Friday, January 17, 2020
A replica of a 14th century Irish chapel-St. MacDara's island
Mid-winter of 2018/2019 a client contacted me in Satsop Washington to ask if i did mortared work, particularly could I build him a chapel. I thought about it for a minute and realized I had a rare opportunity to realize a structure for someone that was bigger than us. Its function was a shelter for spiritual connection. I emphatically said 'YES'! He described the project, and the site on his family property they homesteaded. We setup a meeting a month later.
Arriving at the site I was awed at the old growth cedar and spruce that were growing in the driveway.
Robert and I immediately hit it off as we discussed the project and scope.
The chapel Robert wanted was to be intimate. No bigger than 19' long x 11' wide on the inside, and a single room. He wanted something that invoked humility, not ornate, felt authentic, and could be used for a wide range of events and services. He showed me a picture of St. MacDara's chapel... a pre Roman 14th century chapel that was built entirely with stone.
I fell in love with it instantly...
and then I saw the corners.
What the heck are those I asked Robert.
They are called 'antae'....they come forward about 12" on the North and South side of the chapel.
Those were going to be a fun complicated corner to build.
Then I saw the roof!
I realized we didn't have the budget to build the roof so we had to redesign that detail
with timber framing later.
It would be a dark little structure that would be cool year round.
One of my big concerns was the 70-80" of rain they get there when we walked up to the site. We would really need a solid concrete foundation. The site needed to be cleared for a staging area, mortar mixing area, chapel site, road in and out(existing road widened), and parking for machinery and trucks. There was a lot of planning and work to be done.
I had to assemble a team of skilled masons with me that wouldn't need babysitting, or a ton of direction, and would be just as ambitious as I was to realize such a unique structure.
It was about 6 months later when we finally had everything and everyone in place to start our journey... including our concrete foundation which had cured for 30 plus days.
I ran tools down in my dump trailer for our start date that summer while we waited for our stone.
For our stone we decided to use granite. We got a great deal on a giant pile of reclaimed granite cobbles from a client of Borrowed Ground. They would be great for finer detail stone coursing inside with medium stones. We chose granite from Idaho for the rest of the structure and had the quarry split the stone into medium and large blocks. The corners needed every bit of strength we could muster.
Finally our stone arrived! We spent the first day unpalletizing 30 tons of stone so we could sort and stage for where we needed it. Another 30 tons was on its way and would arrive in 2 weeks.
I brought in 5 guys to help me, plus a friend of Roberts who would mix mortar for us for the next 4 weeks. The mortar mixing and managing the mixer was a full time job for him.
This is the North end of the chapel and the entry.
On the second day we began building our bater frames and setting up string lines for the inside and outside dimensions.
The walls are 3' thick at the base, and the interior measure 19' long by 11' wide.
2 days later we had mortared in our base course!
...progress came slowly..
Bringing the structure up slowly..
You can see most of the crew in this picture-
Joe D., Steve S., James R., and Mark M.
This is about the end of week 2 of the build.
Week 3 things were really starting to take shape and we could see the batter of the outside and inside walls clearly. The inside was plumb, and the outside bater was 1" in 6". And we are getting high enough to where we cant lift the big blocks by hand any higher without our plank scaffolding.
We are about 5-6' in height here and feeling pretty strong about our progress at the end of 3 weeks.
Well after 3 weeks my first team of guys had to return home back East and i brought in two of my guys for week 4.
Repeat of week 1/2/3... Gilland and Tate enter the chapel to build with me.
We finished off the week strongly by exceeding my initial projection of stone set by 10%.
We set about 40 tons of stone, and used 7 pallets of mortar.
Russ B.(me), Gilland D., Tate R. 2019
This last video sums up the project build for phase 1!
Anxiously awaiting phase 2 & 3...
Thursday, January 16, 2020
Our relationship to stone starts with need, function, safety, shelter, tools, longevity, and is evolved through the masons skill, creativity, and curiosity. Anyone who mindfully sets one stone upon another is a mason while they apply themself and learn the basic laws that apply stone.
These are my children when they small...with no adult ideas upon their brains for what they might do with stone. Pretty cairns, flowers, cars, and many other things appeared before we built a little wall.
Finding similar shaped stones for the petals of a leaf, finding wheels for the car, or making a pointy stone out of a soft piece of shale for the letter A. Children are all creativity and curiosity. It is a beautiful thing to watch young children explore materials in nature. The simple stick becomes a wand that transforms the world around them and stories unfold.
Staying connected to being curious by nature as we age can be challenging....
I find myself daydreaming looking at stone in the simplest of ways..
A day at my aunts house in Arizona and the first thing I see in her garden is this giant quartz crystal....
I immediately think of it harnessing energy and directing at someone to heal...
An ancient healing tool.
A roughly shaped 'heart stone'....
A heart is a heart...they always make me pause.
