The Getty Center – A Monument to the Beauty of Travertine Stone

A building tells a story whether the Architect and builders intend for it or not. Throughout the centuries one can look at buildings and determine the value a society placed on the structure or institution. It used to be that castles where the largest and highest structures built. Churches and monasteries had their turn. Today many of the tallest and most elaborate buildings belong to banks and other financial institutions in large cities. Often the materials used are also very revealing. Some buildings are built for utilitarian ends, the materials dependable and reasonably affordable. Other buildings have an image to project. Stone tile and travertine tile create a feeling of timeless elegance and grace. Perhaps no building has recently employed travertine tile as effectively as the Getty Center in Los Angeles arc church builders.

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Travertine is a sedimentary rock. It is formed by geothermal influences and consists of carbonate minerals. In essence it is a limestone and is fairly porous. Water travels through the limestone and interacts with and dissolves the carbonate. The mineral rich water finds its way to the surface where it evaporates leaving behind deposits of either aragonite or calcite. These minerals continue to build up into a solid deposit. This becomes travertine. The chemical interaction is dependent on temperature and CO2 levels. This is why travertine is found near geothermal hot springs. A Travertine surface has pores and fossils that make it an interesting building material.

The Getty Center in Brentwood was a long time in coming. It was built on a ridge top above the 405 overlooking the Los Angeles Basin. Critics of the project objected to one of the last natural vistas being destroyed. Today, many of the original critics are supporters of the project. The Getty Center is accessible to everyone. It is an elegant homage to ancient castles. It is a public private retreat where visitors can tour the grounds, gardens, and five museums. The building and grounds are as impressive as the art housed within. One of the enchanting elements of the project is the use of travertine through out the project.

The travertine blocks are rough and filled with crystalline deposits and fossils. They catch the shadows of the sun as it arcs across the sky. The Getty Center use 1.2 million square feet of Travertine. It weighs 16,000 tons. The stone was cleft-cut from quarries in Bagni di Tivoli, 15 miles outside of Rome. Great care was taken to preserve the fossilized plants and feather sections. The honey colored stone is a perfect match for the California sun. During the midday hours the Getty Center glows white on the hill. As the sun softens, the light pulls out the honey color, and the rocks glow red with the setting of the sun.

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