Beautiful and functional public spaces are a real challenge for Architects. You have to remember about such aspects as safety, comfort, aesthetics, hygiene, acoustics, durability, ease of care, and costs. How to choose tiles depending on traffic volume in public areas? In the following article, we provide several practical tips which extensively describe this matter.


Public space is a very broad term. It covers all publicly accessible places – including buildings of, among others, public administration, justice, education and higher education, science, culture, religious worship, health, social and social services, trade, gastronomy, banking, tourism, sports, passengers service in air, land, and water transport, as well as office and social buildings.

Helpful standards

Guidelines for the design of on-ground and underground public facilities are set by legal norms – just like in the case of designing hotel bathrooms or reception areas – which we wrote about in the previous entries on our blog. Legal guidelines for a given facility are the obligatory reading before starting any kind of design work.

Estimation of traffic volume in newly developing public spaces

What utility scale will the building under construction have? How many people will use it every day and how many during the rush hours? Which places in particular will be used most intensively?

If the new object is to replace the old one on a scale of 1:1, then answering the above questions in this case is not overly difficult – you can easily refer to historical data.

The situation is more complicated for completely new facilities. Then, it is up to the investor to examine the social demand for the functions offered by the given facility and to estimate the number of its future users. Flooring should be selected depending on the expected traffic volume.

Resistance to abrasion – important parameter

The abrasion resistance of glazed tiles (marked with the PEI symbol together with the class and the number of revolutions next to it) is one of the key parameters when choosing a cladding for each generally accessible public space. We wrote about this and other important parameters for ceramic tiles in our Handbook of Ceramic Tiles for an Architect in February.

Effective, polished large-format tiles will work perfectly well inside the airport hall.

The higher the real or estimated volume of traffic in a given space (inside buildings or outside them), the higher the abrasion resistance parameter a cladding should have.

For spaces with extremely high traffic, the best choice are unglazed stoneware tiles (for example, technical stoneware tiles, tonal stoneware tiles made in the double-charge technology or selected clinker tiles). Due to the uniform structure of the tiles in the whole body of the tile, the effect of gradual abrasion of their surface throughout the exploitation period is not visible. The resistance of these tiles to deep abrasion is evaluated by subjecting them to standardised tests (more precisely described in our Handbook of Ceramic Tiles for an Architect).

For spaces with continuous, large (and enormously large) pedestrian traffic, with a certain amount of drifted abrasive substances, glazed ceramic tiles with high abrasion resistance parameters may be successfully used::

  • PEI 5 class (number of revolutions over 12000) – will be ideal for covering floors subjected to intense, continuous pedestrian traffic, with certain amounts of dirt stains, in extreme conditions; for instance in mass-visited shopping malls, airports, hotel lobbies, in industrial applications, and as public footpaths.
  • PEI 4 class (2100, 6000, and 12000 revolutions) – enough to cover floors, where you usually go with a certain amount of dirt – for example in entrance areas, industrial kitchens, hotels, exhibitions, and showrooms.

The effect of wiping the surface in each case should be minimised by securing the entrance areas with special wipers, as well as by frequent, systematic cleaning of floors.

Stable and even

Regardless of the amount of traffic, each floor in a public place must be stable and even.

As for the first of these parameters – here the professional location of the ceramic cladding, consistent with the construction art, is of great importance. Executive errors may result in a decrease in the service life, loosening of the tiles from the ground (and hence – instability of the floor), as well as mechanical damage. Even assembly of the cladding protects users from tripping over protruding edges. All unevenness and depressions are also very uncomfortable for women wearing stilettos – that’s why we advise against claddings with uneven surfaces (such as paving stones with deeply embedded joints).

Non-slippery – anti-slip parameter

Good adhesion is another condition for the safe use of floors. The slip resistance of the tiles, marked with the symbol R (along with the number next to it), should protect users from slipping – also in places where water or moisture appears constantly or even temporarily (wet surfaces are generally more slippery than the dry ones).

