Last edited 28 Feb 2020

The New Stone Age

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Delas Freres Winery, France, Carl Fredrik Svenstedt. Photo ©DanGlasser.

Highlighting the benefits of stone for a broad range of structural uses in contemporary construction, the New Stone Age exhibition opened at The Building Centre, London on 27 February 2020. The exhibition demonstrated how a material quarried, shaped and used for shelter over the past seven millennia may have even more relevance today thanks to newly-discovered structural possibilities and environmental credentials.

Traditional and contemporary designers have prized stone for its aesthetic qualities over a broad range of applications, such as for internal and external facings, claddings and flooring. The New Stone Age demonstrates that over and above these uses, stone can have exciting structural possibilities which can also bring surprising sustainability benefits.

Curated by Amin Taha of Groupwork, Steve Webb of Webb Yates and Pierre Bidaud from The Stonemasonry Company Ltd, the three came together respectively as architect, engineer and craftsman. Together they created a celebration of the benefits of structural stone, some of which may come as a surprise - such as the minimal processing that is often required between quarrying and installation, thereby minimising the embodied CO2 of the material.

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15 Clerkenwell Close, Groupwork, London. Photo ©TimSoar.

On 15 Clerkenwell Close, the collaboration between Groupwork, Webb Yates and The Stonemasonry Company has resulted in a landmark building with a structural stone exoskeleton that works in tandem with the building’s core and party walls.

In addition to the exhibition alluding to various historical precedents, such as the Parthenon, King’s College Chapel, and the buildings of the 19th century French architect Fernand Pouillon, the emphasis is primarily on elegant contemporary stone structures either completed or on the drawing board. This includes:

  • Logements Collectifs, Switzerland, Perraudin Architecture.
  • The Flat Vault, Israel, AAU Anastas.
  • Delas Freres Winery, France, Carl Fredrik Svenstedt.
  • Plainfaing Tourist Office, France, Studio Lada.
  • SGAE Central Office, Spain, Ensamble Studio
  • Finsbury Square, London, Eric Parry Architects.
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Flat Vault, AAU Anastas, Israel. Photo ©MikaelaBurstow

Among the 3D exhibits are a full-scale structural stone floor as a potential replacement for hollow core concrete flooring; while a seemingly ‘floating’ post-tensioned stair developed by the Stonemasonry Company shows how advanced reinforcement techniques born out of research and modelling software can result in novel structural solutions.

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Finsbury Square, London, Eric Parry Architects. Photo ©HeleneBinet

Due to its size, a 12m-long prototype of a pre-tensioned structural limestone floor slab engineered by Webb Yates was located outside the building. The stone’s minimal post-extraction tooling and manufacture is said to give a carbon footprint of just 15% of the hollowcore concrete equivalent at the same cost. For a typical 12m floor span, the embodied CO2 is claimed to be:

The exhibition also explored stereotomy, the technique of cutting solids to specific shapes and dimensions. In stonework, one stone can be cut to interlock with its neighbours, thereby creating a stable, monolithic construction that has been used for centuries, particularly for Classical and Renaissance lintels.

It is to be hoped that this exhibition will resonate with architects and engineers long after it closes and remind them of a mostly ignored structural solution that is sure to offer unexplored structural possibilities. If it achieves this, a new stone age will have truly begun.

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Interior, Delas Freres Winery, France, Carl Fredrik Svenstedt. Photo ©DanGlasser.

All photography kindly supplied by The Building Centre, London.

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