Localized Building Materials: The Intersection of Culture and Geology

If you ever choose to get off the interstate in mid Kansas, someplace around Manhattan, you will soon encounter stone fence posts.  Not stone fences, like New England, but fence posts!  It is a strange sight that should lead individuals with even a minimal amount of curiosity to ask more questions.

Often you can read the geology of a place by paying attention to regional building materials alongside building styles.  While traveling broadly the past several months I decided to pay particular attention to building materials and styles, using these lenses to focus my attention on regional differences.

One of my trips was to Western Kentucky.  This part of Kentucky is underlain by limestone which is easily dissolved by acid that comes from the interaction of carbon dioxide in the air with groundwater–thus the presence of caves that form as the limestone dissolves.  But it wasn’t caves that I explored, but rather the building materials used in the area.  Really–how many different patterns can be created with limestone?


























I know something about the geology of Western Kentucky so interpreting building materials was quite easy.  But my next trip was to Italy, and I know nothing about the geology of Italy so I was going to have ask questions and pay attention.  I’m sharing my “interpretations” here, but don’t taken them as an official source–they are truly interpretations!  And let me say that my assumption as the marble would be a major building material since The David is made of marble.

Assisi was among the places.  The building material was a pinkish color.  I asked about it and was told it was a local volcanic material, confirming my suspicion that it was probably rhyolite, made up of the same minerals as granite, but a fine texture, having cooled quickly at the surface of the earth.








The next big mystery came with viewing the striped Orvieto Doma.  I don’t believe I had ever seen a striped church before and, of course, this meant two types of building materials!  Again I asked about the white and black stone and was told it was basalt (an extrusive volcanic rock) and marble.






What I didn’t expect in Italy was limestone, yet that is what I think I found at Tivoli.  After viewing the gardens and mansion there, we went to a restaurant that was built in the side of a hill with limestone as its back wall.

Tivoli Gardens

What have I concluded from my time in Italy?  I have concluded that the geology of the country must be very complex!  I came home wanting to read more about it so that I can also better interpret the landscapes as well.Back to Kansas.  If you haven’t figured it out, Central Kansas has limestone but few trees so limestone substituted for wooden fence posts. Back home in New England, I have just moved into a house with wooden clapboard siding.  Wood is certainly plentiful here and everyone values having a house with wooden siding.  But I would have to paint it and I’m from the Midwest.

Next week the vinyl siding goes on.


1 thought on “Localized Building Materials: The Intersection of Culture and Geology

  1. Janel, there are granite posts in the Manchester woods, precursors to the reinforced concrete variety you see along older roadsides, which are in turn precursors to the steel variety. I suppose the most recent devolution would be the Jersey barrier?

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