Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Lynn University Remembrance Plaza

On January 12, 2011, on the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake that took the lives of four Lynn students and two professors, Lynn University unveiled the permanent memorial - The Remembrance Plaza - that will be built on Lynn's campus in honor of the Journey of Hope to Haiti in 2010.

While on their January 2010 Journey of Hope, an endeavor in the university’s tradition of service to Haiti, four Lynn University students and two faculty members died during a 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th. Arriving a day before the deadly quake, they had time to make a difference at a school for the handicapped and a girls’ orphanage

Designed by Sousa Architecture, this will be a place of remembrance and reflection...a place of inspiration.
To paraphrase the words of Luis Sousa, the Architect of the project, the memorial will feature the elements of light, water, stone and trees. The six triangular prisms, which represent each of the lost individuals, were selected because of their natural ability to refract light in color upon you while you are viewing the memorial as if the spirit of the individual is a part of you. The arch that covers the prisms is a symbol that unifies the departed. The waterfall is a cleansing and it flows over six steps leading down into the lake, two large steps representing the professors and four small steps representing the students.

The granite cladding was also selected for its reflective qualities. Charles Urso, through his company Marble of the World, is donating all of the granite cladding material for the project. The granite selected for this project is called Labradorite Blue Extra. "Highly sought after, this exotic and striking granite showcases how truly beautiful Mother Nature can be. Labradorite Blue Extra granite features a spectacle of iridescent labradorite accents on a deep green background. Ranging in colors of typical blues and violets through greens, yellows and oranges, these iridescent accents give this granite an almost three dimensional feel." A slab view and closeup view of the gem quality labradorescence of this stone is shown in these photos.

We invite you to be a part of The Lynn University Remembrance Plaza

To learn more about Lynn University and their Journey of Hope - Haiti follow the link

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lighting Design And Its Effect On Stone and Tile Installations

Dramatic lighting effects in combination with stone and tile are often desirable and striking when designed with forethought. As demonstrated in the photo to the left, the lighting effect called "Grazing" is a lighting technique used to call attention to something like a highly textured wall. The light fixture is mounted very near the wall or recessed into the ceiling at interior walls. Because the light source is located at such an extreme angle to the object, the light creates small shadows on each concave and convex texture on the wall, amplifying the fact that the wall is textured. Heavier textures can make a large space feel cozy.

Sometimes however, the Architect or Designer may not consider the effects of lighting on the visually flat tile and stone finishes they have specified for the walls or floors. That may lead to trouble for the unsuspecting stone and tile contractor and possibly embarrassment for the Architect or Designer. I came up against this challenge early in my career and since that time have been sensitive to lighting design and the way the angle of natural and manufactured lighting can affect the final appearance of tile and stone flooring and wall cladding installations.

As an example, the above photo is an exterior stone cladding project taken during the daytime when lighting is dispersed over the stone panels evenly. When you look at the photo on the right of that stone cladding at night when the down/up-lighting is present the shadows produced at the joint lines exaggerate the appearance of lippage when in fact the stone panels are within allowed fabrication and installation tolerances. I don't think it was the intent of the Architect or Designer to focus the viewers attention to the jointing between the stone cladding.

Similarly, this effect also occurs when cove lighting is installed directly above and against the walls on interior surfaces such as bathrooms, kitchen backsplashes, etc. You can see the result of cove lighting on a ceramic tile wall in the photo below. This tile is manufactured and installed within industry standards but the extreme angle of the lighting greatly exaggerates the appearance of lippage.

The following are several conditions that can exacerbate the effect of grazing light on walls and floors

• Floor and wall substrate not within tolerances
• Thinset or adhesive application of stone or tile
• Materials that are subject to inherent irregularities such as warpage

From a contractors perspective it is important that your project managers, supervisors and installers are aware of the lighting design on each project through proper pre-installation orientation.

Preventive Measures

The are some preventive measures that can be taken in order to avoid conditions. The most effective would be moving the light source 24" away from the wall which will serve to diffuse the lighting and alleviate the undesirable visual effect.

It is important for an Architect or Designer to also consider substrate conditions, installation methods and material types where grazed lighting is used in order to reduce the exaggerated shadows produced when the final installation is to appear smooth and flat.

Material selection: Large format tiles, handmade tiles, some glass mosaics, etc. have surface variations such as warpage that will be exacerbated by grazed lighting.

