Title:
WALL WITH DECORATIVE FACING
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A method and system for providing a decorative finish on a wall, whereby a facing panel is provided to attach to a backing surface by way of a coupling means Dry cast panels are connected to the wall by way of a key way connector.



Inventors:
Aube, Stephane (Carignan, CA)
Castonguay, Bertin (Magog, CA)
Daoust, Robert (Boucherville, CA)
Thomassen, Marcel (L'Epiphanie, CA)
Application Number:
12/525491
Publication Date:
01/28/2010
Filing Date:
12/21/2007
Assignee:
LES MATÉRIAUX DE CONSTRUCTION OLDCASTLE CANADA, IN (St-John, NB, CA)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
52/562, 52/745.13
International Classes:
E04B2/82; E04B2/32; E04F13/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
SADLON, JOSEPH
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BORDEN LADNER GERVAIS LLP (OTTAWA) (OTTAWA, ON, CA)
Claims:
1. A method for providing a decorative finish on a wall, preferably a retaining wall or a freestanding wall, comprising the steps of obtaining a facing panel having a decorative surface, preferably a plurality of panels; and mounting the facing panel to the wall for exposing the decorative surface, preferably, the plurality of panels are mounted to the wall and arranged to completely cover the wall, wherein the facing panels are dry cast concrete panels, preferably with an embossed decorative surface, more preferably with an embossed, patterned facing surface.

2. The method of claim 1, wherein the mounting step includes obtaining a connecting means for fastening the facing panel to the wall, preferably for removably fastening the facing panel.

3. The method of claim 2, wherein the mounting step further includes attaching the connecting means to the wall and subsequently attaching the facing panel to the connecting means.

4. The method of claim 2, wherein the mounting step further includes attaching the connecting means to the wall and subsequently suspending the facing panel from the connecting means.

5. (canceled)

6. (canceled)

7. (canceled)

8. (canceled)

9. A decorative block for a wall, comprising a base block for forming the wall, a facing panel having an embossed decorative surface, and a connecting means for mounting the facing panel to the block for exposing the decorative surface.

10. The decorative block of claim 9, wherein the block has a front surface and a first retaining recess in the front surface, and the connecting means is a connector engaging the facing panel and having a first interlocking member for engaging the first retaining recess in the block to interconnect the facing panel and the block.

11. The decorative block of claim 10, wherein the facing panel is suspended from the block by the interlocking member of the connector.

12. The decorative block of claim 9, wherein the facing panel has a rear surface opposite the decorative surface and a second retaining recess in the rear surface, and the connector has a second interlocking member for engaging the second retaining recess in the facing panel to interconnect the facing panel and the connector.

13. The decorative block of claim 9, wherein the first and second retaining recesses are first and second keyhole slots and the connector has a central web with opposite, terminally positioned enlarged portions forming the first and second interlocking members respectively, each interlocking member being shaped and constructed for interlocking engagement with one of the first and second keyhole slots.

14. The decorative block of claim 13, wherein the first and second keyhole slots are identical in shape and size and the connector is of symmetrical construction to permit engagement of the first and second interlocking members with either one of the first and second keyhole slots.

15. A decorative wall, comprising a plurality of stacked decorative blocks as defined in claim 9.

16. A base block for a decorative block in accordance with claim 9, the base block comprising a body with top and bottom surfaces, a pair of opposite end surfaces and front and back surfaces, and at least one retaining recess provided in the front surface for receiving the connector means for mounting the facing panel to the base block.

17. The base block of claim 16, having at least one retaining recess in each of the front and back surfaces, preferably in each of the front, back and end surfaces, preferably a number of equidistantly spaced, parallel retaining recesses in each surface.

18. The base block of claim 17, wherein the retaining recesses are keyhole slots, preferably of substantially identical shape and size.

19. (canceled)

20. A modular wall system, comprising individual stackable base blocks of staggered length, facing panels of equal staggered width, and connecting means for mounting the facing panels to the base blocks, the length of the base blocks and facing panels being a multiple of a preselected base length L (2L, 3L, 4L, 5L, . . . )

21. The modular wall system of claim 20, wherein a thickness of the base blocks is equal to a multiple of the base length, preferably 2L.

22. The modular wall system of claim 21, wherein a thickness of the facing panels is equal to the base length or a multiple of the base length.

23. The modular wall system of claim 20, wherein the base blocks are stackable in rows and the connecting means include at least one retaining groove in each base block and each facing panel and connectors for mounting the facing panels to the base blocks, each connector having a body and opposing first and second interlocking members for engaging a retaining groove in one of the base blocks and one of the facing panels respectively for interconnecting the connector with the base block and the facing panel respectively.

