The Landscape Forum is one of Stone Federation Great Britain’s sector focus groups. Here an architect gives their view on the benefits of using natural stone when designing pavements and hard landscaping for towns and cities.
The treatment of the surface of streets and squares makes a huge impact on the identity of any town or city.
Since Georgian times natural stone has been a favoured material in successful cities of the UK, including the magnificent streets of London, The Crescent in Bath and the elegant cities of Edinburgh and Liverpool. Stone was chosen to express prosperity and create places of worth.
Today natural stone is still chosen by designers and clients for its aesthetic properties – its inherent good looks and natural beauty and its ability to retain these looks in the long term. Some stone appearance actually improves with age.
By comparison, man-made alternatives can start to lose their visual appeal and be in need of renewal much sooner, often long before they have lost their structural integrity.
The wide variety of natural colours and the natural variations within stones allow the creation of unique solutions, which enhance local distinctiveness.
Stone can be successfully used as a simple mono-colour or by mixing a rich pattern with different hues, either bright or muted. And the permanence of colour with its ability to resist fading in sunlight is a great asset.
Designing with natural stone allows flexibility, as an infinite number of sizes and shapes can be produced from the product with no compromise on the attractiveness or performance of it. It makes it easy to design a pavement compatible with standard street furniture, kerbs and drainage.
The stone can be cut to exacting tolerances, allowing the creation of intricate designs. A good example of this is seen with the complex granite seating walls at Pier Head Liverpool.
The design of the individual units was computer modelled and cutting schedules prepared in the UK. They were cut and dry assembled like a giant jigsaw puzzle before they were transported to check on accurate buildability. On-site, construction went smoothly.
The versatility of stone is favoured by craftsmen and stonemasons. For generations natural stone has been used for masonry, traditional carving and etching. Now, with modern developments in both CAD design and cutting techniques, designers can embrace other aspects of art in the landscape, including text and illustration, as well as inlay with other materials like stainless steel.
It also allows a high-quality finish to contrasting step nosings to be achieved and the creation of co-ordinating tactile pavings needed to help with DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) compliance.
On steps and walls, ribbing can be cut into the natural stone to provide a subtle but effective deterrent to skate-boarders without the need for metal studs, which can detract from the overall appearance.
The natural durability and inherent strength of good quality natural stone make it ideal for townscape work where long scheme life is important.
But it is important to select the right, good quality stone. CE marking, which should be applied to natural stone paving products, provides assurances of quality and performance. With appropriate construction techniques, stone can withstand vehicular traffic as well as heavy pedestrian usage. And stone can provide inherently good skid and slip resistance.