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Back to the Stone Age

Boris Ejsymont, regional manager of SolidNature GCC, speaks with Construction Business News ME about one of the first building materials used in ancient times, natural stone, and how its use today is still relevant

According to regional experts, developers will increase investment in GCC marble, stone, and ceramics expanding to 5.8% this year to $5.4bn. What is driving this demand?

As development in this region continues to boom, there is an increasing variety of natural stone and other ‘stone’ options such as ceramic tiles and artificial stones. The latter are becoming more popular due to the competitive pricing. However this can get difficult to sustain and may sometimes cost the developer much more in the long run as they may have to replace the entirety of the materials used within a few years in addition to the costs of shutting operations. The best thing about a good quality natural stone is that it can last a lifetime with proper maintenance. With the increase in developments and projects in the region, there is automatically an increase in the demand for natural building materials such as natural stone. These items play a big role in developments as they are not only aesthetically pleasing but also a practical choice given their strength and durability.

Why is the use of stone in construction in the Middle East a good alternative?

The use of stone is ideal in this region primarily due to two factors: Weather conditions in the region and the aesthetical value of the stone. With the weather reaching extremes and oftentimes harsh conditions material used for construction needs to be tough to withstand constant exposure to extreme heat, humidity and sunlight. One of the best materials to be able to withstand these extremities is in fact, natural stone.

Is the use of stone more common in the Middle East than other regions?

True natural stone has always been something unique and associated with luxury. This is mainly due to the fact that it is natural and sourced from various quarries around the world. The extraction process of natural stone itself is costly, demanding specified experience and knowledge to extract the best and finest portions; in turn making it more desirable and higher in calibre than ceramic or artificial stone for example. Due to natural stone being easily adaptable to harsher weather conditions, aesthetically pleasing and with the exclusivity factor of the stone, it is used more dominantly as a construction material here than compared to the West.

What kind of structures most often use natural stone as a building material?

There is actually no limit or particular restriction to where you can use natural stone. It all depends on the style, concept, design and budget of the building project; mostly determined by the architect, designer or project manager in line with the client’s vision for the project.

Could you tell us more about SolidNature and one of your key projects in the Middle East?

SolidNature supplies and manufactures natural stone that is used for various purposes. We are not a company that treats the stone as a trading of commodity, but as a natural art provided bynature. Not only do we do source, produce and fabricate stone but also dry-lay, install and maintain projects. We do not call ourselves a supplier but a natural stone specialist. Through years of experience in this field we have grown to be specialists when it comes to supplying natural stone.

One of our largest and most prestigious projects in the region is the Qatar National Library in Doha. For this project, we are not only delivering a special type of travertine for flooring, wall cladding and ceilings, but also supervising the installation process to ensure that the vision of the client is achieved. One of the special features of this project is that parts of the ceiling is comprised of very thin travertine tiles glued to a “honeycomb” backing to create a remarkably signature style bespoke to the library.

Tell us more about using art to brand SolidNature

Nature is constantly creating the most amazing pieces of art. Whether it is through scenery, patterns or the vivid colours you can find in nature, it always serves as inspiration and as the basic foundation to any piece of art through the ages or for any outlets of fashion. At SolidNature we wanted to serve as a platform to showcase nature’s incredible art. Stone is in itself natural art; from the colorings of each slab, the veinings or remarkable quality of each stone, each piece is unique and different. These are all inimitable qualities that constantly amaze us and a message we hoped to share by branding ourselves in this way.

What are the benefits of using stone?

Natural stone is not only a luxury product but each piece of stone is unique. It is not only aesthetically pleasing but it is highly sustainable and is a material that has the capability to last a lifetime- if cared for and maintained properly. In addition to being sustainable, in some cultures natural stones are believed to carry healing or calming qualities. A universally relatable benefit is that some stones have the ability to retain heat or cold- depending on the type of stone.

What are the best practice solutions to prevent and treating stone defects?

A good quality natural stone will last you for hundreds of years if maintained properly. When treating stone, it is important to properly seal and impregnate the stone’s surface against liquids, chemicals, stains and other contaminants. Be aware that sealants might change the colour of the stone and it is therefore vital to find the right type of sealant but also to go with a reputed brand. When polishing the stone from time to time it is vital to use suitable products, good machinery and to have trained and experienced staff.

How do industry events assist the regional stone industry?

It presents an opportunity for people in this industry to connect with various suppliers and be introduced to the sundry of materials represented during the fair. Events of this nature are always interesting to us as it offers us the chance to be able to see what the trends are in the region and to scope out what our peers in this industry are migrating towards and are offering. We not only take away a lot of market knowledge and learn from consumers and peers but also learn how to diversify and tailor our offerings to take it one step further and innovate the solutions that we introduce to the market.

Is natural stone more expensive compared to other building materials? If yes, why?

Yes, it is. As with certain natural resources, the extraction process is always more complex. Not only are the scale of operations much larger than that of a production house producing artificial stone but to ensure the quality of the stone is kept up to par, specialised equipment and stages of refinement are often required. To encompass projects of this scale, rather vast funding is needed – in turn the price paid for quality is often more than other building equipment.

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