24. The modular wall system of claim 20, wherein the base blocks have front, back and end surfaces and opposite end surfaces and are stackable end to end, the connecting means being adapted for mounting the facing panels to the front or back surfaces of the blocks.

25. The modular wall system of claim 14, wherein the connecting means are adapted for mounting the facing panels to the front, back or end surfaces.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is generally directed toward decorative walls such as building walls, retaining walls and freestanding walls having a decorative surface. In particular, the invention is directed to modular walls with a decorative facing and components of such walls. More specifically, the present invention is directed toward walls, such as building walls, retaining walls or freestanding walls, which have at least a front decorative surface.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

For reasons of aesthetics, walls are often provided with a decorative finish. Walls exposed to the elements are normally provided with a finish able to withstand the effects of weather. Concrete or masonry blocks or bricks are often used for exterior weather resistant wall finishes. Those blocks most of the time are stacked with mortar, using common bricklaying techniques, and connected to the wall by metal ties. This is an arduous and time consuming process and requires experienced labour.

Retaining walls are often used in landscaping around residential or commercial buildings. Retaining walls can be made of various materials, but for reasons of durability are most often either concrete structures cast in situ or walls formed of stacked courses of natural stone or masonry blocks. Concrete masonry blocks have become the most popular retaining wall components, due to their ease of manufacture, transport and handling.

Freestanding walls are often used as demarcation structures such as those along roads, walkways or property lines. These walls can be cast in situ or modular, preferably made of stacked blocks, for added flexibility in shaping the wall.

Conventional concrete masonry blocks are generally molded in a dry cast process in which a concrete mixture is filled into a mold box and compressed to generate a pre-consolidated block. This pre-block is removed from the mold box and transported to a setting location at which the block is stored for setting of the concrete mixture. The pre-block can be provided with an embossed surface structure only on the top and bottom surfaces. Thus, this process does not allow for the molding of a dry cast concrete block with a front decorative surface. Several methods have been developed to provide hollow dry cast blocks with a textured front surface. Molding a slab including several blocks and subsequently braking the slab into individual blocks allows for the creation of an irregular, rough front surface similar to the surface of a split natural stone. Alternatively, the smooth front surface of a finished molded block cab be subjected to a percussive treatment which brakes up and roughens the front surface. However, neither method allows for the manufacture of a hollow block with any decorative front surface, for example a surface having a regular, surface structure, such as an embossed surface.

Thus, an economical and effective method is desired for providing a decorative finish on any building, retaining or freestanding wall, or on the building blocks of such walls.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is therefore one object of the invention to provide an economical and effective way of producing a decorative facing surface on a wall or on wall components.

This object is achieved by a method including the steps of mounting to the retaining wall one or more facing panels having a decorative face surface. Preferably, the panels are dry cast concrete panels having a regular surface structure, more preferably an embossed surface, most preferably a patterned surface.

The wall can be made of any material and the facing panels can be mounted by any suitable attachment method. Preferably, the wall is made of concrete, more preferably of stacked courses of concrete blocks, most preferably dry cast concrete blocks, as is often the case with retaining walls. Attachment of the facing panels to the wall is preferably achieved by one or more connecting members respectively engaging the wall and the facing panel or panels. The wall can be an existing wall or a wall which is being built in situ, for example by using wall components, such as wall blocks. In the latter case, the wall may be built from decorative wall components, such as decorative wall blocks in accordance with the invention.

It is another object of the invention to provide a block for a retaining wall or freestanding wall, preferably a dry cast concrete block, with a decorative facing surface, preferably an embossed facing surface. This object is achieved by a method of providing a retaining wall block with a decorative facing surface including the steps of mounting to the retaining wall block a facing panel having a decorative face surface. Preferably, the facing panel is a dry cast concrete panel having an embossed face surface, most preferably a patterned face surface. Attachment of the facing panels to the retaining wall is preferably achieved by one or more connecting members respectively engaging the wall and a facing panel.

The connecting members can be in the form of individual connectors respectively engaging one facing panel and one location on the wall or on a wall component. Alternatively, a network or grid of connecting members can be mounted or attached to the wall either by mechanical interlocking structures of the connecting members and the wall or by suitable fastening means, such as screws, bolts, expandable plugs, adhesive, or any other conventional fastening structure, as well as combinations thereof. The network or grid can be constructed to support one or more facing panels.

