Gypsum wallboard or "drywall" has become the preferred surface material used in the construction of interior walls and partitions. In residential construction, gypsum wallboard is also the preferred material for interior ceiling surfaces. Now that this material is so commonly used and surrounds us in our daily lives, we tend to think of it in terms of a plain, flat, bland surface over which a neutral colored paint or nondescript wallcovering is applied.
Occasionally, a decorator is consulted to add some zing to the look. The result, as often as not, involves several coordinating paint colors, in either an eggshell or semi-gloss finish, that match or complement the carpet. Or perhaps a combination of wallcovering patterns with an accompanying border will be used to add some aesthetic spice to the setting. In the commercial world, a variety of multicolored paint products and wallcoverings are commonly used to add texture to many surfaces. However, even with these dashes of color and texture, one usually is confronted by a "monolithic" wallboard surface both at home and the office.
Yet our interior environment does not need to be so bland. Gypsum wallboard's potential as an interior finish product is limited only by the imagination of the designer and perhaps by the framing contractor's ability to create the skeletons that support the wallboard. Obviously, the laws of physics and common sense hopefully dictate that one will not attempt to tie the material in a knot but more can be done with gypsum wallboard than one would first expect.
Unusual applicationsA prime example of using gypsum wallboard in an unusual application is the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel Entry Redevelopment project, in Banff, Alberta. On this rehab of a resort hotel, the interior was completely gutted and new walls and ceilings were constructed. One of the architectural features of this project was a set of stone-faced columns that supported what appear to be stone arches spanning a large open area intended to look as though they are supporting the ceiling.
The unusual application of gypsum wallboard here is that the stone arches are actually gypsum wallboard panels that were faux finished to resemble large pieces of dressed limestone. The obvious advantage of this design is that weight and cost of a gypsum wallboard faux stone arch is considerably lower than that of a real stone arch. (Banff photos 1 and 2.)
Also on the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel project were several expertly executed Gothic-style arches. Again, instead of using stone or plaster, these arches were constructed using steel framing and gypsum wallboard. (Banff photos 3 and 4.)
Another example of a ceiling support treatment using gypsum wallboard, where another material is more commonly used, is found in the Brown Residence. On this project, gypsum wallboard and wood framing were used to construct Tudor-style beams for the interior ceiling of the living room. A faux finish provided the wood-grain look and wooden spheres were used to terminate the posts that support the truss-like beams. The advantage of this feature is that the cost and availability of the materials used to construct these gypsum wallboard look-alikes were considerably more reasonable than using real timbers, not to mention avoiding the structural challenge that using real timbers would have presented. (Brown Residence photos.)
Gypsum wallboard can be used in the creation of architectural features that create a colossal setting, draw the eye to the focal point of the room and direct or deflect engineered lighting. The interior of the Chaparral Christian Church was constructed with steel framing and gypsum wallboard with the intent of creating a setting befitting a full-size pipe organ. The multifaceted surfaces in the church serve to focus the eye on the pipe organ, direct the sound throughout the open area and create an interesting lighting treatment. (Chaparral photos.)
Creative environmentsA residential project in Great Falls, Va., offers another example of using gypsum wallboard where another material, wood, was used to create a unique banister for a staircase and balcony that became the focal point of the living space. Also, using similar gypsum wallboard features found in this design, the architect tied the banister in with the ceilings and area dividers throughout the house. (Svalbe photos.)
Finally, the Westfield Shopping Mall exhibits several different applications using gypsum wallboard to create a well-lit open space with a variety of architectural features. One of these features is another example of simulated dressed limestone on an upper level of a series of two-story areas. In the main corridor of the mall, gypsum wallboard features, including multifaceted window openings, soffits and curved ceilings punctuated with skylights create a modern atrium effect that allows natural light to wash over the variety of other architectural features found in the mall. (Westfield photos.)
This is only a sampling of the many intriguing applications of gypsum wallboard we've seen in the last few years. Other projects, both residential and nonresidential, testify to the endless number of ways gypsum wallboard can be used to create interesting and unusual spaces. Whether a beach house, a technical school, a psychiatric facility or a space age retail space, gypsum wallboard offers endless potential to create a unique environment.