Enhancing the internal environment

Main Image 01 October 2015

While a materials’ 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 it aural and thermal performance.

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 architects – and to an extent their clients – manage the interrelationship between these various environmental factors to prevent conflicts at the design and build stage, ensuring the building is built to a high standard that is fit for purpose.

From brick to stone to glass to plasterboard, there are various popular finishes for internal walls across the UK.

However, when it comes to designing for facilities such as sports halls, gymnasiums and squash courts, alterative 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 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, architects 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, designers don’t have to compromise on either of these factors. With a superior acoustic performance in comparison with alternatives such as plasterboard, concrete masonry helps to facilitate clear communication. Due to its mass, insulating properties and texture, it absorbs sound rather than reflecting it.

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, architects and specifiers have the opportunity to be just as creative with concrete masonry as they do other materials.

They can utilise a single colour and finish to create large expanses of decorative walling to deliver welcoming and striking entrances within state-of-the-art healthcare facilities, educational facilities and hotels. They can also utilise bright colours and highly reflective finishes within corridors at schools, 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.

Striking colours, profiles and finishes of concrete masonry can also ensure facilities are fit for purpose for use within a range of internal environments.

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.

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, we at Forticrete have launched a new unusual blue block (which you can read more about here) for our dense concrete masonry range.

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.

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