How to Choose Pavements for High-Traffic Public Spaces

Currently, there are a multitude of pavements in the market, each with different characteristics. When designing a public space, it is essential to ask the right questions regarding requirements and functions to determine the right material for the job. To begin: Where will the pavement be installed? (Will it be protected, exposed, wet, or damp?). What level of traffic will it experience? (Light, moderate, or high?). What type of traffic will it experience? (Pedestrians, bicycles, light vehicles, or heavy vehicles?). What other factors should be considered based on preexisting conditions?

From these questions, it is possible to draw a more precise and effective profile of the "abrasion resistance" of the pavement, an important factor to guarantee the durability and efficiency of the material. Then, the aesthetic, functional, economic, and sustainable factors may be added.

How to Choose Pavements for High-Traffic Public Spaces  - More Images+ 16

In areas that will receive an intense flow of traffic, attention should be paid mainly to the following characteristics:

  • Security, comfort, and accessibility for all types of users.
  • Weather resistance and climatic changes.
  • Ease of maintenance and long-term durability.

© Iwan Baan. ImageSuperkilen / Topotek 1 + BIG Architects + Superflex

Different materials can deliver totally different conditions. Soft pavements will generate pleasant and comfortable spaces for casual interactions or children's play, while the hardest ones will facilitate the rapid and fluid movement of pedestrians. Some will offer color and texture, while others look clean and modern. The right choice will not only help improve the quality of life of people when leaving their homes but may bring cities one step closer to achieving the effective inclusion of all citizens.

Let's review some of the most commonly used options:


© Maxime Brouillet. ImageLe Banc de Neige / Atelier Pierre Thibault

Concrete is highly durable, has good mechanical resistance, and requires only a very simple maintenance and cleaning routine. Locations of mass public use must use high-performance concrete (HPC), which provides greater impermeability, less shrinkage, and higher durability. 

© Adrià Goula. ImageJardins suspensos de Sants em Barcelona / Sergi Godia + Ana Molino architects

Porcelain Tiles

There are many patterns, colors, and different resistance levels of porcelain tiles, so they are widely used for different purposes. Technical advantages include its low porosity and relatively homogeneous structure. Among the finishes available, natural and non-slip are most suitable for high traffic areas.

© Adrià Goula. ImageJardins suspensos de Sants em Barcelona / Sergi Godia + Ana Molino architects


One of the criteria used to size and choose ceramic floors is the PEI index, which classifies glazed ceramics according to their resistance to movement flow. For example, a ceramic classified as PEI 1 has low resistance to abrasion, making it suitable for areas where you will walk barefoot or in slippers, such as bedrooms and residential bathrooms. In the case of outdoor areas or public areas, which receive very high traffic, it is recommended to use PEI 5, which is suitable for both outdoor and indoor areas including restaurants, shopping centers, and airports.

© Clément Guillaume. ImageEntrada de Chatenay Malabry / Ateliers 2/3/4/


© Signe Find Larsen. ImageBaños en el puerto de Hasle / White

Wooden floors are frequently used indoors because they generate cozy environments. As a result, there is great interest in transferring this characteristic to external spaces and collective use. In such cases, it is essential to pay attention to the quality of the wood and ensure that it is treated to effectively resist the weather. In addition, it is important to perform specialized maintenance every 2 years. 

© Adrien Williams. ImagePlace des Gens de Mer / Bourgeois Lechasseur Architects

In most cases, the material is used in a deck format (without the need for a subfloor). However, PVC decks offer the same visual advantages of wood, but at a lower cost and requiring less maintenance. 

Azatlyk - Praça Central de Naberezhnye Chelny / DROM. Image © Dmitry Chebanenko

Natural Stones

© Sandra Pereznieto . ImageConstruyendo Común-Unidad / Rozana Montiel | Estudio de Arquitectura

Although stones are naturally resistant, when it comes to paving, it is essential to use rough finish stones rather than smooth ones. This will ensure greater safety for users and prevent slipping. They are usually easy to clean (with mild soap and water) and do not require much maintenance.

© Grigoriy Sokolinsky. ImageRua Bolshaya Morskaya / AB CHVOYA + AM TRI

  • Miracema Stone: Has a non-slip finish and a wide variety of colors, and is widely used in a mosaic format.
  • Draining Stones: Effective solution for rainy regions. They are non-slip, non-thermal (they do not release or absorb heat), and do not allow water to accumulate.
  • Limestone: Natural stone used in traditional 'Portuguese pavement' sidewalks, typical to Brazil and Portugal. It has an excellent cost-benefit ratio and can be found in different colors.
  • Basalt: Resistant, non-slip, durable material. Considering its characteristics, it presents a good cost/benefit ratio.
  • Granite: Highly resistant to the traffic of people and vehicles, it can be used in square or rectangular pieces or even in custom formats. Its biggest disadvantage is that it absorbs the ambient temperature; that is, it cools down a lot in winter and gets very hot in summer.

© Dane Alonso. ImageJardines centrales de Jojutla / MMX

Frequent Uses

Colorful Squares

Cortesia de Dasic Fernández. ImageClock of the times - Diriyah Season Festival 2019 / Dasic Fernández

Incorporation of Sand or Gravels

© Joan Roig. ImageRegeneración urbana Parque de los bajos / EMAC

Illuminated Floor and Roads

© Fernando Guerra | FG+SG. ImagePlaza D. Diogo de Menezes / Miguel Arruda Arquitectos Associados

Water and Vegetation Areas

© Daniel Segura. ImageHumedal Urbano Usaquén / CESB / Obraestudio

How can Technology Help?

If the necessary resources exist, designers should consider the application of technological solutions that go beyond the aesthetic/functional problem, aiming as well to minimize contemporary problems such as the climate crisis. For example, tiles have been developed that convert steps to energy in pedestrian crossings or capture rainwater from sidewalks, leading them to plants or water ponds.

© Ossip van Duivenbode. ImageLuchtsingel / ZUS

Hot pavements, meanwhile, further aggravate heat islands in urban areas by radiating a large amount of heat to the atmosphere. Opting for light colors is the simplest way to avoid this issue, but if this is not a viable solution, such as on paved roads or highways, there remain several strong options.

Cool Pavements function as solar reflectors and keep the temperature lower than traditional pavements. Its technology is interesting because it can be made with the same materials as typical pavements are, such as cement.

© Adrià Goula. ImageJardins suspensos de Sants em Barcelona / Sergi Godia + Ana Molino architects

Finally, it is possible to add a clear binder to increase the reflection of existing pavements, since the solar reflection of floors worsen with use. This method will prevent heat from accumulating and remaining on the pavement.

© Norbert Tukaj . ImageEspaço Público de Ogmios / DO ARCHITECTS


  • Accessed on January 11, 2020.
  •  Accessed on January 11, 2020.
  • Accessed on January 11, 2020.
  • Accessed on January 11, 2020.
  • Accessed in January 11, 2020.

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About this author
Cite: Migliani, Audrey. "How to Choose Pavements for High-Traffic Public Spaces " [Como escolher pisos para áreas públicas e de alto tráfego ] 27 Jan 2020. ArchDaily. (Trans. Franco, José Tomás) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Azatlyk - Praça Central de Naberezhnye Chelny / DROM. Image © Dmitry Chebanenko


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