Identity - July/Aug, 1994
By Sean O'Leary
"Relative to other materials, natural stone is much more affordable today than it used to be," says Chuck Tynan, sales manager of IMC Inc., a Dallas stone broker. "The ability to get it, to ship it, and to install it fairly easily has increased dramatically. Today, natural stone can be cut and shaped more accurately and in greater volume than it was in the past. So it's less of a challenge to the specifier looking for a broader palette of goods and greater design capabilities."
A global market
Coinciding with increased demand for dimensional stone is a corresponding global expansion of the supply. Factory-level technology is less expensive and more efficient than ever, meaning that the products of quarries in emerging nations around the world are increasingly available. Stone color and pattern combination motifs are highly location-specific, so access to a world market is something of a windfall for designers. The current selection of marble alone offers an overwhelming range of colors, veining patterns, banding formations, and undertones: the white grays and pinks of Georgia (ours), Rosalia Cream from Turkey, Duchess White and Coral from Mexico, and Rojo Coralito from Spain.
To meet the high standards of the design community in a world market, the role of today's stone wholesaler has become more complex. In order to coordinate the ultimate on-time delivery of spec'ed product, the stone broker must juggle conditions at several levels: on one side, the quarries and the availability of their product as well as the factories that cut and supply basic units of raw material; and on the other, the architects, designers, and contractors.
Among the most ancient signage identity projects is Stonehenge, the Early Bronze Age megalithic monument near Salisbury, England. In addition to a layout seemingly meant for solstice prediction, this venture required the transportation of mammoth blue dolerite menhirs all the way from the Prescelly Mountains on the Welsh seacoast.
That we can no longer identify the Stonehenge client is more a function of the many centuries passed than a criticism of the original contractor. As a communications medium, Stonehenge's power remains undeniable, although we're still not sure what it's saying.
Three and a half millennia later, stone is enjoying a renaissance across a broad spectrum of the architectural, building, and visual arts. The use of stone as a sign material or component has increased dramatically in the past decade and especially in the last five years. Clearly, the stone itself hasn't changed, but rather a series of technological advancements and aesthetic cultural shifts have combined to make this material ever more viable, both economically and aesthetically.
"Stone is beautiful, durable, and almost vandal-proof," notes Dan Berry of Georgia Marble, Nelson, GA.
Driven by a growing preference for natural materials in general, the growing appeal of stone has led - somewhat ironically - to the development of polymers, composites, and other stone substitutes that augment the physical properties of stone while retaining many of the visual attributes.