It is a further object of the invention to provide a modular decorative wall system for forming both straight and curved walls with at least a front decorative facing surface, most preferably a front and back decorative facing surface. This object is achieved with a retaining wall block system including blocks, facing panels and connectors, wherein all blocks are of equal depth and height, but may have different lengths, and all panels are of equal thickness but may have different lengths and may have different widths. The blocks of the wall system all have graduated lengths, each length being a multiple of a base length L which is equal to the height of the block. Thus, the blocks have lengths of 2L, 3L, 4L, 5L etc. (2H, 3H, 4H, 5H . . . ). Equally, the panels all have graduated lengths, each length being a multiple of the base length L. The panels preferably all have the same base height H as the blocks, but panels having a height which is a multiple of the base height may also be used together with the base height panels. The blocks also preferably have the same base height H, but blocks with a multiple of the base height can also be used as so-called jumper blocks. To facilitate the formation of walls with corners, such as right angled corners, the blocks preferably have a depth which is equal to a multiple of L, most preferably 2L and the panels have a thickness which is 1L or a multiple of L, most preferably the facing panel thickness is 1L.

In still another embodiment, the invention provides a kit for forming a retaining wall or freestanding wall having at least one decorative facing surface. The kit includes base blocks which are stackable for forming a wall, facing panels having a decorative surface and connecting means for mounting the facing panels to the blocks in such a way that the decorative surface of the facing panels is exposed.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Preferred embodiments of the invention will now be further described by way of example only and with reference to the attached drawings, wherein

FIG. 1 illustrates different ways of carrying out the method in accordance with the invention for providing a decorative finish on a wall by mounting facing panels to the wall;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a decorative block in accordance with the invention;

FIGS. 3a to 3g show different configurations of exemplary connectors in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 4 is a perspective view of a base block of the decorative block in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 5 is a schematic top view of an exemplary wall in accordance with the invention having a decorative facing on one side;

FIG. 6 is a schematic top view of an exemplary wall in accordance with the invention having a decorative facing on both sides and forming a corner;

FIGS. 7a to 7c illustrate the use of the modular wall system of the invention for the assembly of walls of different curvature and having a facing on one or both sides;

FIG. 8 illustrates a connector panel in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 9 a large block for a mass retaining wall including a facing in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 10 illustrates a disassembled decorative block in accordance with the invention having horizontal retaining recesses;

FIG. 11 is a perspective view of a connector in accordance with the invention for mounting facing panels to base blocks wherein the respective retaining recesses are oriented perpendicular to one another;

FIG. 12 is a perspective view of an exemplary snap-in type connector in accordance with the invention;

FIG. 13a is a top view of a decorative column block in accordance with the invention;

FIGS. 13b and 13c illustrate column or pillar constructions using wall blocks and facing panels in accordance with the invention; and

FIG. 14 is a perspective view of a basket and facing block combination.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

Before explaining the present invention in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited to the preferred embodiments contained therein. The invention is capable of other embodiments and of being practiced or carried out in a variety of ways. It is to be understood that the phraseology and terminology employed herein are for the purpose of description and not of limitation.

FIG. 1 illustrates the method in accordance with the invention of providing a decorative finish on a wall 100, such as a retaining wall or freestanding wall, by mounting a facing panel 110 having a decorative surface 112 to the wall 100. In the preferred embodiment, the facing panel 110 is connected with the wall 100 by way of connectors 120, which engage both the wall and the facing panel. The preferred connector 120, which is also illustrated separately in FIG. 3a, has a pair of spaced apart parallel, cylindrical stems 122 connected by an intermediate web 124. The stems 122 form interlocking members, which engage and are reliably held in keyhole slots 102, 112 respectively provided in the front face 104 of the wall and the rear face 114 of the facing panel 110. The connectors 120 are preferably inserted first into the keyhole slots 102 in the wall. This allows the installer to mount the facing panel 110 by sliding it onto the already installed connector. The wall can be of any material, for example concrete, and can be solid, for example cast in situ, or made of stacked elements, such as blocks 106. Instead of the continuous keyhole slots 102, the wall can also be provided with blind slots 108 and a recessed entry 109 for a connector 120. The wall can be provided with a plurality of facing panels mounted to the wall for exposing the decorative surface. Preferably, the plurality of panels are mounted to the wall and arranged to completely cover the wall. For ease of use, the connectors 120 are preferably symmetrical, which means the cylindrical stems 122 are identical in cross-section and size, but non-symmetrical variants with stems 122 of different diameter and cross-sectional shape can also be used.

In a retrofit embodiment of the method in accordance with the invention, intended for use with existing walls devoid of keyhole slots, a retrofit connector 130 is fastened to the wall, which has only one interlocking member 132 for engagement in the keyhole slot 112 in the facing panel 110. The retrofit connector 130 is fastened to the wall by any suitable fastener, for example anchor bolts 134. It will be readily apparent that the retrofit connector 130 can be provided in the form of a grid or network of interconnected, parallel or intersecting connectors. This facilitates installation of the retrofit connector on the wall 100 at the exact spacing required for mounting of the facing panels 110 in an abutting relationship.

