Volume 4, Issue 7 (July 2007)
Travertine: Successful and Unsuccessful Performance, Preconceived Notions, and Mischaracterizations
Travertine is a beige-colored stone with unique color variations, veining, and cavities that many architects worldwide find attractive. The word travertine was derived from an old Roman name for the town of Tivoli (Tibur) in Italy where large deposits of travertine exist. The ancient name for the stone was Lapis Tiburtinus (Tibur Stone) which later evolved into the word travertine.
Travertine is a sedimentary rock that began as limestone. Underground water heated by the earth’s core dissolved the limestone and brought it along with other minerals to the earth’s surface to form mud beds. In time, these mud beds of limestone and other minerals cooled and crystallized into solid travertine. This cooling process caused the small unique cavities and open channels in travertine to develop and the minerals created the unique color variations and veining in travertine.
Travertine has been successfully used in buildings for thousands of years. The Coliseum in Rome is among the larger buildings in the world that was constructed largely with travertine. However, the inherent small cavities, open channels, and veining in the stone that many architects find attractive are viewed by some people as cavities where water can collect and potentially cause deterioration of the stone due to freezing of this water. This preconceived notion has led to avoidance of the use of travertine in some buildings. While this condition has locally occurred with certain uses of travertine, it has not occurred on a systematic scale, and properly designed, constructed, and maintained travertine elements on buildings have performed successfully.
Travertine is a form of limestone and is sometimes classified as travertine limestone because it is composed principally of calcium carbonate. However, sometimes it is commercially classified as travertine marble because it can be polished. This commercial classification of travertine as marble has sometimes led to confusion in the design of travertine on buildings because geologically travertine is a form of limestone and is not marble.
This paper describes the successful and unsuccessful uses of travertine on buildings, and provides guidance on how to successfully design travertine on buildings. This paper also provides information that will help to clear up the preconceived notions and mischaracterizations of travertine.