Hard landscaping

Think about function, appearance and aftercare before you commit to a specification.

Granite and pebblestones - photo: CED Natural Stone Suppliers
Granite and pebblestones - photo: CED Natural Stone Suppliers

Q: What are the main factors to take into consideration when specifying materials for walling or fencing?

A: Function is a primary consideration as it may affect the type of fencing or walling and strength needed in terms of the materials used and also the construction techniques. It is often the case that walls and fences are simply used to mark a boundary but in other circumstances they may be required for security - to shut something out or keep it in.

On other occasions walls and fences might be used to screen an unpleasant sight or to reduce noise, to create a sense of privacy and shelter or to break up a large space into smaller, cosy enclosures. Walls and fences can also be used as back drops for focal features and, in some instances, can themselves be a focal point. Retaining walls are used to create space by holding back earth.

We are talking "landscape" so the appearance of the material is important - in its own right and in context with its surroundings. But remember, what you see now may look different in a few years when the materials have weathered. Also note that, in some parts of the country such as the National Parks and areas like the Cotswolds, there may be a need to use local materials.

Cost must also be taken into account and will usually depend on the size of the contract, local availability and transport, plus the cost of construction.

Q: Does the same apply when buying paving materials?

A: Pretty much. Function is again a top priority. And if you thought paving was just for pedestrians then think again. Paving needs to provide a firm, dry, non-slip surface for the safe passage of pedestrians, but it is also worth thinking whether anything else will use the area - say, delivery lorries or even fire engines. Depending on the anticipated loading and the type of traffic, it may be necessary to consider concrete, Tarmac or gravel, or to increase the thickness of the sub-base and the base.

Take plenty of time to consider the options in terms of appearance and texture as these aspects can fulfil other purposes, such as suggesting a change in direction. Smooth surfaces can be used to guide people along a desired route and cobbles can be used to keep them on course. Materials can also be chosen to prompt visitors to pause and take in some focal point or to indicate a hazard such as a change in level. Materials can also be selected to absorb noise - a good idea in hospital grounds. Always think about the texture and how it will affect wheelchair users.

As with walling materials, it is wise to consider how materials will react in damp environments and in bright sunshine. Some materials are more slippery than others when wet. Light reflection can be a problem, especially where there is a high concentration of buildings.

The type of subsoil and any tendencies to movement or subsidence may affect the choice of materials used or their optimum size. It is also essential to find out what is being buried in terms of pipes or cables. Where paving is likely to be dug up in the future, it is best to choose a unit paving such as flags, rather than rigid, in-situ materials. At some point, paving will need sweeping and perhaps scrubbing with a mechanical vacuum or sweeping machine. Ascertain how the materials will react to abrasive or chemical treatment.

Q: What is the best way of fixing street or park furniture?

A: Fixing is an important consideration. Most companies will offer a choice of pedestal fixing where furniture is bolted to the ground with brackets, or ground fixing, where leg extensions are concreted into the ground. But it will not matter which you opt for if someone is determined to steal it.

I remember an incident a few years ago when a contractor had just finished installing a park bench. It had supports and was concreted into the ground. Now you might think the only thing that could happen to it would be an attack by a spraycan-wielding youth intent on marking his territory, venting his anger or simply mindlessly defacing a new object. No, it was worse. Someone drove on to the site with an excavator, dug up the bench and drove away with it. Stolen to order.

Q: How can you prevent vandalism to street furniture?

A: If someone is of a mind to vandalise an item, they will. Anti-vandalism features remain a main priority when it comes to buying street and park furniture, but that does not mean benches and seats have to be cast in concrete. You will find that many new products are built from steel, with a move towards one-piece or welded units for greater strength.

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