In another retrofit embodiment of the method in accordance with the invention, the facing panel 110 is mounted to the wall 110 by interlocking hook shaped hangers 140 and 142 respectively fastened to the front surface 104 of the wall 100 and the rear surface 114 of the panel 110. It will be readily apparent to the person skilled in the art that numerous other options exist for mounting the decorative panels 110 to the wall 100. The invention is not limited to the specific connector options disclosed, the exact manner of mounting the facing panels 110 to the wall 100 being immaterial, as long as the facing panels are reliably held on the wall in the orientation respectively desired.

FIG. 8 illustrates another retrofit embodiment in accordance with the invention, wherein a connector panel 150 is fastened to an existing wall 100 for the mounting of decorative facing panels 110 on the wall. The connector panel 150 includes a base panel 152 and multiple spaced apart parallel connecting ribs 154. The ribs 154 can be integrally molded with the base panel 152 or separately manufactured and fastened to the panel. The connector panel 150 is fastened to the wall 100 by way of fasteners 156, such as screws, bolts, anchors, etc. The connector panel 150 may also be adhesively fastened, as long as a reliable and durable connection is achieved and separation of the panel from the wall 100 is prevented. Facing panels 110 in accordance with the invention are mounted on the connector panel 150 by inserting the connecting ribs 154 into the keyhole slots 112 in the rear surface of the facing panels 110 and sliding the panels along the ribs until the desired installation location is reached. An aesthetically pleasing appearance of the decorative finish can be achieved by using facing panels of different length and height as illustrated.

Irrespective of the manner of attachment of the decorative finish, the finish preferably consists of a plurality of facing panels 110, most preferably a sufficient number of facing panels to completely cover the entire surface of the wall. The weight of the facing panels 110 can be supported on a footing of the wall (not shown), on a separate footing, or by the connectors as will be described in more detail below.

FIG. 2 illustrates the method in accordance with the invention for providing a dry cast concrete block with a decorative finish, preferably an embossed front facing. FIG. 2 is a perspective view of a preferred decorative wall block in accordance with the invention having a decorative finish. Dry cast concrete blocks are manufactured in molds which allow top to bottom compression only, which means it is very difficult to emboss the front surface of such a block. With the method of the invention, a dry cast concrete block 210 is provided with an embossed decorative facing by mounting to the block a separately manufactured dry cast facing panel 220 having an embossed top surface. The facing panel is mounted to the block in such a way that the embossed surface becomes the facing surface of the block. As shown in FIG. 2, the decorative wall block 200 includes a base block 210 and a facing panel 220 having an embossed decorative surface 222. The base block 210 is a hollow dry cast concrete block, for example a block having a central through going bore 212 of oval cross-section. The base block 210 was compressed in the top-to-bottom direction. Face panel 220 is a dry cast concrete block which was also compressed in the top to bottom direction during manufacture, but is mounted with its bottom surface 224 against a front surface 214 of the block 210 so that the top surface 228 of the facing panel 220 is facing away from the block 210 and thereby forms the new front surface of the block 200.

It is readily apparent to the person of skill in the art that the method in accordance with the invention of providing a wall block with a decorative finish can be used in connection with any type of stackable concrete block, even blocks that are not dry cast. The facing can be mounted to the block irrespective of the size and shape of the block. The facing can also be mounted irrespective of the manner in which the block engages or interlocks, if any, with any adjacent blocks or with any reinforcing members, such as rods, ties, or netting. In other words, the method of the invention for providing a concrete block or wall with a decorative front surface can be employed in connection with any type of conventional block or wall component.

The facing panel 220 preferably has an embossed decorative surface, more preferably an embossed, patterned surface which functions as the new front surface of the decorative wall block 200. The facing panel 220 is mounted to the base block 210 by way of connectors 120 as shown in FIG. 3a and discussed above. The base block 210 has at least one keyhole slot 216, preferably a pair of spaced apart parallel keyhole slots 216, in its front surface 214 and the facing panel 220 includes at least one keyhole slot 226, preferably a pair of equally spaced keyhole slots 226 in its rear surface 224 (bottom surface during molding of the panel). Each keyhole slot 216 has a slot portion 216a penetrating the front surface 214 of the base block 210 and a cylindrical bore portion 216b connected thereto. Each keyhole slot 226 has a slot portion 226a penetrating the front surface 224 of the facing panel 220 and a cylindrical bore portion 226b connected thereto. The stems 122 of the connectors 120 are respectively inserted into the keyhole slots 216, 226 to mount the facing panel 220 to the block 210. The facing panel 220 is preferably sized to completely cover the front surface 214 of the block.

