Oxford stone revisited: causes and consequences of diversity in building limestone used in the historic centre of Oxford, England
Miguel Gomez-Heras, Bernard J. Smith, Heather A. Viles, 2010. "Oxford stone revisited: causes and consequences of diversity in building limestone used in the historic centre of Oxford, England", Natural Stone Resources for Historical Monuments, R Přikryl, Á Török
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Stone decay is the result of the interaction of stone with its environment. It is therefore important to understand why certain materials, sometimes not the most suitable, were used to shape the built heritage of specific areas. The historical evolution of these areas conditioned many of the combinations of materials we see today, which in some cases can interact to accelerate decay. These combinations were driven by availability during construction, architectural fashion or the simultaneous utilization of materials that are aesthetically similar but differ significantly in their physical and chemical properties. A microcosm of the complex decisions that determine stone selection and subsequent interactions is provided by the City of Oxford, which is an excellent example of how such historic evolution can work with material characteristics to accelerate decay.
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Natural stone is considered to be a versatile, durable and aesthetically pleasing building material. From the beginning of civilization, important structures and monuments have been built from, or based on, natural stone. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the use of local stone resources was mostly in balance with the local environment. Strict environmental legislation has resulted in the closing of many long-standing quarries in industrialized countries, which has led to a shortage of traditional stone varieties. This has caused problems for restoration practice. Cheap, imported stone from less industrialized countries has become more widely available in recent years.
Some of the issues related to built stone conservation and restoration covered by this volume are: the establishment of inventories of possible replacement stones; understanding the decay mechanism and use of preventive conservation methods for slowing down decay processes; evaluation of the properties of natural stone; and assessing the risks of using replacement stones of different qualities.