The 2017 Marmo+Mac show impresses with its scale and global reach, according to international correspondent, Joe Simpson.

One of the great attractions of Marmo+Mac as an exhibition is that it really is a mix of different events under one roof.

Firstly, it is a hard-nosed commercial stone marketplace. In the external areas, massive stone blocks of all colours and qualities are on display and, throughout the show, these specific blocks are being sold and forward supply contracts secured.

Marmo+Mac is also an enormous machinery showcase. Outside, you can see the real monsters of stone processing: cranes, mining trucks, saws. In short, everything needed for quarrying, slab production, lifting and transportation.

The 12 halls complete the journey. Many of them display an extensive array of stone processing machinery: saws, CNC bench processors, multi axis disc cutters, polishing lines, sophisticated robots, waterjet cutters, digital chisels, drills, etc. Here you can also find replacement blades, grinding heads, drill bits and many other consumables.

Then there are halls packed with quarries, stone processors and distributors, generally organised in national clusters to reveal the truly global nature of the natural stone sector. Exhibitors are drawn from every corner of the globe, from European powerhouses like Italy, Portugal, France, Spain and Belgium, through to North and South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The Turkish, Brazilian and Portuguese stands all caught the eye this year, but there were also a smaller number of notable exhibitors from South Africa, Greece, India and Pakistan.

China, as one would expect, had a huge participation, but even smaller producer nations, like the UK and Canada, made their mark.
The Marmo+Mac story is completed by the construction chemical companies, presenting specialist adhesives, grouts, sealants and cleaners, alongside companies showing stone substrates, hand tools, laser levels and other products designed to make life easier for the professional stone contractor.

But the real drama at Marmo+Mac is provided by The Italian Stone Theatre in Hall 1. This is where talented designers collaborate with stone quarries and top-end machinery manufacturers to showcase the outer limits of what is possible with natural stone.

This year The Theatre was curated by architect Vincenzo Pavan and designer Raffaello Galiotto. It had a slightly different tone and flavour to recent years, being less of a sculpture show and more an exhibition of familiar objects taken to a higher level though exceptional design, inventive stone sourcing and the application of state-of-the-art processing. While it explored stone culture and experimentation, it did not have the visual impact of recent years. On the other hand, it probably generated more traction with the day-to-day experiences of the show’s visitors.

Hall 1 offered three shows in one. Territorio & Design, curated by Galiotto and Pavan, analysed topics associated with natural stone design by highlighting the special features of materials from various production and processing centres in Italy. The idea was to promote technical content based on tradition and the cultural heritage. It focused on indoor and outdoor products, and furniture using innovative technologies that exploit the full potential of stone.

Macchine Virtuose, curated by Galiotto, offered companies involved in extraction and processing an opportunity to highlight the commercial and project design potential of the latest stone technologies.

Finally, Soul of City, curated by Platform Architecture & Design and historian and critic of architecture Luca Molinari, saw studios working with Italian firms on projects that enhance the use of stone while, at the same time, promoting a sophisticated architectural landscape. This was the most successful area of The Italian Stone Theatre, with some eye-catching and thought-inspiring displays.

Seven international design studios took up the challenge to present their ideas: Amid.cero9 with Helios Automazioni; Eduardo Castillo with Elite Stone; Craig Copeland with Lavagnoli Marmi and Ca’ D’Oro; Alper Derinbogaz with Garfagnana Innovazione; June14 with Nikolaus Bagnara; Open Architecture with Pimar; and Sam Jacob Studio with Piero Zanella.

Three exhibits stood out. Embrace, created by Copeland in collaboration with Marmi and marble supplier Ca’ D’Oro, was formed using three contrasting marbles; Bianco Carrara, Verde Picasso, and Fantastic Black. The primary components of Embrace were two convex, concave curving walls of marble: one in Carrara White, the other in Picasso Green. Together they defined what was both a passage and a seating area.

Embrace’s form suggested many visual metaphors … walls encircling a public plaza, an ark or vessel, a handshake, an opening and closing tulip. Both an invitation and an embrace, it was a surprisingly restful and contemplative space; a rare quality to find amid the hustle and bustle of Marmo+Mac.

Copeland is an architect, sculptor and industrial designer who is associate partner at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, New York, and founding partner of Situcraft, New York.

Walls, by Derinbogaz in collaboration with Garfagnana Innovazione, was formed from Bardiglio Vagli, Bardiglio Imperiale Orto di Donna, and Grigio Argentato. The installation questioned how fragmentation develops spaces at various micro and macro scales; and explored how cities since ancient Rome have evolved through partitioning by growth and stratification.

Stone provided a physical metaphor as the unique figuration and colours of marble also evolve through fragmentation and stratification. The installation used marble as a topographic language. The sub-divisions of the marble, and its subsequent processing into thin walls, created a textured surface that simulated the complexity of a city at a micro scale.

Derinbogaz, is a past winner of the International Plan Award for Innovative Architecture and the A+ Architizer Award. Currently he is teaching at ITU (Istanbul Technical University) and works at his own practice.