FIG. 10 shows a variant of the decorative block 200 wherein the keyhole slots 216 and 226 in the base block 210 and facing panel 220 respectively are oriented horizontally instead of vertically. This block design is particularly useful in situations where installation space is limited in vertical direction, for example when installing the top rows of facing panels 220 onto a wall under an overhang or a ceiling. Furthermore, this block design is also particularly useful for the installation of jumper blocks and their facings, as discussed in more detail below, which jumper blocks are installed in a wall in an orientation rotated by 90° relative to that of surrounding blocks. Mounting of the facing panel 220 to the base block 210 is achieved by connectors 120 as described above.

Multiple decorative wall blocks 200 as shown in FIGS. 2 and 10 can be used to build a decorative wall. The decorative wall blocks are thereby stacked in rows, preferably staggered for additional stability, to form a decorative wall. For maximum installation flexibility and ease of handling, the decorative blocks are preferably handled in the disassembled condition, which means the base blocks 210 are first separately stacked to form the wall and the facing panels are only subsequently mounted to the already stacked base blocks. For that purpose, the invention provides a kit for a decorative wall, which kit includes a number of base blocks, facing panels for the blocks and connectors for mounting the facing panels to the blocks. The attachment of the facing panels is preferably carried out on a row by row basis, as each row of base blocks is finished, so that the connectors need not be forced through the keyhole slots of more than one block. In the alternative, only the insertion of the connectors is done on a row by row basis. However, this will require moving most facing panels along several connectors and may increase the time required for installation of the complete wall. Jumper blocks can be included in the wall, which are larger in size than the remaining blocks and rotated by 90°. When jumper blocks of the same principle construction as the surrounding blocks are used, the facing panel is preferably installed immediately after placement of the jumper block and before the rows of blocks around the jumper block are finished. Sliding of the facing panel onto the connector in the jumper block may no longer be possible once the connectors of the adjoining blocks are installed, due to their orientation perpendicular thereto. However, where jumper blocks are used which have a principle construction as illustrated in FIG. 10, installation of the facing panel onto the jumper block can be carried out in the ordinary course of installation of the decorative facing, since the slots in the jumper block are then parallel to those in the surrounding blocks.

FIG. 4 shows a preferred base block 210 in accordance with the invention. The base block 210 has a top surface 211, a bottom surface 213, a pair of opposite end surfaces 215, 217 and front and back surfaces 214, 219. The block 210 has at least one retaining groove provided in the front surface 214, which retaining groove is preferably in the form of a keyhole slot 216 having a slot portion 216a penetrating the front surface 214 of the base block 210 and a cylindrical bore portion 216b connected thereto. The cylindrical bore portion 216b is sized and shaped for receiving one of the interconnecting members of the connectors, the stems 122. The slot portion 216a is sized and shaped for receiving the web 124 of the connector 120, the width of the slot portion 216a being less than the diameter of the stem 122 in order to prevent the connector 120 being pulled out of the keyhole slot 216 by the weight of a facing panel 220. For maximum flexibility in connecting the facing panels 220 to the base block 210, the base block preferably has a pair of retaining slots in the front surface. In order to enable the application of a decorative facing on front and back surfaces of the block, and even at corners of the wall, the base block 210 is preferably provided with at least one keyhole slot in each of the front and back surfaces 214, 219 and most preferably also in the end surfaces 215, 217. When multiple keyhole slots are provided on one surface, the slots are preferably parallel and equidistantly spaced on the respective surface. The slots are preferably oriented vertical or horizontal and centered on the blocks and panels. Although other orientations of the slots are possible those orientations may make assembly of the decorative surface more challenging. The keyhole slots 216 preferably extend from the top surface 211 to a bottom surface 213 of the block and the panel. However, closed end keyhole slots 216c can also be used. The keyhole slots 216 and 226 preferably extend from a top surface to a bottom surface of the block and the panel. However, closed end keyhole slots 216a can also be used.

FIG. 9 illustrates another decorative block in accordance with the invention, which is used as a component of a mass retaining wall. Mass retaining walls, or gravity walls are used in industrial applications to retain large amounts of material, for example along recessed highways, around bridge heads, or as seawalls. The component blocks of mass retaining walls are normally cast concrete blocks having a volume of 1 m3 or more and include a lifting bar for handling of the block with heavy machinery. The block shown is such a component block 160 for a mass retaining wall, which block includes a lifting bar 162 and a plurality of spaced apart parallel keyhole slots 216 on its front surface. Facing panels 110 in accordance with the invention which include keyhole slots 112 can be mounted to the component block 160 in the manner described above in relation to FIG. 2, by inserting one interconnecting member of the connectors 120 (see FIG. 2, FIGS. 3a-e and FIG. 4) into the keyhole slots 216, engaging the other interconnecting member of the connectors into the keyhole slots 112 in the facing panels and sliding the facing panels to their respective installation locations. Existing mass retaining wall blocks 160 without keyhole 216 can also be retrofitted with a decorative facing by using a connector panel 150 as illustrated in FIG. 8.

