An incredible journey: the rise of natural slate

Natural slate in architecture was traditionally used as a roofing material due to its low water absorption rate – something that has stood the test of time.  These days, slate is becoming more widely recognised for its vast design versatility, ideal for use across an array of traditional and modern roofing and cladding projects.  Here, Nigel Tozer, UK sales manager at Cupa Pizarras,  looks at the evolution of slate and why it is a desirable choice, both practically and aesthetically, in today’s market.

The advantages of natural slate as a roofing material are sufficiently numerous to influence consistency in choice by architects and specifiers throughout the ages, and for a multitude of building ventures. The dependability and beauty of slate products makes slate the ideal solution for architectural purposes; and importantly, the evolution hasn’t stopped – the possibilities of slate are constantly being discovered.

Europe’s first use of slate as a building material was recorded in the late 1300’s in North Wales, in the construction of castles and churches because of its weather resistance properties; but as slate was so expensive to install, only the very wealthy could afford to use it. In the nineteenth century, Spain’s quarrying processes were adequately developed for slate to be used to roof the average home, as well as other types of developments such as institutional and government buildings where longevity of structure is so highly regarded. This marked the beginning of a period that would result in nearly 90 per cent of all European roofing slate originating from Spain, as is the case today.

Nowadays the use of slate is common across all building types and classes. In all cases a building’s roof is arguably the most important component, with its ability to protect and insulate being crucial to the overall resilience of the structure. The use of natural slate is a sensible means of adhering to these requirements, its high density making it naturally waterproof, which could be deemed the primary practical consideration when choosing a roofing material. Moreover, its non-combustibility helps protect the building from fire as well as resistance to any temperature fluctuations and adverse weather conditions so it is particularly suited to areas vulnerable to wind, rain, snow and sleet. With slate also being non-conducive to fungus and mold growth it reduces the need for expensive repairs making it a low-maintenance option.

The practical considerations of natural slate are important as they prioritise the longevity and upkeep of the roof with the aim of making financial savings in the long term. However, there are further benefits, particularly for use in architectural projects that are designed to provide maximum visual impact.

The use of Cupa Pizarras’ Heavy 3 slate for the roofs of luxury apartments at Portavadie Marina, an exclusive vacation spot north of the Isle of Arran, is a case in point. This slate tile is very well suited to Scotland’s notoriously wet and windy climate because it is thick and strong with a gritty, rough texture and therefore equipped to withstand extreme conditions. In addition to the slate’s ability to tolerate the unpredictability of sea air, Heavy 3’s blue/black hue beautifully complements the stunning natural surroundings, setting the highest standards in both functionality and design.

The strength of slate, and its ability to adapt to any design and form makes it an appealing product for designers to work with; add to that the range of natural slate colour shades – from blue/black to dark grey – slate does lend itself to a diversity of modern and traditional buildings striving to achieve a certain look. Also, despite slate’s dark appearance it has a natural sheen that reflects the light, giving unique personality to any surface.

What’s more, the use of slate in architecture has transcended limitation to roofs – it is also very conducive to cladding.

Cupa Pizarras’ has developed CUPACLAD™ – a full range of natural slate rainscreen cladding systems. Suited to a contemporary building appearance for both new builds and renovation projects, CUPACLAD™ offers a design to suit each need and is compatible with any type of insulating material.

The design potential for slate cladding is significant with the final appearance of the building determined by a number of factors. For instance, the position of the building in relation to water and its exposure to light can bring astonishing results in relation to colour movement throughout the day. There is also the choice of visible or non-visible fixings, variety or consistency of the slate tile shape and size, all of which can be mixed and matched to achieve a tailored look.

It is evident that although always held in high regard due to its plentiful qualities, slate’s true value is still being uncovered. With so much going for it there is vast potential for slate to hold its own, across the architectural spectrum, for years to come.

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