Putting together many to create one..
Curiosity and creativity have been the two favorite elements to apply to the needs of customers. I never know what will be in the piles of stone that I get delivered by the dump truck or in pallets.
Yet structure and function have to exist. When I apply curiosity and creativity structures change.
This is a mini Scottish Broch I made for a client in Burlington Washington in 2017
with granite. 35 tons 9' tall, 15' wide
They have a soul. The hand of man is revealed...You could give give 10 different masons the same materials, parameters, site, and materials and the Broch would look completely different each time. We all have our own unique approach to how we build and that I think this founded in our childhood relationship with curiosity and creativity.
I started Borrowed Ground in 2007. I was curious about stone. It was this amazing raw material that was totally different from one type of stone to another. I had to apply and hone my skills through being creative, while being willing to fail until I was successful.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Stone by stone...
Each project we start begins with one stone. It sets the tone for all others that follow in response to it's mathematical proportions and character. Generally I like to start with a good sized stone and build out in enough directions where my crew and I can see where we are going.
On this project I knew we were building a 6' tall dry stone retaining wall with granite from Idaho and Washington state. As per our engineer we dug down into bedrock 12" to toe in our foundation into the Chuckanut sandstone. 12" of foundation stone which I still had to build up another 9" to the top of our foundation stone! On top of that it was about 3-4' wide for the length of the wall. Aside from all the tonnage and work never to be seen... I knew we would have three sets of 'through stones' in this wall and decided to play with that detail starting with the large stone I craned into place.
Through Stones provide bonding deeper into retaining walls, and transfer laid to the back face of dry stone fences....
In this case...looking down on our wall, you can see our wall stones are about 12" deep on average. Our Through Stones are 30-36" long and overlap the stones in the back of our wall. They are set in modern dry stone retaining wall and dry stone fence construction at 18" in height, and every 36" in length of the wall. This repeats as you build up to what ever height. It is a working stone that every trained and certified dry stone mason will use in their construction. They add decades to the life of structures.
Usually we set these flush to the face of the wall. I wanted this length of wall to have a bit of character very subtly and calmly.
From here we wrapped around the corner and built a water feature into the wall.
And so stone by stone you see the pattern language revealed with the wall stones, through stones, cap stones, and even the large boulders which have the 'feather and wedge' drill holes left on the faces. The first stone I set was the large boulder below the set of three 'through stones'.
From here we needed to build stairs up to the top of the property for another intimate patio.
This image is to the right of the water feature. The first few steps were hand carved into the boulder. Our outdoor fireplace is mortared Montana Slate with tight joints, and a granite cap. We used a different tone our out door fireplace to set it apart from the other features.
When we started developing this space in the backyard and collaborating with the client, engineers, and plant landscapers we knew we wanted the wall, a water feature, an out door fireplace and BBQ, a small patio, and a main entertaining area. For us at Borrowed Ground, we build unique spaces in natural stone wether it is mortared, or a dry stone structure. Our crew fluctuates a bit from year to year, we travel around the state of Washington(even the islands), work in a wide range of styles, and continually strive to exceed our clients expectations. Not all of our jobs are of this scale. We work the same for each customer creating unique spaces that are fundamentally built to the highest quality of masonry standards, and artistic detail stone by stone.
Monday, September 2, 2013
Foundations for walls & related elements....
|Dry stone fence, limestone, Kentucky. Image by Mark Jurus.|
Why do these dry stone structures last so long? Luck? Lack of exposure to extreme elements? Freeze thaw not present in certain elements????
There are as many theories as there are people who have put one stone upon another. You can go to school and be instructed to build a wall to certain standards of quality. You can also build walls with a naivety to any of those rules. Both walls will have have certain truths that endear them to their own longevity. A friend of mine has said many times in my presence...."a poorly built wall often lives way longer than it should...". They do... wether they are pleasing to look at, or chaotic and terrifying in their relationship to the site.
For me it always starts the same for a new wall. I have to slow down and assess the landscape. This often takes me a while as I try and picture a new wall working in the landscape for the client as they intend it to. Eventually we come to 'yes' for the landscape/client/and myself.
After the site is assessed, the wall is defined to height-length-materials-thickness-drainage... you begin work. You excavate for your foundation. Foundations are to me one of the more beautiful details that hidden within the wall. Many times the only time a foundation is seen by the client is as a line item outlining our scope of work, or by the subtle edge that protrudes 3-4" proud beneath the face of the dry stone retaining wall or fence.
The foundation is, to me, one of the most important details in walls. There is a reason we use that phrase 'solid foundation' in a hundred different analogies in life. We don't want what is above grade to shift, or become insecure because of what is at our feet is not solid. Foundations vary incredibly according to region, site conditions, materials, engineering specifications, surcharge of slopes, and also personal experience of the contractor.
