Even before I knew the actual size of this place, I could sense it: At least two of Toronto’s massive Hearn Generating Stations could fit inside here.
Turns out at more than 1.5 million cubic metres, there’d actually be room to spare inside Cosentino’s Dekton factory, since the 1951 Hearn – that hulking brick behemoth that was decommissioned in 1983 – occupies a measly 650,000 cubic metres.
While size doesn’t always matter, it does here, near the sun-baked, landlocked town of Macael, which nestles into the dusty mountains of the Almeria province of southern Spain and is known the world over for its creamy-white, grey-veined marble. It’s here that Cosentino Group, a family-owned company, has been pumping out slabs of its man-made stone since 2013, right alongside their better-known product, Silestone, developed in 1990 and released in Canada in 1998.
It’s here, too, that I find myself, a Formica/Arborite aficionado, feeling pangs of guilt as I ogle the enormous, 175-metre long oven that bakes these mineral-rich Dekton slabs and consider that this 40-year-old company might actually be onto something, and not just because their size allowed them to weather the economic crisis of 2008, when 120 quarries in this area were cruelly whittled down to about 15.
Many of the quarries didn’t survive, says our Netherlands-born tour guide, Cosentino’s Jan Schuitemaker, because they didn’t have a diverse enough product line or too few tentacles into other countries. That had been obvious as our bus trundled, pretty much alone, up winding switchbacks, through massive fields of tomato- and cucumber-greenhouses, and past the stark, desert landscapes where Sergio Leone filmed “spaghetti westerns” such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
“There were trucks going up and down these roads … about 8,000 people lived and worked in the marble industry,” he said. “Today, it’s completely different.”
While Cosentino was kind enough to show our little Canadian press group their quarry earlier that day – they still move mountains to get at that elusive Macael marble just as the Phoenicians did thousands of years ago – natural stone makes up a meagre one per cent of their sales and only 15 per cent of what’s excavated is good enough to become marketable slabs (the rest is ground up to become additives in aspirin, toothpaste, paint or paper).
And since I’ve never been a fan of natural marble or granite for countertops, more interesting to me are the slabs Cosentino manufactures using quartz particles and resin – Silestone can look like anything from terrazzo to marble to soapstone – and the resin-less Dekton, made using a secret witches’ brew of powdered minerals forced together at 25,000 tons and then baked in a 1,200 C oven.
“Basically, if you look at the crust of the earth, how granite is made, by pressure and cooking over millions of years, Dekton is basically the same,” Mr. Schuitemaker says, “but we decide which minerals go in.”
This process means that it’s the perfect material to weather Canada’s extremes of humid summers and desert-dry cold as an exterior building façade – and interesting façade options appeal to me a great deal, especially when they come in a rainbow of choices and different widths. In fact, just outside the Cosentino showroom in Madrid, I saw an example of a “fish scale” application of Dekton on the Gunni & Trentino building (a furniture and interiors retailer) that I found quite striking. And, although I’ve only see it in photographs, the closer-to-home Vancouver General Hospital (Leon Judah Blackmore Pavilion) shows a handsome, trim façade.
Since I’ve yet to see a Toronto example, I conducted a straw poll with a few of my favourite local architects – Janna Levitt of LGA, Adam Thom of Agathom, Tania Bortolotto of Bortolotto, Jodi Batay-Csorba of BCA, Christine Lolley of Solares and Paul Dowsett of Sustainable – to get some local opinion about man-made stone and its use as an exterior cladding in Canada.
My quiz didn’t start well. When asked to choose which was most familiar from a list containing the trade names “Caesarstone,” “Silestone” and “Dekton,” everyone but Ms. Batay-Csorba chose Caesarstone (neither Caesarstone or Silestone can be used outdoors); in fact, two respondents noted that they’d never heard of Dekton. So, did anyone know about Dekton’s use as exterior cladding? Only Ms. Batay-Csorba, Ms. Levitt and Ms. Bortolotto; Ms. Levitt asked: “Does it need to be laminated onto a substrate?” (No, it can hang on a frame and Cosentino will pre-drill the panels for you.)
Perhaps that’s because Dekton was developed as a worktop surface, Cosentino president and founder, Francisco (Paco) Martinez-Cosentino said through a translator: “It would protect against the rays of the sun and also against heat … and we could achieve colours that Cosentino has enjoyed in the showroom,” he told me. “It was a group of architects that came in one day and they fell in love with the product and that’s when they realized it’s a great product … for architects and designers.”
That’s evident in the recent application of the material to clad the sexy and exclusive 1976 Cap Ferrat apartment building on Rio de Janiero’s Ipanema beach. According stonespecialist.com, “Dekton’s high resistance to UV rays, stains and thermal shock were all determining factors.” Architect Juan Carlos Di Filippo said it was “definitely the right surface solution.”
So would architects in Toronto consider it as a solution? Four of my six respondents answered “yes,” while one said “probably not”; Mr. Thom said he’d “need to be reassured by an example in Canada.”
I hope this review serves as reassurance. As our climate becomes increasingly unpredictable, we need to explore alternatives to all-glass façades and the ubiquitous fibre-cement panel.
The author’s trip to Cosentino headquarters in Spain was paid for by Cosentino Group. It did not approve or review this article.
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