Ideas set in stone

The ground beneath your feet is often the first thing you notice on arriving at a location, so getting it right is critical. COD looks at how to pave the way for success.

Paving from Stone Concepts used by the pool side of Kempinski Hotel in Dubai.
Paving from Stone Concepts used by the pool side of Kempinski Hotel in Dubai.

The ground beneath your feet is often the first thing you notice on arriving at a location, so getting it right is critical. COD looks at how to pave the way for success.

Whether it's for the walkway to a shopping mall, the pathway in a resort, or the poolside area of a luxury hotel, selecting the right paving is crucial to the success of a semi-public development.

The material must play a dual role: it must be both attractive enough to complement its surroundings, as well as hard wearing enough to prove a good investment for the owner of a development.

Potentially, however, one of the biggest problems for regional designers could be deciding which material to use.

There is a myriad of paving options on the market from natural materials such as granite, slate and sandstone to concrete products such as pre-cast.

Natural stones such as sandstone and slate tend to be more popular for semi-public developments such as hotels, suppliers say.

Sandstone is considered one of the most beautiful stones on the market, but it can prove less hard wearing than some other materials as it is typically very soft, says Annie Hayes, managing partner of Dubai-based supplier Stone Concepts.

It is also a very porous stone, which means that unless it is laid well and sealed from top to bottom it can experience leakage, she adds.

Another popular natural alternative is granite, which being a hard stone is well suited for outdoor use, particularly for large projects, where developers are less likely to be deterred by its high cost.

Granite is considered another attractive stone due to its various crystal formations that enable it to have different finishes.

"With granite, within one expanse of a large paving area, you can have it polished which is high shine, you can have it honed which is a matte polish.

You can have all these different finishes in the same colour to create a pattern or effect that you would never be able to get with sandstone," she says.

Natural vs. concrete

Natural stone is more expensive than concrete, but for many customers the extra cost is justified by the product, states Vishal Lakhani, director of Stone Gallery.

"Although stone paving is considerably more expensive than the concrete alternatives, or the increasingly popular block paving, it does have a cachet that no other form of paving can offer," he says.

"It has an indefinite life-span and a high re-sale value should it ever need to be replaced. Special shapes can be cut to order, and special finishes applied to the new paving. Many of the paving manufacturers are also able to supply matching or complementary hardscaping items, such as steps, plinths, copings, seating," he adds.

Paving products are currently experiencing huge demand in the region on the back of the large number of construction projects on the go in the region.

Total spend on paving stones, ornamental stones and decking for developments is set to exceed US$57.2 million by 2010 in Dubai, according to the organisers of trade show Garden + Landscaping.

Types of Paving

Some of the natural stones in use in the region.


One of the hardest stones in commercial use. Very durable, it is stain, scratch and heat resistant hence requiring less care. Because it is strong, it also benefits from more surface options, making it an extremely versatile stone.


Very soft and porous but, unless it is a very hard sandstone, can be less hard wearing than other materials. If sandstone has more Quartzite in its compaction, then it is a stronger sandstone and better for commercial paving than its softer counterpart.


Developed from shale. It contains flaky minerals such as mica, clay and chlorite and splits readily into thin flat sheets with a perfectly cleaved surface. A fine-grained, metamorphic rock that is formed by heat and great pressure within the earth.


Contains many small grains of quartz, which give it a reflective or crystalline quality. Because they look attractive and are water resistant, both slate and quartzite are extensively used in fountains, swimming pools, and other areas where water is present.


One of several natural stones used for paving patios and garden paths. It is sometimes known as travertine limestone, sometimes as travertine marble, although it is neither limestone nor marble.


At present, most paving materials are sourced from overseas, notably India and China, and there is a limited supply of local materials on the market.

As the quest for more sustainable solutions continues, however, the market for local paving materials is likely to develop in the future.

Crazy paving

Placement of paving is another important issue. One of the current trends is for increasingly ambitious displays of paving, says Paul Stark, overseas marketing manager of UK paving and landscape product manufacturer Marshalls.

"Whereas designers would typically specify one or two paving products on a scheme, it is now not unusual to see six or more different materials specified," he says.

'Crazy paving' is another trend that is currently proving popular in the Middle East region. This consists of non-rectangular pieces of stone that are laid in intricate patterns for dramatic effect. However, whilst crazy paving can be used for striking visual effects, it is a labour intensive option, says Lakhani.

"Far too often, 'crazy paving' is undertaken as an allegedly simple alternative to more traditional paving, or because the stone itself is cheaper than rectangular units, yet, from a contractor's point of view, it costs more in terms of labour to lay a given area of crazy paving than it does for 'normal' paving," he says.

"There is a lot of intensive work involved in getting crazy paving to look good," he adds.

Careful selection

As well as thinking about the look and placement of a given material, in choosing a paving product, it is also important to consider the amount of wear and tear that the material will have to support, warn suppliers.

In comparison to interior flooring, exterior flooring will experience a lot of usage not just from people walking over it but also from other factors such as luggage trolleys and golf cars and even people carriers.

"It is has to be a hard material, it has to have low water absorption, and it has to resist the climatic conditions," Fouad Halawini, division manager of contractor and supplier Citibuild, says.

Exposure to water, from sprinklers or pool spillage, is another consideration that needs to be made when selecting exterior paving, particularly for more porous stones such as sandstones.

"You have to look at each job individually and do a lot of research into what sort of traffic it is going to have on it," says Hayes.

Wear and tear

The care and attention doesn't stop once the product has been selected and purchased either. Proper installation makes a big difference, suppliers say, and needs to be done by professionals rather than inexperienced labourers.

Cracked paving is often seen as a sign of where contractors have tried to cut costs by selecting paving that has not been properly cut or properly installed, according to suppliers.

Because of the high level of humidity in the region, it is important to make sure that stone is not permanently shaded or damp, they say, as this can result in problems such as algae. Sealing is recommended as a means to give extra protection to stones.

Although just one of many details of a development, paving is often the first thing that a person sees on visiting a location and therefore is a key factor in determining first impressions.

Whilst it may be tempting to cut corners on details such as the cut, installation and maintenance of paving and even the selection of the material, the savvy contractor would do well to seek savings elsewhere.

Key innovations


Using paving slabs of different sizes can create interesting variations to layout. Using three or four different sizes rather than one standard size, for example.


Finishes create extra variety within paving. Granite is particularly suited to different finishes. ADZE is a new finish promoted by Stone Concepts, which gives the effect of sand that has been stripped by a comb.


The use of different stones within an area. For example, using pebbles as borders or to break up a large space.

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