A Three-Step Plan to Selecting the Right Flooring

Flooring is a critical element when designing any type of project, especially in the university environment. Every facility must be committed to stimulating learning, attracting prospective students and faculty, enhancing alumni pride and aiding in fundraising. Although flooring is one element of the overall design, it is a significant component that has a tremendous impact on the outcome of the project.

Questions might include: What type of floor material should I use? What color options exist? How long will this flooring last? Is it easy to care for? With a multiplicity of flooring concerns and options, how can I be sure that the flooring I am considering for my next project is the right one?

Establishing a well-defined set of parameters prior to being inundated with options will help you to make good flooring decisions. A simple three-step plan we use to identify and understand is: purpose, life-cycle and aesthetics. Careful consideration of each factor will lead you to selecting the right flooring.


Purpose. Prior to even looking at the many options that exist, it is valuable to understand how the space will be used. This means digging deep and identifying who will use the space, understanding the objective of the space and how it will be used, and illuminating any special considerations to maximize the usage of the space.

Flooring must consider the application. With high-traffic areas, such as passages and hallways, a hard surface is typically most appropriate and easiest to maintain. Therefore, this would lead you to look at materials such as tile or vinyl for these areas. Study areas and lounges tend to lend themselves to carpeting because the preferred surface should generally be more sound absorbent.


Life-Cycle. Projected life-cycle and budget considerations are equally important to recognize up front so that the proper products can be recommended and specified. Often, determining the desired life-cycle of a space will help identify the appropriate product for installation. For instance, if a space will have a temporary use until the next phase of the project, you might select a product based solely on cost as opposed to investing in a flooring product with a 10-year warranty.

Once it is time to identify the best type of material to use, the designer and owner need to consider how the floor will be maintained. For example, is there a high probability for standing water on the floor? If so, you need to be cognizant of the slip coefficients for hard surfaces. When installing two different types of flooring adjacent to each other, it is also important to consider the difference in maintenance and how that could affect the longevity of each material.

Recently, at Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., budget and longevity were both program considerations on the renovation project of the student center Underground. With those factors in mind, Rowland Design used a vinyl composition tile (VCT) for the majority of the space, allowing for the use of a higher-grade carpet with a better fiber content and backing system in designated seating areas. This creative flooring solution helps students to differentiate the lounge and study spaces from the dining spaces, while aiding the college in their maintenance program. Additionally, since maintenance was a prime concern, Rowland Design specified a multicolor carpet that was darker in value to help mask soiling. This will allow the carpet to look better for a longer period of time.


Aesthetics. Once prime issues, such as budget, life-cycle and maintenance, have been addressed and appropriate materials have been identified, the process of establishing aesthetic styling will be narrowed and uninhibited. Introducing floor patterns, change in materials and/or color then can be used to aid in wayfinding. This could take the form of helping to identify activities and changes in direction through a corridor. For instance, a change in material, a pattern introduction and/or a scale change could help designate entries and service/help desk locations, or differentiate gathering spaces.

At Cary Quadrangle West on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., students navigate the lower level by way of an over-scaled VCT path that is defined on one side with a curving wall and the other by a carpeted lounge area. Additionally, this navigational flooring method helps create well-defined spaces intended for different purposes.

After all of this information is processed, the flooring still needs to look great and fit the overall design program of the building. Many manufacturers offer a variety of patterns; colors and styles that can help define the architectural tone of the space. With as many options offered in our marketplace today, the opportunities are virtually limitless for producing a great design.


Tricia Trick-Eckert is a design associate and academic specialist with Rowland Design. Tricia is NCIDQ certified. Rowland Design, located in Indianapolis and in Louisville, Ky., specializes in the integration of architectural design, interior design and environmental graphic design.

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