Bidaud noted that existing stone structures can also be recycled if necessary. “Any stone building is a quarry,” he said. “It can be dismantled.”

But a change in ways can be instigated by architects, and Webb is irritated that more in the profession don’t advocate for planet-friendly construction materials. 

On top of everything, stone is an attractive design option, being dramatic, stark, and bold all at once. 

It also offers cheap and effective cooling in homes as the planet contends with rising temperatures as a result of global heating — which the construction industry is in part responsible for, with the United Nations Environment Programme saying it is “by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for a staggering 37% of global emissions.”

In an attempt to find better, more efficient materials for making new homes for a growing population, lime and hemp hurd and seaweed are affordable options that could herald a new sustainable future. However, an ancient, abundant answer could be sitting right under our feet. 

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