Stone and brick create welcoming spaces for outdoor activity
By Jim Cook
Everyone knows that Americans need to get outside and get active. Report after report shows that obesity and inactivity are making us sicker and shortening our lives. Despite all the studies and surveys, convincing us to shed our sedentary ways has proven to be a tough sell for health advocates. Masonry may be part of the solution, making the great outdoors a place where more of us want to be.
A Call to Action
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has joined with seven health and building organizations to issue a joint call to action to the 450,000 professionals who represent their membership. The call to action urges health and design professionals to keep healthy living and outdoor activity in mind when planning and creating housing and other developments.
“The idea is for all of us to work together with our members to be more cognizant of creating healthy communities and built environments,” says Shawn Balon, a landscape architect and ASLA’s career discovery and diversity manager. “It’s not an afterthought at the end of a project; it’s a matter of always thinking about how design can work with public health, and cross-pollinating the two concepts when projects are still in their early stages.
Advantages of Masonry
Balon says masonry offers many aesthetic advantages that can help influence people to get outside and get active. Masonry also makes environments look more natural, he says, and the many available colors of stone and other masonry materials help designers convey a certain mood and theme to visitors.
“Stone masonry is something a lot of people find an affinity to because it has a more natural undertone,” Eric Gilbey, a project marketing manager for Vectorworks, says. “From that perspective, if someone’s really trying to connect with nature, they’d have a hard time doing so with something that was synthetic. They wouldn’t feel that same connection that they feel to natural materials because it’s just not there.”
Gilbey says he is particularly proud of his contributions to Waterford Park, a housing development in Columbus, Ohio. Gilbey and developers used large boulders to create a stair-step effect on a downward slope. The stair-step effect, Gilbey says, makes the slope safer for residents who may be walking in the area and also helps create a more appealing outdoor environment.
Gilbey says that, in addition to making an outdoor space feel more inviting, masonry can also be used to set the space apart from other areas. According to Gilbey, walls and other vertical structures can help designate spaces as being dedicated to activity or as being private spaces. Gilbey says the solid, permanent nature of masonry helps it make these distinctions, whether as walls, columns or other vertical structures or as walkways.
Masonry’s Options for Outdoor Environments
Steve Cook, a senior landscape architect for VIKA, says that designers have lots of options with masonry to make outdoor environments more inviting and conducive to exercise and enjoyment. “Paving, walls, columns, fountains — whatever your imagination can dream of,” he says.
Cook likes to use masonry in outdoor spaces because of its connection with nature and its durability and reusability. “I always think about building for re-use,” he says.
Cook recently designed courtyards for an apartment complex in Washington, D.C. He used cut limestone and granite to create benches, walls and paving for the courtyards. Cook says the stone used in the project helps create an intimate, inviting atmosphere that makes the courtyards a great place for meditation or exercise.
“I prefer natural masonry products because of their durability and reusability,” says Cook. “Aesthetics are also an advantage. There’s a great range of color you can get out of natural stone that can help accent a space.”
From Public Areas to Private Spaces
Public areas aren’t the only places where masonry can help create an enjoyable environment for exercise. Private homes can also make use of masonry to create pleasant spaces for outdoor activity and exercise. McHale Landscape Design recently contributed to the construction of an exercise/pool room that connects to an outdoor pool with an expansive deck and surrounding lawn.
In the project, Pennsylvania bluestone was used for the floor and pool coping, while Weatherface fieldstone surrounded a sheer-descent water feature and created a stone accent wall. The Weatherface fieldstone wall was built using a dry impression technique, which conceals the mortared joints. The arch inset in the stone centers on the pool, the sheer-descent water feature and the windows above.
“Artful masonry creates spaces that let people slow down and admire the craftsmanship and draw people to a space where they want to spend time,” says Steve McHale, owner of McHale Landscape Design, Inc.
Obesity’s Growing Threat
High rates of obesity and physical inactivity pose serious risks to public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than one third of adults in the U.S. are obese. Obesity rates among children are also climbing. The CDC says that one in five school-aged children are obese.
People with obesity are at high risk of developing life-threatening diseases and conditions. Obesity greatly increases risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Children with obesity face bullying from peers and also risk developing chronic health conditions such as sleep apnea, asthma, bone and joint problems, and other serious issues. The CDC estimates that annual medical costs for people who are obese are $1,429 higher than those of people within their recommended weight range.
Physical activity can help Americans shed the excess pounds they’ve gained, but our lifestyles have become sedentary. CDC figures show that 80 percent of adult Americans do not get recommended amounts of exercise each week. Health experts recommend that adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. The CDC also recommends that adults engage in muscle-strengthening activities such as lifting weights or doing push-ups twice a week.
Masonry may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about getting people to go outside and run, swim or play. However, masonry’s ability to make outdoor spaces more attractive and inviting provides designers and public health advocates with an important tool they can use to convince the public to get out and be more active.
While masonry’s ability to create more inviting outdoor spaces isn’t a silver bullet that will solve the challenges obesity poses to our society, it can help nudge the public in the right direction.
Jim Cook is a freelance writer based in Dothan, Ala. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joint Call to Action:
American Society of Landscape Architects, www.asla.org
American Institute of Architects, www.aia.org
American Public Health Association, www.apha.org
American Society of Civil Engineers, www.asce.org
American Planning Association, www.planning.org
National Recreation and Park Association, www.nrpa.org
U.S. Green Building Council, www.usgbc.org
Urban Land Institute, https://uli.org