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Hardscapes: Euro vs. U.S.

Editor's note: In the last issue, Roger Lewis, an architect and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, asserted design and construction shortcomings of U.S. "horizontal urban surfaces." He cited design shortcomings and cheaply built hardscapes at the National Mall-crumbling concrete curbs and sidewalks. This he compared to European hardscapes, which he said use better materials and are "thoughtfully designed" and "well constructed." The first three letters are responding to Lewis' contention.

In 1998 I spent a month in southern Finland, mostly in Helsinki. I was amazed and impressed by the use of different materials, colors, and textures used to demarcate walking areas, patio seating areas, off-street bicycle lanes, and parking meter/bicycle-parking areas.

I invite Professor Lewis to come to Denver to see some really compelling streetscapes here in the U.S. The 16th Street Pedestrian Mall was designed by I.M. Pei in the mid-1980s and it continues to be a compelling, heavily articulated, well maintained, and easily understood streetscape. The success of that project informed the design of the pedestrian mall extension into Riverfront Park (landscape architect: Design Workshop; Client-East West Partners) and several connecting streetscapes. I participated in that design as an intern while in graduate school and later as a landscape architect. It was a wonderful experience. With those experiences behind me, I have several conclusions to offer:

  1. Most streetscapes are strictly utilitarian. As if getting from Point A to Point B was the only purpose. Planners are famous for talking about 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile walking radiuses, but I can tell you that people will regularly walk over a mile if they know they will enjoy the walking experience. Those same people wouldn't repeat a walk of 100 yards if the experience were lousy the first time.

  2. The client needs a vested interest in the surrounding context. In Riverfront Park, the high budget that ultimately led to the successful design and implementation of compelling streetscapes is because the client was also trying to create high value of the surrounding vacant lots. When Riverfront Park was being planned just 10 years ago, the land was pretty much an industrial wasteland. Residential lofts and town homes in that area now command some of the highest prices per square foot in the region.

  3. It has to be designed for long haul. The design team and the client could have used 1" stone on a concrete slab and made it look good for 10 years or so before maintenance and repair costs started escalating. But instead, 3" thick stone was used and it will likely last for 100 years or more.

Chad Klever, Assistant Manager, R.S. Wells, LLC
Greenwood Village, Colo.

I've been in the paver business going on nearly 10 years and I've seen the slow change of the use of pavers over concrete. The influences of the use of pavers come from the understanding it is a flexible system and its durability over time. During earthquakes a pavered hardscape will hold up great compared to concrete. What we need is more education on the use of pavers. Pavers are the oldest hardscape system in use throughout the world but here in the states we are lucky if it is used in 20-30% of the hardscape projects.

Daniel Ramirez, Western Regional Manager, Surebond International
Tustin, Calif.

Admittedly, my point of view is slanted by my work, which is constantly evaluating design-materials-workmanship shortcomings of concrete or paving stone issues all across the country. We so often can't even get sidewalks right, it's embarrassing for many reasons including, cutting corners, poor drainage, overly accelerated construction schedules, and too many reasons to mention here.

If I had to give an unfair blanket statement for the reason for these problems I can only come up with insufficient pride of ownership concerning the quality of the end product. Even "high end" work usually just means high cost.

George Seegebrecht, Senior Evaluation Engineer
Skokie, Ill.

Re: A Splashing Design For Historic Boys Ranch, LASN, September 2006.

I thought that this was an excellent article. Having lived in Arlington all my life, I have been very familiar with the Bedford area and the surrounding water parks.

I was in the LA class ahead of Mark Hatchel at Texas A & M, but did not know what he was doing now. I am very impressed with his work.

Eric Dalton, Landscape Architect, Dalton Construction, Inc.
Arlington, Texas

Re: Advisory Board Wants to Prohibit Businesses from Cutting Treetops Landscape Online, September 25, 2006.

I serve on our community's tree board and agree totally that the topping of trees as a landscape maintenance practice is wrong and harmful to the trees. We have basically outlawed the practice in town with licensed tree trimmers. However, it is still done at times inside the city limits and a lot outside of our jurisdiction. The photo shown in your article really is not appropriate and is actually a different issue. It appears that these trees were planted directly under utility lines. People plant tall-growing trees under utility lines and then get angry with the utility company for topping and notching them when they grow into the lines. However, they would get even angrier if their power supply was cut because of limbs falling on the lines. We are trying to educate the public about the many good varieties of shorter-growing trees available for planting under utility lines.

Jill Smith, Director, Dillon Nature Center, Hutchinson, Kan.

Re: Palms Dying In Los Angeles, LASN, October 2006.

I noted in your article that city officials are not planning to replace any palms with palms that would be resistant to the unidentified fungal infection. Such a declaration seems a shame since Los Angeles, like Miami is one of the few major metropolitan areas of our country where palms flourish and can be enjoyed by residents and visitors. If palm species are available that are resistant or immune to the pathogen they deserve consideration for replanting to maintain biodiversity and the exotic look that palms impart.

Tom Trump, Supervisor Horticulture, Miami Metrozoo


In the October 2006 issue of LASN, Teri Hendy, president of Site Masters, Inc. and a playground design and safety consultant for the National Playground Safety Institute, was incorrectly listed on P. 77 as being with GameTime. Her correct data was included on Page 82.

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December 10, 2019, 7:01 pm PDT

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