Imagine a building material strong enough to support a skyscraper, but without any of the CO2 emissions of concrete or steel, and you have the new wonder of construction — stone. The stone age is back, or at least, a new exhibition about this oldest of materials would have us think.
As with old things rediscovered, it’s a combination of modern computer aided design and machining that’s making stone usable in a way that appeals to the eyes as much as to the desire to avoid using CO2 emitting construction methods.
A lot of the exhibition is showing off buildings that have been constructed with stone as a large component, but what people are thinking about is how to use stone to replace the structural elements of modern buildings.
Away with steel frames and in with stone.
Some examples exist, such as a new office block in Finsbury Square, but most dramatic, if ever built would be a concept for a 30-storey high tower which would be entirely supported by stone columns.
And stone is often quite beautiful, from the slender white beams of the Delas Frères Winery in France, a very tactile model of which is on show to more brutalist applications as the housing block in Clerkenwell by Amin Taha. Some of the unused blocks from that development are now used as Clerkenwell Seats — and so very different in shape and ambition than the Camden Bench.
There are a couple of examples of artificial stone, which may seem out of keeping with the message of the exhibition — but these artificial stones are made from waste materials, so still keeping up with the eco-credentials.
Stone fell out of favour, but seems to be returning, not just for the low CO2 emissions, but for the flexibility of how it can be used today. From almost impossibly slender staircases to how, in some countries at least, the semi-porous nature of some stone can be used in walls that also help ventilate them.
The future of cities is often shown as glass and steel and shiny, but what if that ends up a complete fiction, and future cities are made from stone instead?