I’ve recently been working on a project requiring the use of a special paving concept. The paving pattern I’ve been using communicates a sense of place, and even time. The experience with the material sparked thoughts about exploring other opportunities where the paving could be used as a medium for communicating information to the user or to make a smart and playful experience.
A month ago, I visited The Giant Forest, a section of Sequoia National Park famed for its giant sequoia trees. There, I came face to trunk with the General Sherman, a tree reaching 275 feet in height and with a diameter of 36.5 feet maximum at its base. But these are just numbers that do not communicate the full experience! The General Sherman tree is so out of proportion in comparison to everything else around it, that it’s difficult to comprehend its actual enormity, even when in physical proximity to this mammoth.
It was at the entrance plaza at the trailhead where I realized after a minute or so that I was standing on top of an example of a brilliant paving detail. The diameter of the central plaza matched the diameter of General Sherman, with a pattern mirroring the exact footprint of the tree represented in granite paving. The detail communicates a very good sense of space and size, enhancing the visit even before General Sherman is fully visible (the tree is still hidden from this vantage point). This paving feature is especially engaging for children who visit the park, inviting them to jump between the curves of the trunk’s footprint. I don’t think it’s the most beautiful or gentle detail I’ve seen in my life, but it’s definitely an ingenious enhancement – one that earned the National Park Service an ASLA Honor Award in 2007.
Last week during a visit to Griffith Park I was very excited to see another creative paving detail with a playfully executed feature. The planetary cycles of our solar system are stamped across pavers, with their scaled trajectory imprinted outward and across the perimeter of the park. The scale of the solar system was probably determined by the space between the parking lot – its limits demarcated by the furthest reaches of Pluto, emanating outward from the main entrance of the observatory marked by the sun. Visitors are invited to travel space and time with every footstep.
Another paver detail I love because of its engaging contribution to the streetscape is found in Seattle – a dance diagram of the cha-cha-chá created by artist, Jack Mackie. I’ve since learned there are numerous other diagrams located all around Capitol Hill representing different kinds of dances in similar fashion.
Each of these examples illustrate there opportunities for designers to imagine similar engaging and creative details across our streetscapes, walkways, sidewalks, and trails. We have such a great surface to work with. Even if it’s just the stamped distance at the beginning of a trail, a map of the city, or a sundial, imaginative features like these can result in a more memorable and interactive experience that reward pedestrians with facts, engagement, and even occasionally a few new dance moves.