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Industry Interviews

Bruce Wymond - Inhabit Group

Mary Mann speaks with Bruce Wymond
Managing Director, Inhabit Group

Budget and availability may limit the use of stone for construction in Australia, but Bruce Wymond shares why the natural material will always be an integral part of an architect’s pallet.

How did you get to where you are today?
I began my career in Australia as a structural engineer 27 years ago and moved to Hong Kong in the early nineties where my passion for high-rise and facades evolved. We built a great facade business in Hong Kong, working in China, India, the Middle East and Australia. I bring this experience to the newly formed Inhabit Group, with a more integrated approach to building design, engineering, sustainability and the environment.

 

bank head office 1916 - stone buildings

What are some of the challenges you face working with stone?  Quality consistency and price.
There are three unique aspects to working with stone, quality, consistency and price. Unlike other natural or man-made homogeneous building materials, stone is highly variable, every panel on every project has its own unique appearance and characteristics. This needs to be taken into consideration through each step of façade design and construction.
Initially stone needs to be checked for its suitability as thin stone cladding and material properties of the stone need to be determined so that sizes and thicknesses can be calculated. This foreshadows the most important step, the procurement. How do you get quality? Each quarry is different and within each quarry there’s a range of stone with widely varying quality and price. The greatest challenge involves getting the right quality and uniformity of stone for a specific application. External stone cladding used on tall buildings for instance, needs to be of a far higher quality than stone pavers, as cladding is subject to far higher stresses and is more vulnerable.
On small projects stone suppliers can often check the quality of a stone order, but on large projects an area of the quarry needs to be identified, or large stone blocks need to be tagged, slabbed, blended for colour consistency and tested to ensure material uniformity. Then production quality control processes in place to weed out any stone with cracks, fissures or other flaws that make it unsuitable for use.
These issues are unique to stone, and quite often you get what you pay for. Cheap stone, with an unknown track record, inadequate testing and no production quality control can be a recipe for disaster.

 Stone Buildings - Yin Tai

 

 

How important to the future of the industry is specialised stone testing?
Stone testing underpins everything we do with stone in modern buildings. It provides us with critical information about the strength and durability of the stone. This has allowed us to use stone as a thin cladding material safely and with a degree of certainty despite it being a naturally occurring material with an array of flaw, rifts, fissures and other variants.
Stone testing is also not just a rubber-stamping exercise. Each building application and each stone type need to be considered when developing a stone testing brief. There are some key factors including: track record of the stone, available test data, variability and permeability, the method of fixing and exposure conditions. These factors all need to be considered when we develop a testing brief so that we get the right outcome.

 

What is the real appeal of using stone for construction?
I love stone because it is natural and ageless, with subtleties and variations that no other material can replicate. It connects us with humanity, from the Egyptian pyramids, The Great Wall of China, Roman aqueducts and massive medieval cathedrals it is the medium through which human endeavor is recorded. As a child I’d pour over books in the library and marvel at the stone buildings and bridges.  Stone demands our respect, as it will tell people about us as architects, engineers and builders long after we have gone.

 stone buildings - Collins Street, Melbourne

 

 

 

You have worked on projects all over the world that have used stone. Is there one that has made you stop and say ‘WOW!’?
My first stone detailing and engineering project was 120 Collins Street in Melbourne in the mid 1980’s. It’s still one of my favorite buildings with the appearance of a massive tower perched on a stunning granite pedestal, which looks as good now as it did 25 years ago. Since then I’ve worked on some fantastic stone projects: Parkview Singapore with its monumental art deco stone; Dragonair in Hong Kong with cleft roman travertine; and the Yin Tai Centre in Beijing, one of the world’s largest stone cladding projects. Currently Inhabit Group are working on 120 Pitt Street Sydney, the heritage listed “Money Box Building”. I had a CBA money box as a boy and now that I’m working on it, I think “WOW!”

 

 

 

How does the use of stone in Australia compare with the rest of the world?
We are very fortunate in Australia to have 200 years of history to draw upon to inspire us in the use of stone. Architects, engineers and stone masons have provided us with a legacy of excellence. Our cities have many examples of stone buildings of the highest standard in the world.
There are financial constraints in the use of stone, but this is in some ways a good thing, it means that we use the material more carefully and in ways that make more of an impact, than other cheaper building materials.

Is there a future for stone? Do you think it can continue to compete with the many alternative engineered products now available on the market?
Yes, I think the stone will maintain its position as the pre-eminent material through which human endeavor is recorded. It is an integral part of an architect's pallet of materials and forms a very important role in providing a feeling of strength, security and our connection with nature.

By: Mary Mann
Media Liaison Officer
Stone Initiatives (c)