Stanford buildings get new Parisian look

Nov. 2, 2010, 2:06 a.m.

The same type of stone used to build the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Louvre now adorns Stanford’s newest buildings.

Lutetian limestone, a high-quality, cream-gray stone extracted from quarries in the Oise region of France, is the primary facing material in a dozen new buildings on campus. Those buildings include those in the Science and Engineering Quad, and, most recently, the Lokey Stem Cell Building that was dedicated last Wednesday.

The new constructions mark a shift away from the tan walls and red-tiled roofs that defined early Stanford architecture. Sandstone gave the Main Quad and Memorial Church their distinctive look, which is reminiscent of early Spanish missions. Now, lutetian limestone, which is paler in shade and harder to the touch, has become the modern face of Stanford’s cutting-edge research facilities.

Lutetian limestone has long been a hallmark of classical Parisian architecture. In the last decade it has seen resurgence in popularity, attracting attention from architects outside of Western Europe and taking its place as the material of choice and something of a status symbol for high-profile celebrities. NBA legend Michael Jordan and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar are among those who have chosen to include the stone in their homes.

The appeal of the stone goes beyond its aesthetics. In many senses, the limestone is structurally superior to sandstone, which degrades over time and may require periodic refurbishment.

“The high quality of the stone is attributed to its hardness (durability as a cladding material) and its overall consistency in range (color and texture),” wrote David Lenox, University architect and director of campus planning, in an e-mail to The Daily. “The fossils that are embedded in the stone provide a unique layer of interest as well.”

Indeed, some layers of the limestone contain “coquillages,” ancient fossils of shellfish and other marine invertebrates, former inhabitants of a shallow sea that covered northern France 45 million years ago. While Parisian builders in the 19th century eschewed these portions of the stone, opting for those with a more uniform quality, a modern sense of aesthetics favors the speckled patterns that the fossils create.

The limestone originates from only one source in the Saint Maximin Quarry, 30 miles north of Paris, and Stanford has reserved its own section in Saint Maximin for future use.

“We have reserved a section of the quarry to ensure that we have color and texture consistency and sufficient quantity for future use,” Lenox said. “We typically review a mockup of the stone panels for each building. Stone is a natural material and often has variations even within the same section of a quarry, so we review mockups to establish an acceptable range of color and texture for each specific building.”

Lenox makes personal visits to the site to oversee the selection and cutting process to ensure consistency and prevent errors.
Lenox thinks the new material has been well received here on campus.

“Most people we have talked to are happy that we are using a warm, durable and elegant material that helps provide a consistent architectural character for many of Stanford’s recently constructed buildings,” Lenox said.

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