The value of Tonalite rock

Autor: Alberta Voltolini

Tonalite rock, the granite of the Adamello mountain range, embodies the fires of the Earth that crystallized it millions of years ago, the power of the waters that shape it when the ice fields melt, and the motion of the winds that rush across it on those cold Alpine nights.

an all-new harmony between the tradition of tonalite rock and a whole range of creative designers and visionary artists Eventually, this stone of such unique beauty would be transformed by local craftsmen into the columns and stairways of ancient churches, into gateways and into the walls and frames of homes, and used to terrace the area’s mountain slopes, to build fountains for natural spring water, and to pave the roads that wind their way up from the local villages. Indeed, there are no towns in the Rendena valley that do not boast at least one example of how tonalite has been used over the centuries, so much so that it has become a distinctive trait of the valley’s very identity.

In the 1960s, the Pedretti family from Bienno, in the Camonica valley in the province of Brescia, with a long tradition of stonecutters and stone masons, moved to the Rendena valley, where they launched a successful business made of hard work and much sacrifice. The family now has deep ties to this area of western Trentino, with four generations working the Adamello granite they take from Val Genova quarries before shaping it in their Carisolo facilities into a much-sought-after material for various applications in construction, interior design, and urban furnishings.

But the times are changing, and Pedretti Graniti has begun writing a new story for the future, a story inspired by an all-new harmony between the tradition of tonalite rock and a whole range of creative designers and visionary artists and architects from around the world.

Three partners work alongside the company to promote Adamello granite as a new, largely unexplored material for art, architecture and design, and namely: Trentino Sviluppo, an association based in Trento dedicated to promoting sustainable development in the Trentino region; Politecnico di Milano, one of Italy’s leading universities focused on science and technology; and Arte Sella, the renowned outdoor art museum in Val di Sella (Borgo Valsugana).

It was an innovative idea of Trentino Sviluppo that lit this spark of creativity in Pedretti Graniti in 2004 with “Pietra: antichi e nuovi percorsi della pietra trentina” (loosely: “Stone: stories old and new of Trentino stone”), a project aimed at encouraging a union between art — engaging with up-and-coming artists and designers and established architects — and tonalite rock, along with the pink stone of Terlago, Verdello from Trento, and the porphyry of Val di Cembra.

That first year, it was the architect Ettore Sottsass Jr. who would transform one of the most traditional applications of granite, the fountain, into an object of contemporary art in Carisolo. “After this first experience, a great many others followed,” Daniele Pedretti explains. “Our company was selected to participate in a ten-year project designed by Trentino Sviluppo with the goal of supporting enterprise and promoting innovation and exports. Each business was paired with a famous designer, and we worked with Max Lamb.” In 2016, the British designer, who loves to take inspiration from the materials of nature for contemporary designs, used tonalite granite to create his stunning “Campione Chair”, which was exhibited at the London Design Fair and London Design Festival and remains on display at Manhattan’s Salon 94.

Since then, Pedretti Graniti has skillfully evolved the “Campione Chair” into other objects of interior design, including chairs, tables, and other design features. it’s not
just about local granite.
One example is Carrara marble and the design talents of German artist Nils Udo, who created “White Sea” for the island of Albarella, featuring seven spectacular eggs, each of which is about 70 centimeters long and which Pedretti Graniti carved out of Carrara marble in their workshop in Carisolo, where they took on the challenge of working such a precious stone into the highly precise, oval shape of these large eggs.

“Our collaboration with Trentino Sviluppo and with Politecnico di Milano [and in particular with Marco Imperadori, professor of Technological Design and Innovation at the university’s Department of Engineering and now also the science director at Arte Sella Architettura] has enabled us to experience new uses of stone in areas such as design, architecture and art and pursue a new direction of creative development,” said Daniele Pedretti. “This change has opened the door to internationalization and has called for major investment and the addition of new, highly technological machinery that can produce special, out-of-scale elements. We have understood the way to create greater value and make both stone and the objects we create with it truly unique.”

