Dr Miguel Gomez-Heras is an internationally active and renowned stone decay scientist. He is currently a Research Fellow at the School of Architecture of the Politechnic University of Madrid and the Institute of Geosciences (CSIC-UCM). We are delighted that Miguel has taken the time to answer some of our questions relating to stone decay and conservation, and the use of stone in architecture.
StArch: What are your main research interests?
MGH: My research so far has focused on petrophysical and mineralogical controls on the decay of stone-built heritage, as well as on rock weathering in general. I think it’s really interesting to look at the similarities and differences of weathering processes in natural environments and in the built environment. One particular point of interest is translating Non-Destructive Techniques initially developed for monitoring weathering of concrete and building stone for use in monitoring weathering in the natural environment.
StArch: Who has influenced your career?
MGH: Although there are many people and colleagues who day by day influence my career, my most influential figures have been Dr. Rafael Fort (my PhD supervisor) and Prof. Bernie Smith (my supervisor while working at Queen’s University Belfast). The first one introduced me to scientific research and the links between geology and heritage conservation. The second, an eminent British geomorphologist, taught me to look at weathering in a different light and through a wider lens. Both have been mentors and friends and I have learned from them the importance of thinking independently and with integrity as a researcher.
StArch: You are a prolific writer and have made quite an impact on the stone conservation literature. Where do you see your research going now?
MGH: I see my research moving from theoretical to more practical issues. Also of paramount importance to me is public outreach and science dissemination to the general public – this is an area I want to develop much more, so that stone decay research acquires the social relevance it deserves.
StArch: What are the key challenges facing stone conservators at present?
MGH: The challenge is one of communication with the research community – of translating research on conservation into practice, bringing their practical, everyday issues into the lab, so that researchers can work on answering “real” questions. They also face the challenge of keeping a standard of good practice in the current global financial situation in which conservation has perhaps become a neglected issue.
StArch: What are the key lessons for architects about using stone in a building?
MGH: I think the main thing for architects to understand is that stone cannot be defined just by an appearance or set of physical parameters. Stone is a dynamic material and any stone type is, in general, much more heterogeneous than, for example, concrete. Stone will evolve on response to its environment from the day is put in the building. This reality is part of the beauty of building in stone.
StArch: You have worked all round the world, from Belfast to Jordan and beyond – what do you enjoy most about working with stone-built heritage?
MGH: I enjoy interdisciplinarity, mixing art, history and science… and being able to visit heritage properties in a way most people will never do.