FIG. 13 illustrates a further variant of a decorative block in accordance with the invention, a column block 250. The column block 250 is preferably of square cross-section, but may have any other cross-section desired, for example hexagonal or octagonal. Multiple column blocks can be stacked one on top of the other to form a freestanding column (not shown). The column block 250 includes at least one keyhole slot 216 on each side, preferably a pair of keyhole slots per side, for the mounting of a decorative facing to the column. The preferred facing is in the form of facing panels 220 in accordance with the invention, which are also provided with keyhole slots 226 for attachment to the column block 250 by way of connectors 120 in accordance with the invention. Columns, posts or pillars of different dimensions and cross-sections as shown in FIGS. 13b and 13c can also be manufactured by using base blocks 210 and having panels 220 designed for the construction of walls. FIG. 13b illustrates a column made by placement of 3 wall blocks 210 back to back, while FIG. 13c shows a hollow column achieved by placement of 4 wall blocks 210 in a square arrangement. It will be readily apparent that many different columns of different sites and cross-sections can be produced in this manner.

FIG. 3b shows a variant of the connector shown in FIG. 3a, wherein one of the stems 122 is extended beyond the end of the web 124. This connector 120 is particularly suited for use with a base block 210 having a closed end keyhole slot 216c (see FIG. 4), whereby the shorter stem 122a is inserted into the closed keyhole slot 216c and the longer stem 122b is for engagement with the keyhole slot 226 in a facing panel 220 (see FIG. 2).

FIG. 3c shows another variant of the connector 120 shown in FIG. 3a, wherein an end of each stem 122 is provided with a stop in the form of an enlarged end 125 for limiting movement of the stem 122 in a keyhole slot 216 of the base block 210. The stop is preferably in the form of a flared end 125 having a rim 127 of enlarged diameter. The rims 127 are preferably located at opposite ends of the connector 120 and have a diameter larger than the diameter of the bore section 216b of the base block 210 or the bore section 226b of the facing 220 (see FIG. 2). Furthermore, the overall length of this connector variant, from the widest point of one rim 127 to the widest point of the other rim 127 is preferably equal to the overall height of the base block 210 and the facing 220. This connector makes it possible to support the facing 220 from the base block 210 by inserting one of the stems 122 with its un-enlarged end from the top into the keyhole slot 216 of the base block 210 (see FIG. 4) until the enlarged end 125 comes to rest against the top end of the keyhole slot and then sliding the facing panel 220 from the top onto the other stem 122 until the bottom end of the keyhole slot 226 in the facing panel comes to rest against the rim 127 of the other stem. Since the rims 127 are wider than the respectively associated keyhole slot 216, 226, the facing panel is then supported on the connector and the connector is supported on the base block.

FIG. 3d is a further variant of the connector 120 shown in FIG. 3a, wherein each stem 122 is provided with a tapered end 128 to facilitate insertion of the stem into a keyhole slot 216, 226 (see FIG. 2). The ends 128 are located at opposite ends of the connector variant. It would be readily apparent to the person skilled in the art that the stems 122 may also be provided with a tapered end 128 at each end in order to maximize the versatility of the connector.

Any of the connectors 120 shown in FIGS. 3a to 3f can be provided with one or more locking ribs 129 on one or both of the stems 122 as shown in FIG. 3d and FIG. 3e, which is a cross-section of FIG. 3d taken along line 3e-3e in FIG. 3d. The ribs 129 respectively extend in longitudinal direction of the stem 122 and are intended to provide a localized enlargement of the stem, which creates an interference fit of the stem in a bore of a block or facing into which the stem is inserted. This prevents unwanted displacement of the connector 120 during assembly of the decorative block or wall of the invention.

The connectors 120 can be made of any material sufficiently strong to reliably mount the facing 220 to the base block 210. The connectors are preferably made of any material which will be resistant to deterioration upon exposure to the elements, soil, gravel and the like. The most preferred material is plastic, although non-corroding metal alloys or metal connectors with a non-corroding surface finish can also be used.

A connector 130 for use in retrofitting an existing wall of stacked, hollow blocks 310 with a decorative facing is shown in FIG. 3f. This connector 130 is provided with a block engaging portion 132 having a flat base 131 for laying on top of the block 310 and between adjacent rows of blocks in the wall, and a depending locking tab 133 for engaging the vertical bore 312 of the block for locking the connector 130 to the block. The connector 130 further includes a depending facing bridge 134 for laying against a front face 314 of the block 310 and an integrated stem 138 and web 136 for respectively engaging the bore 226a and slot 226b of a keyhole slot 226 in a facing panel 220 (see FIG. 2). It will of course be readily apparent to the person skilled in the art that more than one connector 130 can be used per hollow block 130 for added reliability of the facing mount and better alignment and balancing of the wall blocks.

