Get talking: building with stone

Materials World magazine
1 Feb 2015

Mark Godden is Mine and Quarry Manager at Albion Stone, UK. With more than 30 years’ experience in the sector, Mark has developed new underground dimension stone mining techniques and modern open quarrying methods, has been involved in the supply of Portland Stone for Buckingham Palace, and has worked on the refurbishment of Green Park Tube Station. 

The un-greening of stone

Building with natural stone is often promoted as a green and environmentally friendly option. When building stone is processed and used within a reasonable distance of its source, I unequivocally believe that this is true. Furthermore, when buildings are constructed with local materials, it often gives them a distinct sense of belonging. Locally sourced building stone often imparts an idiosyncratic aesthetic to regional architecture that can be culturally priceless.

In those fortunate places where good building stone crops out, there are often long-standing local traditions involving stonemasons who cut and shape it. Different dimension stone types tend to be worked in subtly different ways. Successful working methods have often been established through trial and error by generations of masons, and such techniques are usually controlled by the vagaries of local geology at the quarries from which the stone originated.

RJ Schaffer, in his seminal BRE report, The Weathering of Natural Building Stones, first published in 1932, highlights the importance of such local knowledge. ‘Defects [in building stone] may occur as a result of lack of skill in manipulation – or, from lack of that intimate knowledge which is acquired by experience and long association with the materials, a stone may be used in such a manner as to predispose it to decay.’
Worryingly, there is a recent and increasing trend within certain sections of the European natural stone industry to transport stone blocks from their quarries of origin over vast distances to be cut and shaped, before shipping them back as finished stonemasonry for local use. Some stone companies have moved virtually all of their manufacturing capacity to countries with emerging economies, where labour costs and working conditions tend to be far below those found where the stone originated.

The remote processing of building stone may possibly make fleeting economic sense, but it makes no moral sense at all and it is utterly unsustainable in the long term. This policy frivolously depletes the world’s shrinking energy resources (while providing a proportionate contribution of CO2 to its atmosphere).It effectively helps to extinguish local artisanal skills that have been iteratively developed over long periods of time and the resultant building stones may also be at increased risk of premature failure.

In my opinion, moving stone halfway around the world and back as part of its manufacturing process represents short-termism at its very worst, and indelibly scotches any claims that building materials produced in this way are even vaguely green.

Mark Godden CEng FIMMM


What you’ve been saying about Mark’s previous column (Well regulated, November 2014 Materials World)...

‘With regard to the removal of the need for mine managers to hold statutory qualifications, I suggest this suits a situation in which we have closed all our mines. Moving to complicated industries without statutory regulation makes for worrying management.’ - Robert McMillan CEng CEnv MIMMM

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