John Lambert, Director & General Manager at Forticrete, discusses how concrete masonry can provide the perfect solution for builders and clients looking to deliver awe-inspiring positive internal environments.
While the exterior of a building is often considered the most important aspect from a design standpoint, it is essential that a project’s internal environment is not overlooked. In commercial applications, internal design is fundamental to the building’s performance.
While a material’s aesthetic finish is a key factor in the specification process, it is equally important that sufficient consideration is given to how a building’s interior design contributes to its aural and thermal performance.
Depending on the building’s end use, the various needs have to be considered and more weighting may be given to certain factors over others.
For instance, acoustic design plays a crucial role in determining the operational effectiveness of classrooms as the ability of pupils and staff to communicate verbally within teaching spaces will affect their productivity and effectiveness.
While, aesthetic considerations such as colour, surface texture and reflectance value can affect the usability of educational and sports facilities.
It is therefore vital that builders and clients manage the interrelationship between these environmental factors to ensure the building is built to a high standard that is fit for purpose.
The Popular Choice
From brick to stone to glass, there are various popular finishes for internal walls across the UK. Being quick to install and relatively inexpensive, plasterboard has been a dominant material for a number of decades.
However, the application of plasterboard creates a small cavity between the blockwork and the board itself. This provides little benefit in airtightness, which is essential for conserving energy, thermal efficiency and sound-proofing. This is where the buildings usage is of paramount importance.
For example, when it comes to designing for facilities such as sports halls, gymnasiums and squash courts, alternative materials are being sought. Much like plasterboard, brick, stone and glass don’t always prove the most practical for interiors that need to withstand high intensity usage and accommodate expansive spaces.
This is where materials such as concrete provide a far more practical solution, particularly for facilities requiring strong and low maintenance finishes. This is because concrete blocks provide excellent durability, in addition to being fire resistant and carrying a good thermal mass (low U-values).
However, builders still need to balance the need for durability with other factors such as acoustics. These facilities, like many classrooms across the UK, have long been plagued with poor acoustics.
Good sound transmission in these areas is not only important for fitness instructors and teachers, but to ensure users and students can enjoy their activities without distraction.
By specifying concrete masonry, there needn’t be a compromise on either of these factors. With a superior acoustic performance in comparison with many alternatives, concrete masonry helps to facilitate clear communication. Due to its mass, insulating properties and texture, it absorbs sound rather than reflecting it, which is critical for environments where learning and training take place.
Striking The Perfect Balance
Concrete has long been associated with a grey and bland appearance. However, with a wide range of sizes and a selection of exciting colours, profiles and finishes available, builders have the opportunity to be just as creative with concrete masonry as they do other materials.
For example, they can utilise a single colour and finish to create large expanses of decorative walling to deliver welcoming and striking entrances. They can also utilise bright colours and highly reflective finishes within corridors, which often have little access to daylight. While options can also be mixed and matched for juxtaposition to enhance the aesthetic of an internal space.
When it comes to masonry block finishes, one of the many popular choices is the lustrous and smooth polished finish, often used to create large expanses of reflective masonry walling.
When looking for a more rustic or natural appearance, builders can reach for the textured finish. Created by shot-blasting the masonry block to lightly texture its surface, the colour and texture of its natural aggregates are exposed.
For those that desire the charm of a rugged and weathered appeal of natural stone, a split-faced finish provides an authentic, cost effective and environmental alternative.
Fit For Purpose Internal Design
The selection of striking colours, profiles and finishes of masonry can also ensure facilities are fit for purpose.
For instance, Sport England advises that for the development of dedicated badminton centres, non-distracting colours with a reflectance value of between 30 – 50%, such as greens and blues, are found to be the best colour to provide sufficient contrast to the white of a shuttlecock.
While for multi-use sports halls and within school classrooms and corridors, a higher reflectance value will help provide a greater spread of light within the space.
This has created an appetite for blue masonry to provide the required colour, surface texture and reflectance value within sports halls across the country. In response, Forticrete has developed a new blue block for its dense concrete masonry range.
The new colour has an aesthetically pleasing finish which means they are not exclusive for use within sports halls, but provide a new colour palette for corridors, offices and classrooms.
Forticrete’s range of concrete masonry also has a high recycled content helping to reduce the operational energy consumption of buildings.
To conclude, in reviewing the many materials choices available, it is clear that concrete masonry has a beneficial role to play in the delivery of a positive internal environment that will be fit for purpose for the long term.