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Range, Sustainability, and Beauty: Why Architect Craig Copeland Uses Natural Stone

by | Nov 29, 2022 |

All photos appear courtesy of Craig Copeland.

There is no mistaking natural stone for its range, beauty, and sustainability. These are among the many reasons Craig Copeland, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, an architect, sculptor, industrial designer, and partner at Pelli Clarke & Partners finds himself recommending natural stone to many of his clients. He appreciates the qualities of natural stone, particularly marble and travertine, so much that he created another business, Situcraft, a natural stone carving and design studio in New York so he could design furniture made primarily using these types of stone.


Maximizing stone’s natural features

“I like natural stone because of the connections to nature and to the earth,” Copeland explains. Unlike other raw material also sourced from the earth, natural stone in its raw state is not only beautiful in its own right, he adds, but he can work with it directly as it is. “It also has incredible durability,” he adds. “There are other natural materials, like wood, that you can work with directly, but they don’t have the same kind of durability that stone has.”

In addition to the sustainability aspect of natural stone, Copeland is drawn to the look stone affords. He appreciates the variability of color and patterning or vein movement and the possibilities of enhancing those features with different textures.


Deciding how and when to use natural stone

As an architect, when Copeland and his team want to recommend the use of natural stone to a client, they engage the client and stakeholders in the process. It’s more of a question of where and how to use natural stone rather than if they should use it, he notes.

In many cases, he says, the best place to incorporate natural stone in the design is where you’re closest to the building, both visually and tactically. “Where you actually can see and touch the building or the architecture,” he explains. “I think that’s a big part of it – tapping into the power of stone and our connection to the earth through its use architecturally.”

From a sustainability standpoint, durability is an important reason he often recommends stone for projects. Unlike other materials that need to be updated or replaced regularly, natural stone is often the best choice but, also, with technological advances in extraction and application, a client can get even more expressive forms for a project.

“I think the other beauty of stone is that you can use the stone in a variety of sizes and really procure and enhance the resourcefulness,” he notes, especially as it relates to sustainability. This is important to him not only as an architect but as a designer as well. “There’s more consciousness and more possibilities today.” Where sustainability might have been an afterthought or not even considered in the past, today it’s in the forefront as people consider the role of building materials in mitigating climate change.


A natural stone vision for projects

When it makes sense, Copeland will suggest stone for projects even when the client hasn’t considered it. “We start by asking, ‘Where is the value?’” Copeland says. “How far can we extend the value of the stone on any given project? As we’re beginning to answer that question, we engage the clients and talk that through.”

In the case of commercial projects, he says the opportunities to incorporate natural stone might be the paving or the base of the facade. He admits he likes to turn things around sometimes to create interesting effects. For one project, Copeland took what traditionally would be a wood wall and had natural stone installed on the wall and floor in the lobby. “The effect was quite stunning,” he says.


Working in marble and travertine

His love for stone extends beyond his practice as an architect.

Copeland enjoys working with marble and travertine when designing furniture pieces for Situcraft. For larger pieces, he leans toward travertine. After spending time observing Henry Moore’s work, an English artist known for his semi-abstract monumental bronze sculptures, Copeland felt that travertine could also pull off those contours and curves.

“For the smaller pieces, I like working in marble,” he says. The type of marble he chooses will depend on what he’s designing and sculpting. “I really enjoy working with [Calacatta] Lasa in terms of its hardness,” he explains. “You can really get incredible detail, but it’s very difficult to work with, so it’s challenging.”

Another way he likes to challenge himself is through the use of wet or dry carving techniques. He enjoys working with stones that have larger deposits of quartz, although it might involve more of a wet carving approach. Most of the carving he’s done has been dry and according to Copeland, when travertine is dry, it actually carves incredibly well.

“The trick with the travertine is its strength is very different in different orientations,” he notes. “So it requires a different sensitivity than marble. Marble is a little bit more forgiving in that sense.”
There are many reasons Copeland gravitates toward natural stone for his architecture and furniture projects. One thing he always comes back to is that its beauty and durability as a natural product of the earth cannot be undermined.

On his Situcraft website, he shares: “Situcraft believes that stone helps ground art, design, and architecture to the natural and real world. Natural stone is the only material that is directly available from the earth, with unequalled durability and beautifully unique forms and colors – the tangible essence of over a hundred million years, available to our touch.”
For Copeland, it’s not a matter of if natural stone should be included in a design. It’s how.


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