Designing with Pavers

Words by: MASONRY DESIGN Magazine
Photos:  Belgard, Midwest Block & Brick  

Did you know that “demand for bricks, blocks, and pavers in the United States is forecast to rise 8.8 percent per annum,” and has grown to a $9 billion-dollar industry in recent years?  Ecologically friendly and cost effective, concrete pavers can be a beautiful addition to many residential, commercial, and even municipal design projects. Also known as paving stones, these versatile materials are available in a variety of colors, sizes, and textures to customize any construction and design project.  

Concrete pavers are favored for their relatively simple installation and lower maintenance requirements over the material’s lifetime. Pavers can be used in design for a number of applications, and are quickly becoming a popular material in several current design trends. However, with so many options available, it can quickly become difficult for an architect to navigate, and even more challenging for the client to choose what best fits the unique needs of their individual project. In order to properly serve the client’s needs and make the most appropriate selections for their design proposal, there are three key elements to consider when utilizing concrete pavers.  

When working with concrete pavers in an architectural space, the first aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is the budget. A clearly defined budget should be the starting point of any construction project, but is especially crucial when deciding between concrete pavers because of the sheer amount of options and combinations. David Mudd, Hardscape Technical Sales at Midwest Block & Brick, says that when he works with a client,They may have an idea of what they want the space to look like, that overall, overarching vision, but you have to look at what is that pavement going to be used for and what is the available budget for it is.”  

He illustrates his point with an example, explaining “you don’t want to design something with natural stone, say. Very large natural stone slabs may be the look that you want, but you don’t have the budget for that…then you waste time maybe pricing that out or looking at it getting samples and all the rest of it, and you’re looking at something that won’t actually work for your project- either because the application is not right or because the budget’s not there to use that type of system.”  

In order to properly define a budget, the design team and the client will need to work together to identify the specific types, colors, and styles of products that achieve the intended design. To accomplish this, Joe Raboine, Residential Business Manager at Belgard, advises knowing what home style, either built or existing, is the subject of the project. Says Raboine, “it’s difficult to discern what their home styles may be, so I would say for a lot of contractors the first thing to do is try to determine what the house style is, look at the area of the home.” By comparing similar homes in the area, a designer can get to work before even seeing the project space.  

Once the designer and the client have honed the scope to a specific style, he says, by determining “the style consumers like and what works with their home, then you can start to narrow down the product choice itself. In some cases, it could be concrete pavers, could be a clay paver, could be porcelain, and those pigmental pavers are really the primary units- and natural stone of course.” Once the budget is clearly defined, the design process then transitions to understanding the aesthetic the client is looking for in their space.   

The design team and the client must fully understand their available options. Bucketed product lines are one means of exploring these choices with the client, and for many, the most important aspect of the aesthetic is the color, closely followed by the texture and grain. When dealing with the aesthetic, it’s vital to keep a pulse on current industry trends. When asked what he’s seen recently in regards to concrete paver design, Raboine shares that “I would say the two biggest trends right now are, there’s a shift towards this large format- linear designs that have much more monochromatic color tone to them.” As far as color choices, “it would vary from one side of the spectrum to the other, so they’re either very light- greys, whites, creams, or they’re very dark like charcoals, browns.”  

Large scale pavers are also becoming increasingly popular thanks to their durability, which means lower maintenance is required for upkeep. Finally, “the next biggest shift,” he relates, “is really moving into things like porcelain or higher end pavers that come pre-sealed and just are very durable. That’s something that I think you’re going to continue to see, and that’s driven by the desire to have a more upscale aesthetic and also have reduced maintenance.” The consideration of maintenance costs is an important aspect of functionality, and with the aesthetic and budget understood by the client and design team, the final element needed to bring together a design proposal is the functionality.  

Equally important for residential and commercial projects alike, the functionality will ultimately dictate the final product choices, at times solely due to their physical characteristics. States VP of Commercial Sales of Keystone Hardscapes, Richard Bodie, when considering the applications that should be taken into account by architects and designers when planning a paving project are “principally, selecting the appropriate pavers, jointing / bedding sands, structural base, edge restraint and soil (subgrade) compaction over the intended area to be paved.” In a residential application, foot traffic tends to be much lower than designing for, say, a public square or outdoor mall area. He states further that “the various sorts of traffic loads [that] the pavement can experience are: 1) Pedestrian – foot traffic only; 2) Light traffic – residential driveways; 3) Medium traffic – parking lots; and 4) Heavy traffic – cross walks and streets.”  

To understand the needs of the space’s functionality, the architect must work closely with the client to identify the needs of the audience using the space. This can mean incorporating anything from permeable concrete pavers to divert stormwater and make the design more ecologically friendly, to defining different areas with the use of specific paver colors and textures. Ultimately, once the design team is fully aware of both the short- and long-term goals of the project, only then can they complete the best design for the client.  

With concrete pavers serving as increasingly popular long-term solutions for a variety of indoor and outdoor construction projects, it’s important to stay abreast with the current industry trends regarding their use. Whether a client approaches a project with this material in mind or you’re preparing to present concrete pavers as an option to your design team, it’s crucial to stay up to date on the best and most innovative ways to use them.  

When approaching a design project, clearly defining a budget, identifying the aesthetic, thoroughly explaining options and discussing functionality are all equally important to achieving the project’s goals. No matter if you’re designing for a small outdoor living space in a client’s home or a plaza for a large shopping mall, concrete pavers are an excellent option to keep in mind when considering your next construction project.