First Year Course Leader, Michael Howe kicked off the weekly staff lecture series by talking about his research project – the fabrication of prototype Catalan vaults made from waste marble from the quarries of Portugal. This was a fantastic lecture for all those interested in material cultures, reuse of waste and unreinforced masonry construction.
Having spent much of the summer in Portugal, Michael also spoke about an exhibition entitled Cultural Geometries Research, Marble Pavilion.
The exhibition celebrated the completion of a laminated marble Pavilion, constructed at the Etma factory in Vila Vicosa. Using marble from the Solubema quarry in the Alentejo region of Portugal, the Pavilion is the product of the research organisation ‘Cultural Geometries’, which has been working in the region for the past four years.
Cultural Geometries propose that the construction offers an example of a method for sustainable material usage which seeks to reinstate marble as a primary construction material. This is achieved through a dual approach to sustainability : Firstly by using as little material as possible to create structures: The vault at its highest is 4.5m tall with a maximum skin thickness of 30mm. Secondly, by the use of spoil or fault-ridden marble blocks, some of which can remain unsold for hundreds of years.
In the context of the relatively small, family run quarries of the area, the accumulation of mountains of spoil can prohibit the extraction of the large volumes of remaining stone. By offering an example of mitigation, and by further interventions Cultural Geometries hopes to contribute in a small way to sustainability the craft and technical traditions of the region.
Cultural Geometries commenced its existence as a research vehicle for the architectural and social contextual study of the stone-bearing region of Alentejo and it has an on going technical conversation with the Etma factory.