The third installation to make an impact was Everything Flows by Sam Jacob Studio and Piero Zanella. It brought together four stones – Ombra di Caravaggio, Blu Masaccio, Perlato Angelico, and Rosso Mantegna – to create a marble pavilion that explored fundamental architectural concepts. The design has a square plan with whose interior was divided with into four equal sections. These cruciform walls were punctured with an arched opening at their intersection to form a vaulted centre space. The outer corners of the pavilion were diagonally sliced to create four openings, creating a series of distinct yet interconnected interior rooms.

The varied use of marble – 3D form, flat polished surface, monochromatic and polychromatic – created variation in sensation, as if the architecture itself was taking on the geologic quality of stone. The rough exterior embraced a polished interior; as if the architecture was discovered, like a fossil, within the body of the rock.

Jacob was co-curator of the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2014. He is professor of architecture at UIC, Chicago and visiting professor at Yale School of Architecture.

Out on the exhibition floor, Marmo+Mac witnessed the usual arms race between competing companies and producer nations, all seeking to offer the most memorable displays. Alongside the expected show of strength from Italian producers, there were remarkable group displays from Portugal, India and Brazil. However, bragging rights must go to Turkey, which had a huge village of carefully curated and colour matched stands, with a shared graphic identity and clean looks. Unfortunately, compared with the rest of the show, the Turkish hall did not seem that busy.

The new blacks

It is always hard to pick out design trends at natural stone shows, because quarries and processor, by dint of geography, tend to be restricted in the types of stone they can show. What’s more, there is really little new under the sun in terms of surface finish, formats and forms. However, that being said, there was a discernible emphasis on true black stones, from textured basalts through to luxurious marbles such as Nero Marquina, Negro Abanilla, Alcantara Black and Black Emperador. This was also true of the engineered and sintered stone producers.

Of course, where there is black, there is usually white. White marble has long been the mainstay of stone shows as it is the preferred material of so many architects, interior designers, developers and home owners. So it was little surprise to see strong displays of Bianco Carrara, Calacatta, Thassos, Volakas and other white marbles.

But when it came to white, it is clear that not all whites are equal, with several producers billing themselves as home to the purest, whitest stones. Frankly, some of these stones are so pure and brilliant, that it is hard to make the case for specifying them in place of a pure white composite alternative.

Perhaps the best presentation of white stones was Mermeren’s Sivec display, which showed the subtle graduations of whiteness within one branded range (http://www.mermeren.com). The whiteness of Bianco Sivec marble, its homogenous form, and the micro-granular structure – as well as the world-wide scarcity of snow white marble – makes this an in-demand stone, specified for major high end projects including hotels, commercial buildings, and luxury villas.

When it comes to white Calacatta marble, Turkey was again to the fore.  Ermer (http://www.calacatta-marble.com) was one supplier among many to catch the eye. It provides online stock checking; a great sales tool for this in-demand, rare commodity.

Dramatic granites provided some of the show’s most impressive displays.  Jyothi Granite (http://www.jyothiexports.com) deserves a mention. This Indian operation processes a variety of colours including Black Pearl, Black Galaxy, Absolute Black, Steel Grey, Shikori Brown, Colonial White, River White and Colonial Gold. The company’s stand really capitalised on a portfolio of 18 varieties of granites, which offer great colours, quality and finish.

Limestone experts Farpedra (http://www.farpedra.com) had an exceptional display. Farpedra produces approximately 20,000m³ of ornamental limestone annually, in both blocks and cut sheets. It has its own quarries in the Portuguese limestone region, and offers Moleanos Gascogne Beige, Moleanos Gascogne Azul, Beige Ataíja, Blue Ataíja, White Rosal do Mar and Traditional Mocha. Stunning.

When it comes to granites, Brazil is a leader in purity and colour. Sincocimo (http://www.sindicatodaindustria.com.br/sincocimorj/) underlined this with a powerful display of bold, clean granites.

Calamini Urbano (http://www.calamini.it) showcased many surface finishes on its stand featuring Pietra Serena and Pietra Extruda di Firenzuolo in all its majesty. The peculiarities of Pietra Serena di Firenzuola makes this material unique for architectural and interior design projects. Calamini Urbano preserves ancient stone processing techniques, offering a portfolio that includes finishes such as chassis frame or saw wired, polished, brushed, Bocciardato, stretched straight with diagonal line, frosted, flamed, flamed antique, antique aged and aged.

Other stand out factories included Nero Marmoles (http://www.neromarmoles.com) for its on-trend black marbles from Spain; Egypt’s First Marble (http://www.first-marble.com) for its value-added decor pieces; and Al Safa Marble (http://www.safamar.ae) for a very adaptable beige palette of high quality stones. Al Safa manufactures kitchen worktops, shop fronts, staircases, wall cladding, paving, and custom furniture, and holds stock of over 300 different types of natural stone slabs and tiles.

Lastly, a word for Cameleon Granite (www.camgranite.co.za) the South African granite specialist in such exotic variants as Impala and Zimbabwe. It offers a superb range of granites in attractive finishes, both smooth and textured.