Natural lighting conditions: Not only manufactured lighting can cause this shadowing effect. Natural lighting will also cause this effect, especially with the rising and setting sun. Large floor to ceiling glass walled areas such as auto showrooms, lobbies, mall entrances, etc . will have a low angle of light wash over the floor at dawn and dusk if windows are facing east and west creating the appearance of unacceptable lippage when in fact the floor tiles are within allowed fabrication and installation tolerances.

Installation recommendations and precautions:

• Inspect the substrate in advance of installation. Require flat substrates that are constructed within ANSI standard tolerances.

• The installation of wall or floor should take place with the permanent and natural lighting in place to allow minor adjustments by the installation crews.

• Use a full bed mortar or medium bed mortar in lieu of a thinset installation to alleviate minor deviation of tolerances in the substrate. "Thin-set mortar installations over masonry walls with critical lighting produce an almost impossible condition for shadow free walls." from the DalTile Lighting Placement Bulletin (4/09)

• Be aware of manufacturing tolerances in the materials specified. Hand-made or molded and rustic tiles have large facial variations that will produce heavy shadowing. Large format tiles have a greater incidence of warpage and fabrication tolerances. Grout joint sizes should be determined based on the range of the facial dimensions of the tile supplied. The actual joint size should be at least 3 times the actual range of facial dimension of the tile supplied, e.g. for a tile having a total variation of 1/16" in facial dimension a minimum 3/16" grout joint should be used.

• Tile and Stone Contractors should send a precaution letter to the General Contractor or Architect advising of the potential problem with recommendations and/or hold a preconstruction meeting with them prior to the installation by others of the lighting if possible.

• Do a small mockup to show how the lighting affects the final appearance of the installation, or, after the first tiled wall is completed and grouted have the Architect inspect and approve it.

Please let me know if you think this post was helpful and any other information you would like to share regarding your experiences.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Caveat emptor ("Let the buyer beware")

Marble Quarry - Carrara, Italy

This post was originated after receiving a question on the Quora website. I thought I should share it here. The original question proposed to me on the site is stated below.

"How is the pricing on stone (ie: marble & granite) determined? I don't mean an individual's markup...I mean how is the value of a particular stone figured?"

When I first read the question I smiled since it is an intelligent question and brought to mind one of my pet peeves. There are some in the stone industry that choose to practice misinformation when identifying/naming different stone types. When an Architect or Designer specifies a stone without specifying the quarry or country of origin and it is only available from one supplier then the other bidders only have one source to buy from. Quite simply, when there is no competition the end user usually pays more. I am not referring here to an individual that has discovered a new quarry opening or new stone source and has exclusive rights to that stone by virtue of some type of marketing agreement. Or, a "value engineering" proposal where the end user is presented with similar but lower priced alternatives to the originally specified stone. The misinformation comes about when an inexpensive stone is proposed under a fake name and then charging an exhorbitant price to the buyer. This is not rampant in the industry but to guard against this practice specifiers should always find out the country and quarry of origin of the stone they decide to specify. Okay, I digress, back to the question.

In answering this question I will come from the direction of my experiences as a buyer of stone materials direct from the source (no middlemen) in various countries around the world where the cost/price/value is mostly intrinsic as well as a buyer of stone materials from local stone Suppliers/Brokers/Distributors where the cost/price/value components are based on intrinsic as well as subjective values. The following points are a brief explanation to give you insight into the pricing and value considerations for stone materials within the context of the Quora framework. I did not take into consideration any indirect costs such as administrative overhead, selling & distribution overhead, etc.

Block yard - Espirito Santo, Brazil

1. Quarrying - production of commercially marketable stone blocks

These costs are primarily labor and equipment costs involved with the extraction of stone blocks to be sold to block yards and fabricators of slabs and dimensional stone. The costs of quarrying different varieties of stone vary greatly. Some of these factors are listed below.

a. Technology - new and improving methods of extraction are making it more economical than in years past. However, some countries are using older methods and until new equipment is brought into their country they will not be able to fully exploit their resources. This was the case in China and Brazil until they invested heavily in the latest Italian equipment. Prior to the access to more advanced methods it was more difficult to consistently produce top quality blocks(size/shape), increasing material waste and cost to produce.

b. Geographical location - the terrain (mountain range, desert) and distance to customers. Transportation costs will be higher the further away and more difficult it is to reach the customer.

c. Labor costs
The labor rates and subsequent labor costs for producing the stone materials from quarrying to fabrication in developing countries are less costly than in developed countries (i.e. , Asia in comparison to North America and Europe).