Although all the preferred connectors 120, 130 described herein include interlocking members in the form of the cylindrical stems 122 intended for being mounted to the base blocks 210 or facing panels 220 by sliding them along the keyhole slots 216, 226, connectors with stems of different cross-section can also be used, the only requirement being that the stems have a shape and thickness which prevents the weight of the facing panel pulling the connector out of the keyhole slot in which it is engaged. Furthermore, connector and retaining groove combinations other than those particularly exemplified can be used without deviating from the present invention. For example connectors of the snap in type can be used. An exemplary snap in connector 170 is shown in FIG. 12. Connector 170 is similar in construction to the connectors 120 shown in FIGS. 3a to 3e and includes a first interconnecting member 171 in the form of a stem 122, a second interconnecting member 172 of the snap-in type and an intermediate web portion 124. The connector 170 is constructed for insertion into the slot portion 216a or 226a of a keyhole slot 216, 226 (see FIG. 2) in a compressed condition and for expanding in the bore portion 216b or 226b when fully inserted. The snap-in interconnecting member includes a pair of spaced apart parallel and resilient retaining arms 173 defining an intermediate compression gap 174 allowing a deflection movement of the retaining arms towards one another. The retaining arms 173 are curved to closely fit the contour of the bore portion 216b or 226b of a keyhole slot 216 or 226 (see FIG. 2) when in their at rest position. The retaining arms 173 are made of sufficiently flexible and resilient material to allow elastic deformation of the arms and a subsequent return to their original shape and position. The snap-in connector 170 is installed in a keyhole slot 216, 226 by forcing the retaining arms 173 through the slot portion 216a or 226a into the bore portion 216b, 226b. While the retaining arms 173 are forced through the slot portion 216a, 226a, they are deflected towards one another, which is made possible by the compression gap 174. When the retaining arms 173 reach the bore portion 216b 226b, they return to their initial at rest position and thereby lock the connector in the keyhole slot.

FIG. 11 illustrates a cross-connector 180, which is a variant of the connectors 120 shown in FIGS. 3a-3e. The cross-connector 180 includes a pair of interconnecting members 181, 182, preferably in the form of cylindrical stems 122, and an intermediate web 184. The stems 122 are principally the same as those in the connectors of FIGS. 3a to 3e, although they may be of different length, as illustrated. However, the stems 122 are not oriented parallel as in the connectors discussed above, but are oriented at an angle of 90° relative to one another. This connector allows for the mounting of facing panels to base blocks having keyhole slots oriented at 90° to those in the facing panels. For example, when one of the blocks in a wall is rotated by 90° to function as a jumper block, the cross-connector 180 can be used to mount a facing panel to the jumper block in the same orientation as the facing panels of surrounding blocks.

Of course, it will be readily apparent to the art skilled person that a retaining structure other than keyhole slots can be provided in the blocks 210 and panels 220 as long as a reliable interlocking engagement between the retaining structure and the connectors respectively used is ensured. For example, the retaining structure can be in the form of a slot or bore and the connector can be a compressible/expandable connector which is insertable into the slot or bore and locks in the slot or bore when fully inserted in order to reliably retain the connector in the slot. This can be of advantage for retrofit applications, wherein, for example, a retaining slot is cut or a retaining bore is drilled into the front face of an existing wall and compressible and/or expandable connectors are used for insertion into and interlocking engagement in the slot or bore. It is also apparent from the exemplary variant connector shown in FIG. 3g that connectors can be used which have a combination of different mounting structures. The variant connector has a web 124 and a stem 122 for engagement of a keyhole slot 226 in a facing panel 220 and compressible/expandable plugs 180 for interlocking engagement in a bore drilled into an existing wall (not shown), or a bore 182 drilled into the front face of an existing wall block (see FIG. 4), or a keyhole slot 216 in a base block 210 (FIG. 4) or slots in existing walls or blocks.

