Aristocratic, yet down-to-earth
Though not quarried at every place and demanding much energy in transportation, marble could still be considered as a material for sustainable architecture. It is naturally procured and minimally processed.
The construction field is very democratic — it can popularise an aristocrat material, making it an everyday ordinary choice. Luxury needs may become necessities and the exclusive may turn commonplace. Among the best examples to illustrate this phenomenon is marble as a flooring material.
Once hailed as part of royal mansions and great monuments, today this wonder material goes all over India, at a price many prospective building owners can afford. Though not quarried at every place, and demanding much energy in transportation, marble could still be considered as a material for sustainable architecture, being naturally procured and minimally processed. Rated among the construction materials with the longest life span, as could be proven by the many Greek and Roman monuments in marble surviving beyond 3,000 years, we have a green choice.
Rajasthan is the main source of marble in India, where large blocks are quarried, sliced into slabs and further cut into smaller tiles – each for its specific application. The blocks go for sculpting, slabs for floors and tiles for affordable construction and table tops. It is a common practice to lay the floor with slabs from the same block to get continuity of grains between slabs. The tiles are much cheaper, but the surface texture and grain may not match between adjoining tiles, creating a patchy appearance. The material is known for its longevity, though it develops subtle surface scratches, which luckily do not show up always. However, no heavy or sharp object should fall directly on marble slabs, for it is vulnerable to cracking.
Marble can be used in all areas of a building except the kitchen and bath floor. Acids and alkaline materials tend to get absorbed, leaving behind stains and pitting. When exposed to the sun and rain, marble performs well initially, but over the years does not appear very fresh, hence shading the external marble floors is desirable. Even in indoor usage, areas where we regularly walk upon appear better than corners and less used spaces, which appear dull over time. Theoretically, it is possible to re-polish marble, if we can take the trouble of getting it all done in a lived-in building!
The white marble, especially Makrana, coming from a place of same name, rules the marble world. There is a wide variety both in colours and composition in Rajasthan marble, but unfortunately not well known to outsiders. Many of these lesser known marble are equally good for specific purposes.
The Centre for Development of Stone, Jaipur, has been intensely involved in promoting this range and make them available to people across India. It is a fact that even the greatest of ideas would not have been known if not for some patronage. No wonder, if we think marble, we think Taj Mahal. But equally well, if we think marble, we can also think building naturally.