Granite quarry - Finland

2. Infrastructure - roads and bridges/access to quarry sites (ease or difficulty of access to source).

For quarried blocks to be transported to ports for shipping to block yards or fabricators in other countries it is important that good roads be constructed to enable reasonable size trucks to pass. Depending on the country of origin some stone quarries are more difficult to access than others due to poor road conditions (sturdy pavement vs dirt/mud ) or during harsh weather conditions (snow/rain/floods) At certain times of the year access to quarries is restricted.

Transport of block from quarry to stone yard

Stone block being prepared for slabbing on wire saw
3. Fabrication costs

Principally labor costs for polishing, cutting, edge finishing, difficult patterns, etc. Also, material cost contingencies due to block waste and slab waste from inefficient slab sizes in relation to size of finished goods required, difficult or complicated patterns, etc. Technology also has it's place in decreasing labor costs since new computerized and robotic cutting equipment requires less manpower for greater production of finished stone. The labor rates and subsequent labor costs for producing the stone materials in developing countries are less costly than in developed countries (i.e. , Asia in comparison to North America and Europe).

Sawn stone slabs on trolley awaiting placement on polishing line

4. Transportation costs - outbound and inbound trucking, shipping of containers

Blocks need to be trucked to fabrication facilities and then the fabricated materials need to be trucked to port. Container ships take the fabricated stone to destination ports and then the containers are trucked to the buyer for further fabrication or trucking to final destination.

Loading bundled stone slabs in shipping container for overseas shipment

5. Customs duties and taxes (VAT) - within destination country and from source countries

When stone materials are trucked or shipped between countries there are duties and taxes levied which increases costs and must be considered when estimating final pricing.

6. Currency rates - currency rates in source country vs destination country currency rates.

When the currency from the source country is declining or has declined in value vs the currency of the buyer's country that source then becomes less costly.

7. Uniqueness of stone - no competitive sources

Through either exhaustive research and extensive travel or ingenious design by the efforts of passionate individuals, prices are high for certain stone materials due to their uniqueness of color, veining pattern, new fabrication methods producing unique shapes, designs and finishes.

8. Scarcity of stone - exclusivity - no competitive sources

The exclusivity of access to buying direct from the source (Distribution or Sales Agreement)as opposed to a well known commodity (the ability to obtain the same material from other sources where competition leads to lower pricing). The perception of scarcity increases perceived value.

9. Proliferation of sources

Excess supply, well known commodity, heavy competition and ease of procurement all lead to lower prices.

10. Warranties / Guarantees

Home Depot's 15 year stain warranty, Sensa Granite's 15 year warranty, Caesarstone's Lifetime Warranty for quartz products, etc. These are value propositions which may differentiate them from the competition and justify a higher price.

11. Branding/Marketing message

Buy American, Made in Italy, Sustainability commitment, LEED points for stone from supply source within 500 miles of project. Mostly these messages differentiate/justify the higher price of their product in relation to competitors.

As stated above, these cost/price/value considerations are from my own buying experiences with direct sources of blocks, slabs and fabricated dimensional stone throughout six continents for mostly large commercial projects. Others may have differing views based on their own personal experience.

Please share your personal experiences with stone here in the comments section.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Sustainability Standard for Natural Stone


I have recently become involved with the NSF Joint Committee on Natural Stone which has the goal of developing a sustainability standard for natural stone. This is a consensus committee of multiple stakeholders that, with the assistance of NSF International and Ecoform, will develop an ANSI Standard that is intended to offer the following benefits to the stone industry, as stated in a recent press release from The Natural Stone Council:

Establish a set of well-defined environmental and human health metrics recognized by the green building movement as an indicator of leadership sustainability performance.

 Provide an important opportunity to educate key members of the green building movement, government, and environmental advocacy groups about the production of stone products.

 Create a mechanism that rewards natural stone companies that demonstrate environmental leadership through commitment to sustainable operations and continued innovation.

 Proactively address potential stone-related environmental and human health concerns in a multi-stakeholder science based forum (i.e. radon, dust, etc.).

 Harmonize national and international environmental requirements for stone quarrying and production.

 Encourage transparent chain of custody reporting in support of LEED credits for locally produced materials.

 Create parity between stone and other competitive products covered by existing certification programs.

Please click on the highlighted link for a copy of the kickoff presentation for the Consensus Standard for Dimensional Stone NSC 373

Completion of the standard is projected to be early Spring, 2012.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sustainable Natural Stone

What is Sustainability?

According to Wikipedia's definition "Sustainability is the capacity to endure."

