Porcelain performs inside and out

Jamie Gledhill of Brett Landscaping looks at how porcelain paving can deliver on aesthetics and function in both domestic and public realm settings in the context of Covid

When creating community or shared spaces, architects are balancing a raft of overlapping priorities: from place-making, community cohesion and connectivity to sustainability and even public health.

The Covid-19 pandemic has added a sense of urgency to long-pondered questions about what civic leaders and property owners want our buildings and public realm to do. Architects and designers need to look at how building and space design must adapt to accommodate a future where people can gather, live, work and socialise, while the building design at the same time forms a part of an airborne disease control strategy.

The easy answer may be to sacrifice form for function, but with architects challenged to create schemes and homes that can have true longevity, they understandably do not want to compromise a reduction in aesthetic finish.

In this environment, the use of porcelain paving can provide building designers with an answer to maintaining quality while ensuring that floor space, inside and outside of a property, can adapt to many different functions.

Why porcelain?

Porcelain paving has long been used for high-end garden patios but advances in technology mean that large developments can benefit from the low-maintenance qualities of porcelain paving – inside and out.

Porcelain paving uses the aesthetic of natural stone while adding the benefits of modern paving manufacturing. Using innovative manufacturing techniques, a composite porcelain unit can be made at a thickness of 60 mm, which makes it suitable for use in areas with very high pedestrian traffic.

Originally an Italian development, porcelain tiles are made by selecting suitable raw materials, such as fine clays, ground to make them incredibly fine, combined with a suitable mix design and a precisely controlled manufacturing process. This includes finely grading the right type of clays and firing them at an extremely high, controlled temperature in a kiln.

Porcelain is increasingly popular for large projects due to its stylish appearance. However the material’s lack of water absorbency also helps with stain resistance which means that porcelain tiles are easier to clean and maintain. Having a very low porosity, this enhances the frost resistance and provides longevity to the installation.

Porcelain is ideally suited to use outdoors as it is extremely strong, hard-wearing and low maintenance. Using such paving can bring a unique aesthetic, with a mixture of light and shade. A premium finish can be achieved which will retain its looks for years to come. Its versatility in working in an indoor and outdoor setting also provides architects with an elegant way to design large flexible spaces that can adapt to environmental factors.

Modern manufacturing

Modern manufacturing techniques mean that there is now a solution for large projects without compromising on the quality of finish: a composite porcelain and concrete paving flag tile with a pre-bonded, cementitious, water-permeable drainage layer.

This system is supplied as a porcelain tile with a concrete backing so it can be installed using a similar method to normal block paving. This also allows for the creation of different layouts and features while retaining one construction detail below the pavement surface.

Some products available are permanently and inseparably bonded to a drainage mortar base which offers excellent stability, strength, drainage and adhesion. Pre-bonded flag units have integrated nibs on all four sides which help to protect the porcelain face during transit and installation, along with providing a consistent joint width when the slabs are installed.

Versatility inside & out

Two recent developments that used hybrid porcelain were the headquarters of tech company Vega Controls and Greenford Quay – a £151m development overlooking the Grand Union Canal in London.

At the Vega offices, in Uckfield in Sussex, a cafe with a continuous inside/outside area and also a large walkway that starts outside the building and passes through it were completed in porcelain.

This allowed for a consistent design with a high quality finish that will be hard-wearing and easy to maintain and a large workable area that can be adapted for the different requirements of the company.

At Greenford Quay, porcelain was used for the roof terraces and public spaces as it could meet the loading requirements and ensure its suitability for the building’s design. The project developers said that they chose GeoCeramica due to the aesthetic requirements of this landmark luxury development, without compromising on the technical brief of providing a roof space for residents that demonstrated structural durability, reliability and quality of the installed system.

Jamie Gledhill is engineering technical manager at Brett Landscaping