Marble Curtain

Searching for Lightness


National Building Museum / Washington, D.C. / USA


Studio Gang Architects


Completed 2003

Stone performs best when subjected to compressive loads, and prior to the Marble Curtain project, no technical data existed for its strength in tension. For the Masonry Variations exhibition (sponsored by the International Masonry Institute in conjunction with the National Building Museum), we chose to explore stone’s structural capacity and challenge conventional thinking about this age-old material by hanging it in tension from the museum’s vaulted ceiling.

Laboratory testing of fracture, geometry, laminate backing material, and adhesives yielded the necessary material specifications for construction. Structural investigations found that by linking the pieces of stone together in a series of jigsaw-like chains, the Marble Curtain could hang without any skeletal support or frame. Water-jet cutting allowed for intricate, puzzle-shaped cuts. For structural redundancy, each piece was laminated with a fiber-resin backing.

When completed, the Marble Curtain was 18 feet tall, made of 620 pieces of stone, and weighed just 1500 pounds. The stone was only 3/8 of an inch thick, which allowed the design to explore the translucency of the material: backlighting revealed the unique color and pattern of each piece, and inspired exhibit visitors to examine it closely in wonder.


2004 PRISM Award Grand Prize, Architectural Record and the Marble Institute of America

2004 Special Recognition Award, Interior Architecture, AIA Chicago

Selected Publications

2008 May, Structure Magazine
“On the Cover”

2004 Fall, A+T
“Nuevo Materialidad (New Materiality)”

2004 Jan, Architecture Magazine
“Exhibition: Masonry Variations”

2003 Oct 27, Architectural Record
“National Building Museum Opens ‘Masonry Variations’ Exhibition”

2003 Oct, Engineering News Record
“Building Materials Show Artsy Side”

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