All entrance areas for public buildings should be secured with wipers, collecting moisture (rain, snow, mud) from users’ footwear, as well as ceramic tiles with high anti-slip parameters (from R11 to R13).

The highest anti-slip parameter is required, among others, in swimming pool facilities.

Clean tiles

The ease of keeping the floors clean is one of the main needs of investors. The greater the traffic volume in a given facility, the less complicated and time-consuming measures should be undertaken in order to keep order.

Large commercial areas, airports, sports, and industrial buildings, most often use machine support in maintaining order.

Therefore, the ceramic floor chosen for them should withstand both the pressure of the machine and many years of very frequent cleaning operations consisting in mechanical abrasion, washing, and dirt accumulation.

For this type of facilities, most heavily congested, we recommend the use of unglazed stoneware tiles (for which the deep abrasion parameter is determined). Tonal tiles manufactured in the double charge technology will be the most effective, on the one hand guaranteeing longevity without visible signs of surface wear, and on the other – unrelenting aesthetic qualities due to the unique appearance of each tile.
The easiness to keep clean is one of the key factors determining the choice of tiles for public spaces.

Impressive ceramics

In addition to all the features described above, ceramic tiles should also be visually impressive. The “wow” effect can be achieved with the tile pattern itself, with their interesting combinations – and even by branding – for example, placing company logos, precisely cut from tiles of different colours, in water-jet technology.

Three basic tile colours and precise cutting in the water-jet technology – and the space acquires a unique character and long-term promotion of the investor’s brand.

How to properly arrange tiles on the stairs?

Stairs are indispensable in every multi-storey public building. Even if elevators are provided, buildings have to allow for pedestrian movement between levels. It is also an additional security related, for example, to possible fire hazards.

All parameters of stairs in public facilities are strictly defined.

No parameter of stairs in the construction industry serving the general public is not indifferent. Number of steps in one run of the fixed stairs, minimal usable width of the run and landing, maximum height and depth of steps, type of stair step completion – all these parameters should be taken into account in advance, depending on the place we design. There are different requirements for nurseries and kindergartens, others for health care buildings, and others for other public facilities.

Similarly, the total width of gears and landings in staircases constituting the escape route should be taken into consideration, as well as the calculations of their in proportion to the number of people who can stay simultaneously on the floor in the largest possible occupancy rate.

Detailed data on stair parameters can be found, for instance, here.

The grooved surface of the tiles increases the adhesion to the ground and protects against slipping.

If the architects’ task is only to choose the right stair tiles, then it is necessary for them to take into account above all the degree of the slip resistance of tiles. Aesthetic and hygienic issues are also important, however in the hierarchy with those regarding safety, they pale into insignificance.

Pedestrian or wheeled traffic too?

When designing floors in facilities available to the general public, we need to consider how often people in wheelchairs will appear there. Will segways (single-seat two-wheeled vehicles with electric drive), forklift trucks or even passenger cars be used for technical purposes there?
Directions of communication routes can be marked in many ways.

Ceramic cladding must withstand the pressure of each of these vehicles, without losing visual and utility values.

Also in this case, the parameters of ceramic tiles, such as abrasion resistance, bending (breaking strength), and stain resistance will be equally important.

Less demanding office space

Flooring in offices is much less demanding. The entrance areas to office buildings accumulate most of the dirt with abrasive particles. In office rooms and open-space zones, there is also much less traffic, so you can use ceramic tiles with less stringent parameters. Glazed tiles with PEI 3/1500, 4/2100 parameters are sufficient. We wrote about fashionable, wood-imitating tiles for the office on our blog in February.

Public space available for people with disabilities

Taking into account the needs of people with disabilities is to design a given space in such a way so as to enable these people to self-reliant, satisfactory, and comfortable use of all public areas.

The selection of ceramic tiles which meet the needs of people on wheelchairs must take into account both the evenness and stability of the floor, the weight of the person with the wheelchair, the pressure exerted on the floor surface (breaking strength / resistance to bending), slip resistance, as well as additional exposure to abrasion of the surface of tiles.

