Culture

Dimension stone as building material, utensils and carriers of messages are part of our culture: the oldest cultural artifacts are similarly from stone, just as the products of today’s artists or engineers.

Fountain made of Aare Granite
Fountain made of Aare Granite from a glacial erratic. State Archives of Lucerne (around 1737)
© Francis de Quervain

Summary

Stone and its meaning in culture: a broad topic – because culture is practically everything that mankind does. Stone is a raw material of nature with a very wide range of properties. It ranges from very hard to very soft, from massive to thinly foliated, with a sheer inexhaustible variety of structures and colors, from jet black to brilliant white. The type of rock is used in each case, depends on the technical and aesthetic requirements of the specific object. Economic factors also influence the choice. 

Stone: indispensable for architecture and art

Stone is used in a variety of ways: for building, as a bearer of messages, as jewelry or other uses. The usage in construction is quantitatively the most important. Despite modern materials such as concrete, asphalt, steel and glass, dimension stone has to this day remained a competitive product in building and civil engineering construction. Fountains, millstones and milestones are notable historically important applications of stone. Furthermore, stone plays an important role in sculpture, the manufacture of jewelry and other art and technical applications.

In their natural state, rocks tell the geologist their development over the millions of years. Each stone in the cultural object tells its geological history – and its “cultural history”! In the artisanal and artistically fashioned stone objects – be it a sculpture or a building – there is an overlap of geology, construction, economic and trade history.

Chur Cathedral
Chur Cathedral: ashlar masonry, piers and arches of sandy calcareous schist (Bündner schist from Scaläratobel, Scalärastein), vault ribs out of tufa from around Chur
© Konrad Zehnder

Literature on stone as building material

  • Early references on stone as building material are found in «Geologie der Schweiz» by Bernhard Studer, 1851
  • The first scientific and technical building material inventory is the so called “Bausteinverband“ of 1915 (“Die natürlichen Bausteine und Dachschiefer der Schweiz”). The long out-of-print book is still regarded as a standard work.
  • “Die nutzbaren Gesteine der Schweiz“ by Francis de Quervain, 1969 (available as a book from the Swiss Geotechnical Commission)
  • «Die mineralischen Rohstoffe der Schweiz»  by Rainer Kündig et al., 1997 (also obtainable as a book or CD from the Swiss Geotechnical Commission)

Historic building conservation: an important interdisciplinary task

The conservation and study of the built cultural heritage is a societal challenge: especially at the present time, which primarily acts according to the criteria of economy and usefulness. Historic building conservation is a continuous, cross-disciplinary task not only of the national, cantonal and municipal authorities: building professionals, craftsmen, conservators, artists, historians and conservation scientists are working together with the responsible owners for the preservation of the cultural monuments.

The database "Gesteinsarten an historischen Bau- und Bildwerken" can help to perceive the historical structure in its complexity – thereby encouraging the willingness to keep it authentic for future generations.

Millstone (Aare granite)
Millstone, dated 1644. Glacial erratic from the Reusserratikum (Aare granite). Base of Muschelkalk limestone (probably did not belong together).
© Francis de Quervain, 1968

Who is who

There is no official contact with respect to stone for cultural objects in Switzerland. The Swiss Geotechnical Commission (SGTK) is however involved in this field. National, cantonal and municipal authorities as well as many museums are dealing with cultural objects of stone. Academic institutions and private laboratories conduct research, conservators carry out any maintenance. 

c/o ETH Zürich
NO F 35
5 Sonneggstrasse
CH-8092 Zürich

Tel. + 41 44 632 37 28
Fax + 41 44 632 12 70
E-mail
Website

The SGTK, under federal mandate or of their own initiative, conducts investigations of Switzerland’s geological subsurface and determines for example, the petrographic and technical aspects of the rocks used in the cultural object..

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uta Hassler
ETH Zürich
Institute of Historic Building Research and Conservation
27 Wolfgang-Pauli-Str.
HIT H 43
CH-8093 Zürich Hönggerberg
Website

 

Hallwylerstrasse 15
CH-3003 Bern

Tel. + 41 31 322 86 25
Fax +41 31 322 87 39
E-mail
Website

Links on this page lead to cantonal and municipal authorities.

Conservation Science Consulting Sàrl
10 Rue de l’Industrie
CH-1700 Fribourg

Tel. +41 26 422 12 44
E-mail
Website

Per Storemyr
Archaeology & Conservation Services
Blumenstrasse 11
CH-5200 Brugg

Website

Data

The SGTK has, since its foundation in 1899, published documentation, reports, databases and maps on the application of stone for cultural objects of Switzerland. Further publications are issued by professional associations and societies.

Publications

Swiss Geotechnical Commission (SGTK)

  • Die natürlichen Bausteine und Dachschiefer der Schweiz. (GS-05), P. Niggli, U. Grubenmann, A. Jeannet & R. Moser, 1915 (out of print)
  • Die nutzbaren Gesteine der Schweiz. Third, completely revised adition / Francis de Quervain, 1969.
  • Die mineralischen Rohstoffe der Schweiz .The standard work on the mineral resources of Switzerland in book form and on CD-ROM.
  • Datenbank “Gesteinsarten an historischen Bau- und Bildwerken der Schweiz“
  • Steine schweizerischer Kunstdenkmäler: neu bearbeitete Sammlung von Abhandlungen aus den Jahren 1961-1978, Francis de Quervain. - Zürich: Manesse, 1979. (Publications of the Institute of Historic Building Research and Conservation, ETH Zürich; Volume 3)


Geodata


Collections

The collections “Die natürlichen Bausteine und Dachschiefer der Schweiz“ and “Die nutzbaren Gesteine der Schweiz“ were created in connection with the appearance of the relevant standard works. They comprise approximately 500 or rather 300 hand specimens with rock thin sections. The collections are maintained by the SGTK and can be viewed by prior appointment.


Geology in everyday life

ETH Zurich Department of Earth Sciences
Georesources Switzerland Group
NO F35
Sonneggstrasse 5
CH-8092 Zurich
Tel.
+41 44 632 37 28

E-Mail


Print contact

Historical building stones