The Dry Stone Conservancy in Kentucky, when I went through their 'Boot Camp' program to obtain my basic certification through them, said that by adding a foundation to our walls of 4-6" thick stones, that protrude 3-4" on the face of dry stone retaining walls/and the same for dry stone fences, will add an estimated 25-50 years for a walls longevity. The foundation! I think this is where I fell in love with working with stone and thinking about the quality of materials and the relationship of the craftsman to a deep timeline long after they mason is gone.
I'll use this site as an example because it was relatively easy.... It is totally clear why the client wanted a 48" tall dry stone retaining wall along their driveway. We chose a blocky Montana slate to work with.....
After digging down, and cutting back into the hillside we realized we were sitting on our local sandstone bedrock. We also had a drainpipe we could remove excess water from below and behind the wall.
This was an easy foundation because we could build right up off the sandstone. We did three things. One was cutting the grade of the sandstone level, and running the back of the wall a few degrees below the front. And the second was to install a 4" drain pipe behind the wall, with a clean out under the lentil detail. We also removed the cedar tree on the edge of the cut to prevent it from growing roots into the wall and pushing it over, and or getting toppled by high winds and wet soils in the winter/spring.
So here you can see a detail of the finished wall with the tree removed(and all the blackberries), and the clean out access detail for water to collect in.
Above you can see Forest building a dry stone retaining wall out of Idaho Quartzite that will finish out at 48" tall. At his feet you can see the detail of the foundation protruding 4-5". In our part of the world the inspectors measure walls height from the bottom of the first stone.
Here is a finish detail of the wall before plants went in.... The pattern language of the foundation stones is picked up with the large cap stones.
We can return to this fence that has a few unique elements incorporated to it.
This site needed to incorporate a passageway for a seasonal stream that appeared during heavy rains, and lintels above the root structure of the 'witness tree' in Shaker Village. The foundation is entirely below water water line. Here I rebuilt the wall the had failed because of the tree and a broken lintel stone. After I stripped it out, I added foundation stones which will greatly strengthen the wall. The tree however will pull it apart again over time as the roots were monsters that should have been removed. By the way... trees love stone walls because the provide shade, and harbor moisture.
In some cases their engineer, or landscape architect, specifies something a little more extreme. In this case the client wanted a dry stone retaining wall look along their man made lake in Ontario. In this project my friend had to build on a concrete foundation and concrete wall behind the stone. The wall had large cap stones 3' x 3' x 6" thick mortared down to the stone. It was designed to show the top 12" in summer when the lake was full, much less in the winter as it receded, but also because of the freeze thaw and heaving.
This project is being built in Bellingham Washington. Our wall was engineered in context to the 'critical slope' behind it, the sandstone bedrock, our desired finish height of 6-7', and drainage. For this project we had to remove all topsoil, and 'toe' our wall into bedrock 6". That was about 11-13" below grade! In the first image you can see our foundation stones for our granite foundation stones. Crazy right? You can see in the second image those stones protruding 3-4". Also note our drain pipes behind the walls to remove excess water content. All the gravel came out as we installed our foundation stones.
I have seen many walls built on gravel of varying depths, on asphalt, over fallen logs/boulders, and stone. Every structure built should be honored with the foundation being properly built. Why waste the time to build a structure without a solid foundation?
As you can see every walls foundation is critical in context to the site, as well as the finished structure.
Monday, July 29, 2013
overview of details.... looking back
|Nick Fairplay & Patrick McAffee looks sum up the weeks hard work.|
It was an amazing week of transferring knowledge in stone to students, to faculty, and to the broader community that participated. This was my 8th StoneFest to attend. The first one I attended lit my passion for a relationship with stone. No where else have I participated in any event that has a focus on one material from so many different points of reference.
Stone & letter carving....with Karin Sprague & Tracy Mahaffey
Stone & Water with Scott Hackney
Stone & Architectural carving/Sculpture
with Nick Fairplay, Alexandra Morosco, Jon Decceles
Stone & Traditional masonry with Mike Schroder & Patrick McAffee
a dry stone retaining wall. Both are Irish walls...
|Entering the inner circle....|
|The Clochan embraced with stone!|
|The dry stone retaining wall from last year with coping on the left, |
and the dry stone fence on the right.
|The view of the dry stone fence, Clochan, and Ditch wall in the back.|
If you are curious about more details of this StoneFest, past StoneFest's, or the instructors....visit the link below.
I felt very lucky to be an instructor again and share in this journey.
The Chapel A replica of a 14th century Irish chapel-St. MacDara's island Mid-winter of 2018/2019 a client contacted me in Sat...
Dry Stone Gothic Arch I have to start here with these cantilevered stairs before I talk about the arch. These wind up the hill to the...
It all started with an unruly slope, bad access to the street from the house, and a poorly built dry stone wall...... We started b...
Stone by stone... Each project we start begins with one stone. It sets the tone for all others that follow in response to it...