Gripblock Partitions Protect Patrons

They are blocks of wood and metal connectors "that go together like adult Lego."

Gripblock at the Sovereign in Toronto
Gripblock at the Sovereign in Toronto.

Lloyd Alter

With indoor dining off the menu because of the pandemic, the city of Toronto actually put people and businesses before parking and allowed restaurants to take over the parking lane and install outdoor seating. Most have screens and barriers that are made up of flimsy lattice or other kinds of screen, but quite a few are made of what looks like solid wood and are labeled Gripblock.

Gripmetal velcro

Grip Metal

That sounded familiar; a few years ago we showed Steam Canoe, a winter shelter designed at OCAD University by Mark Tholen that was held together by an interesting material called Grip Metal, described as a metal velcro fastening system, "an innovative bonding system with micro hooks allowing bonding mechanically without the use of adhesives."

With Gripblock, wood blocks are joined together with Grip Metal and assembled into panels. It is yet another form of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and creates a wall that looks really solid compared to many of the barriers out there. According to the company:

"These innovative wooden bricks are strong and durable, meaning they can be delivered and assembled quickly and at low cost. Unlike most temporary structures, walls made with GRIPBlock block the wind and retain warmth, helping bars and restaurants stay open – and in business – longer, and well into the winter season. And while the walls are structurally sound, with shear strength that makes them impossible to knock over, at the end of the season they’ll be easy to disassemble and take down."
The Sovereign in Toronto

Lloyd Alter

Mark Lavelle, global sales director of Gripblock tells Treehugger that it assembles really quickly on-site, "like adult LEGO."

He notes also that restaurants love the solidity and safety: "Restaurant owners love the idea that it works like a safety barrier." The city supplies giant concrete blocks that go at either end of the patios, but drivers still have managed to take out quite a few of these patios.

Some of the GripBlock enclosures have taken quite a hit; In one restaurant it moved the whole wall a few feet, but they were able to push it back into the right location.

Like Velcro, it is reversible. You can just pry the blocks of wood apart for storage or for another use. So if, as many suspect, the city refuses to let restaurants do this next year, returning all the temporary bike lanes and patios to cars, the versatile blocks can be used for something else.

The company has actually been very creative through the pandemic, building Gripblock walls in schools to maintain social distancing, and have the strength and feel of permanent structures. Because they are mechanically connected—they do not use any adhesives or emit any VOCs.

Planter and seating

Lloyd Alter

Inside the enclosure, seats and tables are part of the design—all of which just make it stronger. It is all a clever use of a very clever material. Lavelle tells Treehugger that there are thousands of them out there now, with over two hundred installations in downtown Toronto alone.

Another interesting feature of the Gripblock enclosures is that they are actually a service; restaurant owners can rent them, Gripblock will install them and, come winter, will take them away.

One can imagine many uses for these once winter comes. Lavelle says they will be turned into shelters at skating rinks. I wondered when they would be building houses out of them; Lavelle would only say "soon."