The Stone Speaks to Me: a Spiritual Interaction Between Man and Building Materials

Throughout history man recognized stone as a living organism that emphasized its existence and importance in this life. Stone can be seen as a natural material in mountains and hilly places as well as can be found in buildings and structures.

Stone can be found everywhere in the globe. It has many different natural qualities as well as different textures and colors, such as white, red, black and grey. Throughout history man recognized stone as a living organism that emphasized its existence and importance in this life. Stone can be seen as a natural material in mountains and hilly places as well as can be found in buildings and structures. From the early beginning of settlements, humans realized the importance of stone as a mean of constructing shelters that can protect them from the different natural threats such as wind, animals or other human enemies.

In the past, stone represented the most essential building material to be used in constructing all different types of buildings. Pharos used stone extensively to build their monumental temples and famous tombs such as Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor or the Pyramids in Giza near Cairo. Greek also constructed their wonderful architectural productions from stones such as the Parthenon in Athena. Similar to the Greek, the Romans constructed their military structures and sports amphitheatres form stones such as the Coliseum.

Image credit   Hatshepsut Temple in Luxor, Egypt 

Image credit   The Parthenon in Athena, Greece

Humans began to use this important material to build their religious buildings such as the early Christian churches and basilicas in the West. Stone also spoke loudly, when it was used in the construction of the wonderful Gothic cathedrals. Similarly, in the Muslim world, stone also played an important role in constructing their monumental mosques and tombs, such as Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and Taj Mahal in India. The examples of stone structures are numerous worldwide, but all of them can tell a story behind its construction.

Image credit   Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Image credit   Taj Mahal, India

In fact when you look to a stone building, you may spend hours examining the intricate details and imagines the circumstances that surrounded its construction. One also gets the feeling that the stone is speaking to him/her and try to tell its story. The textures and colors of the stone can reveal the geographical characteristics of the place. The way the stone is assembled can tell you about the technology and the skills of the craftsmen of the time. It can also reveal facts about the condition of humans’ psychology, who constructed it.

Stone also needs to be understood as a living organism which can act and react according to the way you use, as well as the craftsmen’s appreciation of what they are doing. There is always a spiritual development of traditional crafts, where the principle of growth allows for a continuous interaction between man, material and environment. Ideal architecture is always shaped and modeled by craftsmen who work in harmony with their world. And when they can communicate with the natural materials in their environment, then a reciprocal relationship is likely to be established between them and something would be radiated from the material to the craftsmen and vice versa.

I recall a story, I have read in one of the notes of the architect Hassan Fathy, of a man passing three men who are dressing stone. The man asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ The first said, ‘I am making a living.’ The second said, ‘I am dressing stone.’ And the third said, ‘I am building a cathedral.’ Here one can realize that only the last one had a sense of what he was doing in the context of his desires, needs and requirements together with the capacity and capability of the material. He also looked beyond his technical problem of working with the stone to find out what the stone needs to tell him about its inherent natural qualities.

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