Thanks to wonders of modern technology you can step into some of the oldest and greatest buildings in the world and take a virtual tour of their architectural details.

Take a look at the interior of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Italy at the following link

The frescoed works of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Bernini and Raphael, some of the greatest Renaissance artists, are on display on the walls and the famed ceiling of the Chapel after a controversial restoration in 1984. However, left click your mouse to scroll downward and look at the marble flooring. This is a pattern of natural stone inlays done in the Cosmatesque style, taken from the Cosmati family name, the leading marble craftsmen in Rome through the 12th and 13th centuries. Built between 1473 and 1481, the first mass in the Sistine Chapel was celebrated on August 9, 1483. Talk about sustainability. Over 500 years of service and it is said that the stone used by the cosmati artists were salvaged material from the ruins of ancient Roman buildings. Sustainable natural stone flooring at its best.

If you are interested in touring some other great architectural works with sustainable marble flooring take a look at St Peters Basilica and the Pantheon via the links below. Click on the virtual tour arrow and go to fullscreen then move your mouse pointer down to view the flooring.

St. Peters Basilica
Vatican City

The Pantheon
Rome, Italy

Please let me know if you have any stories or other building references for sustainable natural stone.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anchoring Dimensional Stone

The Marble Institute of America (MIA) is an industry association that is "Setting the Standards in the Natural Stone Industry". As stated on their website "The MIA is the largest trade association in the world to represent the dimension stone market, and for over 65 years, it has been the leader in providing advocacy, networking, marketing/publicity, information/education, professionalism and stone craftsmanship."

Periodically the MIA issues Technical Bulletins relating to subjects pertinent to the design and construction of natural dimension stone. Generally only available to the MIA membership, a free download titled "Dimension Stone Anchorage Theory, Practice, & Components" is being featured on Architecture Week's website this month. Click on the link below and check it out!

As stated on the Architecture Week's website, this is "a technical bulletin on the practice of mechanically anchoring dimension stone. Prepared as a general guide for tradespeople, the bulletin provides valuable insight about how stone-anchorage devices interface with the stone panels and the building structure. Common anchorage devices are discussed, as well as some guidance about why certain anchor device selections may be more appropriate than others in particular situations."

If you find that the anchorage information in the MIA technical bulletin is valuable to you may want to purchase the Dimension Stone Design Manual, VII. This is the stone industry's single source reference for dimensional stone design and construction facts and details and in my opinion an invaluable resource.

The Dimension Stone Design Manual, VII is available for purchase by MIA members as well as non-members. You can purchase online from the MIA website. You will find a more detailed description and links to the MIA online store by clicking in the following link.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remembering 9/11 and the Freedom Tower Cornerstone

Most Americans remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11th when the New York World Trade Center buildings were attacked by terrorists. Nine years have passed and the wounds remain. Today we mourn the loss almost 3,000. A ceremony at the site today was opened by brief comments from Mayor Bloomberg. "Once again we meet to commemorate the day we have come to call 9/11. We have returned to this sacred site to join our hearts together, the names of those we loved and lost," Bloomberg said. "No other public tragedy has cut our city so deeply. No other place is as filled with our compassion, our love and our solidarity."

Construction of Freedom Tower /One World Trade Center is finally progressing after many delays which were the subject of a recent 60 Minutes expose. At one point in time the Tower was projected to be completed in 2009. Back in June of 2004 I was involved with the management of the Freedom Tower cornerstone preparation and installation for the initial groundbreaking ceremony when I was Director of Installation for Innovative Marble & Tile LLC. I was proud to be there at Ground Zero on July 4, 2004 when a 20-ton solid granite block from the Adirondack mountains in NY was laid in place by our crews “TO HONOR AND REMEMBER THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 AND AS A TRIBUTE TO THE ENDURING SPIRIT OF FREEDOM".

Innovative donated that granite block and some of our subcontractors involved in the process of shipping, cutting, polishing and setting the block also donated their services. A video of the cornerstone preparation and initial dedication by Governor Patacki is available on the Innovative Stone website. Initially planned as the first piece of the foundation of the building the cornerstone was eventually returned to Innovative in Hauppauge, Long Island when the plans for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center were revised.

In order to continue to honor the 9/11 heroes, Innovative Stone rededicated the monument at their headquarters in Hauppauge on September 11, 2009 in their newly constructed memorial garden. A second memorial ceremony was held at the Innovative Stone Headquarters this past week on September 8, 2010 to honor the 9/11 heroes. The memorial garden site and Freedom Stone is pictured below.