Due largely to its durability and versatility, stone has been one of the most popular choices of building material for thousands of years – particularly for important public buildings associated with religion or status.
While the use of stone in buildings has declined somewhat over the last century, it is still has a firm foothold in modern architecture. In fact, modern building techniques such as stone screens mean that constructing large scale stone-effect buildings is easier than ever before – both cheaper and lighter to build, yet still offering the elegance and power of a stone façade.
With these tools to hand, could we be about to see a resurgence of stone as a primary material of choice for large scale architectural projects?
This list is a reminder of the potential power and beauty of stone buildings and its importance in architecture, from Ancient Rome up to the modern day.
Empire State Building
Located in Mid-Town Manhattan, this 102 storey skyscraper is one of New York City’s most famous landmarks. Designed by William F. Lamb, the Empire State Building was built in the art deco style with an exterior clad in Indiana limestone. The building’s iconic look has inspired the American Society of Civil Engineers to name it as one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. What makes this even more impressive is that the building was completed in just 1 year and 45 days! From 1931 to 1972, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world. It no longer holds that title but it is still certainly one of the most recognisable.
The oldest building by far on our list, the Colosseum in Rome highlights both the durability and the potential of stone as a building material. Constructed between 72AD and 80AD, it is the biggest Roman amphitheatre that’s ever been built. The Colosseum benefited from the recent Roman invention of concrete which allowed the amphitheatre to be built both quickly and efficiently, with limestone used for support and marble for the exterior. Widely considered to be one of Ancient Romes’ greatest architectural achievements, the Colosseum has influenced the design of many modern day sporting arenas.
St Paul’s Cathedral was constructed by one of Britain’s most famous architects, Sir Christopher Wren, and was part of the rebuilding process after the Great Fire of London, which destroyed the original cathedral. The cathedral’s impressive exterior is built almost entirely from white Portland limestone, which was rarely used in London buildings prior to the fire. Situated on Ludgate Hill in the City of London, the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral (one of the largest in the world) is one of London’s most recognised and enduring landmarks.
No list of iconic buildings would be complete without the Taj Mahal which was commissioned in 1631 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. Located in Agra in Uttar Pradesh, the Taj Mahal sits on a red sandstone base and is constructed of white marble, signifying the grandeur and opulence of the era. The positioning of the tomb, combined with its white marble exterior, means that the building changes in colour and tone throughout the day, reflecting the changes in light. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal is considered by many to be the most beautiful building in the world and attracts around 3 million tourists each year.
As this list demonstrates, stone is highly versatile and can have hugely differing effects, depending on the type of stone and how it is used. These buildings vary hugely, in terms of style, purpose and of course age, but they have one key similarity – the reliance on and prominence of stone as a primary building material – to stunning effect.
With modern building techniques making it easier than ever to construct with stone, we will continue to see innovative and impressive stone buildings in our cities for many years to come
Gary O’Connor is the Director of Stonescreen, one of the leading stone cladding firms in the South East of England.