FIGS. 5 to 7 schematically illustrate the modular wall system in accordance with the invention. Conventional retaining or decorative walls are erected by simply stacking a multitude of identical blocks. Equally, a retaining or decorative wall in accordance with the invention can be erected by using a multitude of equal stackable decorative blocks 200 (see FIG. 2) each including a base block 210 and facing panel 220. However, the range of possible wall designs using only blocks of equal height and length is limited. Unless the length of the wall is exactly a multiple of the block length, at least one block must be cut for each row of blocks in the wall. Furthermore, although the blocks can be aligned along a curved path, the range of curvature shapes and radii achievable is limited. The inventors of the present invention have now discovered, that the design possibilities can be vastly improved when base blocks 210 and facings 220 of different length are used. Furthermore, the inventors have surprisingly discovered that the design possibilities can be vastly improved, in particular for curved walls and walls having a decorative surface on both sides, when blocks and facings of staggered length are used. In a preferred embodiment of the modular wall system of the invention as illustrated in FIG. 5, the system includes a combination of individual stackable base blocks 210 having a length which is a multiple of a pre-selected base length L. Thus, the blocks are graduated in length and have lengths of 2L, 3L, 4L, 5L etc. Equally, the facing panels 220 all have graduated lengths, each length being a multiple of the base length L. The blocks preferably all have the same base thickness or depth T and preferably also the same base height H. Maximum design flexibility is achieved with blocks wherein the base length L is equal to the base height H and the base thickness is 2L. Preferably, the thickness PT of the facing panels 220 is 1L. Panels having a height which is a multiple of the base height may also be used together with panels having the base height H. Blocks with a multiple of the base height can also be used as so called jumper blocks which are installed in a the wall in an orientation rotated by 90° relative to the other blocks.

In order to further improve the design flexibility, the base blocks 210 preferably have keyhole slots 216 in their front, back and end surfaces. It is of course readily understood by the art skilled person that for alignment of the facing panels 220 with the base blocks 210 the placement of the keyhole slots 216 in the base blocks 210 of one length must be coordinated with the placement of the keyhole slots 226 in the facing panels 220 of equal length.

An even higher design flexibility and vastly facilitated assembly of the wall is achieved with a particularly preferred variant of the modular wall system of the invention, wherein each keyhole slot 216 in the base block 210 is placed at a distance from an end of the block, which is equal to the base length L. Blocks with a length of 3L or higher preferably have two keyhole slots 216 respectively spaced at the distance L from the ends of the block. Blocks of length 4L or higher may be provided with additional keyhole slots 216, which are evenly spaced from one another, preferably at the distance L. The number and placement of the keyhole slots 226 in the facing panels is preferably selected in the same manner. Placement of the keyhole slots in this manner allows a mixing and matching of the base blocks and facing panels and the mounting of a facing panel of one length to a base block of a different length. It also allows the mounting of facing panels to a wall of stacked blocks in a staggered manner in which the facing panels overlap the vertical or horizontal joints of the base blocks.

Placement of keyhole slots 216 in the ends of the base blocks 210 allows the forming of walls with corners and even provides the flexibility of mounting a decorative facing surface on both sides and at ends of the wall as shown in FIG. 6.

As illustrated in FIGS. 7a to 7c, the base blocks 210 may have a tapered cross-section with angled side walls 215, 217, resulting in blocks having a rear face which is more narrow than the front face. This facilitates the assembly of curved walls. Most preferably, the base blocks are not only tapered front to back, but further include lateral ears 230 as extensions of the rear face 219 (see FIG. 7c), which ears are of sufficient width to bring the rear face back to the same width as the front face 214, but can be broken off by the user for assembly of a curved wall as shown. The facing panels 220 are also preferably provided with a bevel 229 at their lateral ends in order to allow for a closer fit of the facing panels in curved wall applications. As is readily apparent from FIGS. 7a to 7c, the curvature of the wall can be adjusted by using base blocks and facings of different length. Generally, the shorter the blocks, the tighter the radius that can be created.

FIG. 14 shows a retaining wall member 300 consisting of a combination of a facing panel 210 in accordance with the invention with a retaining basket 310 to be filled with loose material. This wall member can be used for assembling a retaining wall by attaching the facing panel 210 to the retaining basket 310 to form the wall member 300, aligning a row of the relating members at the desired wall location and fitting the retaining baskets 310 with loose material, preferably gravel. Subsequent rows of retaining members 300 can be successively stacked on top of an existing row of retaining members, whereby the retaining baskets 310 of the members 300 in each row are preferably filled prior to the stacking of a subsequent row therein, for added stability of the retaining wall during assembly. The person skilled in the art will readily appreciate that many different types of material can be used for filling the retaining basket 310, including settable materials such as concrete. Filling the baskets of the bottom row of a retaining wall made of retaining members 300 may provide additional stability to the base of the wall. Of course, filling all baskets of the retaining members 300 in a wall with concrete will result in a concrete retaining wall with decorative facing.

While the invention has been described with a certain degree of particularity, it is understood that the invention is not limited to the embodiments set forth herein for purposes of exemplification, but is to be limited only by the scope of the attached claims, including the full range of equivalency to which each element thereof is entitled.

The above-described embodiments of the present invention are intended to be examples only. Alterations, modifications and variations may be effected to the particular embodiments by those of skill in the art without departing from the scope of the invention, which is defined solely by the claims appended hereto.