A traditional material, tonalite rock is ideally suited to the bold creations of designers, the futuristic vision of architects, and the boundless creativity of artists. “At Arte Sella, of which we are a partner and official sponsor, after the Vaia storm (26–30 October 2018), we helped to add a number of major new works,” the head of Pedretti Graniti added. Using Adamello granite, Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize (2011) and of the Golden Lion at the 16th Biennale in Venice, created an untitled work, installed in 2019, on the border between the outdoor exhibition space and the untamed wilderness that had been hit the previous year by the Vaia storm. The work is a sort of dolmen, a doorway inviting us to reflect on the meaning of architecture and on our fragility in the face of the destructive power of nature. Another example is “Spleen”, a work of land art by Trentino artist Giuliano Orsingher, from the Vanoi valley, a mass of granite that has been softened by the sinuous, undulating forms sculpted by the artist. Milan designer Alberto Meda used tonalite granite to make his bench for Arte Sella Benchmark, a series of site-specific works that provide a place to sit in quiet contemplation.

Adamello granite has inspired numerous architects from the Trentino region. One of these is Gino Pisoni, who created the installation “Cengia del Bruno” in Madonna di Campiglio’s Piazzetta Detassis in commemoration of the mountaineer Bruno Detassis, known as the “King of Brenta”. However, one of the most important projects is that of Kengo Kuma, one of Japan’s most prominent contemporary architects, who designed the Japan National Stadium erected for the 32nd Olympics in Tokyo. Known for his keen attention to materials, which he selects not only for their architectural function but also for the emotions that they evoke, Kengo Kuma created a fountain sculpture in tonalite rock at the Forio d’Ischia harbor.

The intellectual value of this majestic granite sculpture is as great as the work is priceless.

“A major designer and one of the most beautiful, most famous spots in Italy are two rare vehicles for transforming granite into art and altering the landscape,” said Pedretti. “We are nurturing all contacts past and present,” he continued. “The pandemic has, paradoxically, helped us by making new means of remote communication a part of our daily routine with our partners near and far. Another important aspect has been our location. As a part of getting to know the artists, architects and designers we work with in giving shape to stone, they always stay a few days here in Carisolo, visiting the quarry and our workshop to learn about this material and where it comes from in greater detail and to find inspiration for new ideas.”

With every day come new ideas. On 18 June 2022, Arte Sella inaugurated “Physis”, an art installation by Arcangelo Sassolino, a designer from Vicenza who was featured at the Malta pavilion for the 59th Biennale currently under way in Venice. Technology, art and nature come together as one in this work, which is a first for Arte Sella. 

Stone is always a source of inspiration. Tradition supports innovation, and the quest for quality that has always been a distinctive trait of Italian craftsmanship, including here in the Italian Alps, fuels knowledge and opportunity. The Pedretti Graniti story continues with confidence towards a future made of beauty.

Tonalite rock was so named by German geologist Gerhard vom Rath, who described this granite in 1864 when telling of his first expedition to Tonale Pass in 1857. It is an igneous, plutonic rock of felsic composition similar to granite. This stone is now known throughout the world by the name of this alpine pass between the Italian province of Brescia and the region of Trentino.
Pedretti Graniti’s story begins in the 1950s, when teams of stone masons came to the Giudicarie in conjunction with a major undertaking to develop hydroelectric power in the area, helping to extract and transform the stone needed to build dams, bridges and roads. In 1956, Antonio Pedretti came to the Val Rendena area and started a business in 1960. In 1976, his sons, Faustino, Bortolo, Dino and Mario, established Pedretti Graniti to extract, process and sell tonalite granite. Over time, the four brothers would also
turn their attention to making extraordinary contributions to the local community through volunteer work and the support of community associations. Until the mid-1970s, the business revolved around stonecutters and stone masons. With the construction of new facilities in Carisolo, their extraction and processing operations evolved to take advantage of advanced mechanical and electronic equipment, which enabled them to produce products of much higher quality. 
The tonalite rock comes from the quarry in Ponte Rosso, in the municipality of Strembo in Val di Genova. The existence of this and other quarries within the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park, which was established after the quarries, has not always been understood. The search for proper equilibrium between man and nature has led the company to pursue quality and lend more than financial value to stone. Pedretti Graniti has an ISO 9001 certified quality system and an ISO 14001 certified environment management system. The extraction of Adamello granite is subject to 21 different expert opinions and to control by the competent authorities of the Province of Trento.

Photo&Video @credits Marco Varoli

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