Natural stone surfacing: balancing acts

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The palette of materials for hard surfacing spawns more and more options as construction technologies develop, not least with emerging concrete paving and bound surfacing products. Progress marches on.

But the appeal and effectiveness of natural stone in landscape architecture and construction – hardwearing Yorkstone, sympathetic limestone, fine-grained slate, solid granite – still stand, complemented as well by similar advances in stone manufacturing processes.

One reason for the persistent role of stone is the way that it allows designers, specifiers and contractors to balance competing priorities in projects: the authenticity of heritage styles versus the dynamism of contemporary accents; standing out in new build projects versus blending into restoration work; the civic benefits of pedestrianisation versus the commercial importance of traffic management.

Heritage vs contemporary

The authenticity of heritage styles versus the dynamism of contemporary accents.

Natural stone draws out the authenticity of surrounding architecture, while, at the same time, capturing the qualities of contemporary design: simplicity, solidity, natural luminosity.

Liverpool’s award-winning Canal Link and Pier Head Public Realm project, which won Stone Federation awards, is a good example. Natural stone materials were used to satisfy the competing requirements of a high-performance, high-quality, modern public space, and a landscape architecture scheme that had to be anchored firmly in the location’s heritage.

In the same way, natural stone allows for a balance of functional performance with aesthetic or decorative qualities.

New build vs restoration

Standing out in new build projects versus blending into restoration work.

Natural stone materials have a close association with prestige buildings and aspirational projects. Hence the excitement in the stone industry at the prospect of the Olympics: ‘Significant market opportunities exist through the construction impetus generated by the London 2012 Olympic Games,’ says the Natural Stone Show.

At the same time, in conservation, restoration and regeneration projects, stone integrates well with existing materials and elements, and grafts in as it weathers.

In the Slough High Street improvement scheme, Pomery Natural Stone Ltd was able to work with landscape architects and artists to design and install a creative stone floorscape – and integrate it with bespoke granite benches, new lighting, artwork and semi-mature tree planting.

Pedestrians vs traffic

The civic benefits of pedestrianisation versus the commercial importance of traffic management.

While urban planners wrestle with the pros and cons of shared surfaces, stone paving has the potential to accommodate all kinds of footfall and traffic use.

In the Southend Shared Space project, CED Ltd provided granite paving for the areas around the station. The space was designed for use by pedestrians‚ cyclists, buses and taxis, and to provide disabled access. Stone cubes were used to give discreet demarcation signals, extra long setts to avoid too many small elements, and specific mortars and detailing to provide the necessary lateral support.

Stone products and projects on ESI.info

As well as being particularly hard-wearing, stone pavements draw on a palette of organic colours, can reflect the tones and textures of local geology and materials, and are equally sympathetic to heritage and modern architecture… more

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