In each public utility building, public rooms with various floor levels have to be adapted to the movement of the disabled – for this purpose special ramps are most often used (they can also be lined with ceramic tiles with good adhesion).

The width of communication routes adapted to the movement of people using wheelchairs is as follows:

  • 120 cm – this is enough to let the wheel travel freely (however, it prevents it from turning back or manoeuvring with a person moving normally).
  • 150 cm – the minimum width of access to a public utility building, determined by the ordinance of the Minister of Infrastructure regarding technical conditions which should be met by buildings and their location. The width of 150 cm allows to pass freely on a wheelchair with a person without motor dysfunction and a manoeuvre of a wheelchair turning back.
  • 180 cm – width which allows for passing by of both two disabled persons on the wheelchairs, as well as two strollers.

To ensure free movement of people, communication routes cannot be limited by any obstacles (such as bins or decorations).

Public spaces must take into account all the needs of people with disabilities.

Detailed guidelines for the design of communication routes for people with physical disabilities can be found, among others, here.

In the case of people with mental dysfunctions, unambiguity is extremely important – here the appearance of the floor must clearly contrast with the appearance of the walls, so as not to interfere with the work of the labyrinth and not cause undesirable psychophysical reactions.

Practical tips for the design of communication routes

1. Size

The size of the tile matters. Depending on the width of the communication route, for which we must ensure a durable, safe to use, and easy to clean cladding, it is worth choosing such tile sizes which will organize the space, clearly informing about the direction of the communication route.

For routes with a width of 150 cm, a good (and visually effective) solution will be 75 cm wide tiles or, for example, a combination of 60 cm wide strips of tiles, separated by a 30 cm strip of tiles.

The less ugly cuts, the better the floor will look, fostering a general impression of neatness and order.

2. Colours

The colours affect people on a conscious, but also non-conscious level.

Optimal choice of colours for floors in public facilities is often a compromise between architect’s vision and utility considerations.

The floors must be consistent with the rest of the public space, while being practical and easy to keep clean at the same time. The first traces of dirt should not be exposed on them, on the contrary – they should be effectively masked.

3. Completeness of the system

It is worth choosing collections of ceramic tiles with skirting boards and stair system solutions. Owing to these complementary elements, we ensure consistency of the designed spaces.


  • The manner of organising public spaces is regulated by appropriate standards which should be respected in architectural designs./li>
  • Abrasion resistance (PEI) or resistance to deep abrasion are the most important parameters to consider when designing public spaces inside and outside of the buildings.
  • The higher the PEI class, the more traffic the floor can withstand.
  • In extreme conditions, for space with continuous, heavy traffic, it is worth choosing unglazed stoneware tiles (ceramic tiles or tonal stoneware tiles made in the double-charge technology).
  • Floor stability, even surface, and easy cleaning are another key criteria when choosing a ceramic cladding.
  • Stairs and ramps should be lined with tiles with good adhesion and aesthetically finished (for instance, with skirting boards, corner stair treads etc.).
  • If the public space, in addition to pedestrians, will use wheeled means of transport (strollers and pushchairs, bicycles, rollers, segways, battery or petrol cars), then both mass loads, as well as additional dirt and abrasive substances drifted from wheel treads should be taken into account.
  • Public spaces should be friendly to all users, regardless of their age, health, and degree of fitness – that is why the needs of seniors and people with disabilities should be taken into account in advance.
  • During the design process, it is worth following practical considerations related to the selection of a collection of ceramic tiles as regards its specific formats, colours and a complete stair system.

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Rafał Doleciński
Pasjonat nowości związanych z branżą budowlaną, dla którego nowoczesny design jest równie ważny co dobór odpowiednich materiałów i rozwiązań na drodze do funkcjonalnego wnętrza. Na naszym blogu stara się poruszać tematy nurtujące architektów i podsuwać im pomyły na ciekawe rozwiązania w obiektach wielkopowierzchniowych.