Brick Pavers – More Exotic

This is another of those posts I went and added onto substantially, having originally produced it in 2010.

As everyone should understand by now, I am a huge fan of brick paver surfaces. I have found nothing – nothing at all – comes close to their durability. The other inherent quality brick pavers offer is simply their beauty. Well designed surfaces gain immense visual power by being coordinated by color and even texture in a landscape. And since this rather new field opened up rapidly, it has been a chore to try and keep up with all the innovations, colors, types and styles of interlocking bricks. But what a pleasant chore it is. In this post, we examine the future, taking a peek around the corner at what seems destined to emerge. At the same time, we’ll investigate what we have available at this time. I believe it is of a surprising range.

What is the future, then, of brick pavers?  Have all creative avenues been blocked owing to their new popularity or are there people out there discovering new ways of experiencing the art of driveway and Piazza construction? The answer to that touches on our personal and community expectations regarding our outdoor environments.  I am more than pleased to say that the future is very bright indeed, as can be seen in this tiny sampling relating to the possibilities inherent in the paving art.

Brick pavers have evolved to such an extent that pictures such as the one above now represent a possibility that never existed before in a non-modular form.  The freeing up of ideas based on modularity and small sectioned pieces represents amazing possibilities for the enterprising designer.

Here are some other examples of what could happen and has: The first one below was designed on a computer using musical references in a mathematical formula….”resonances”, I believe the architect mentioned. It is a visual second in time of music as it would appear on an oscilloscope. It is from a Toronto, Canada plaza outside a facility that features music. I can only imagine the contractor scratching his head over the placement of the pavers, lol. Like many architects, they design, we install.  “Figure it out and make it work.” is a common enough statement.  Just the same, it is a fascinating bit of work, beyond doubt.

Here’s your standard average serenidpitous piece of driveway reckoning, a little on the whimsical side and surely not for everyone.  I just enjoy the fantastic sort of element of it all, myself and, yes, I would use it.

Look out!  This one is a mind blower, lol, all pavers.

Aside from the whimsical, however, are other sizes and style of pavers a bit more standard, yet still interesting, allowing many different possibilities as well. These are your larger compressed concrete pavers that are also seeing wide usage any more.

This example hails from a project we undertook in Portland, Oregon at a very successful Christmas Tree farm. The owner has just successfully re-commissioned his entire home as a sun-catcher…….he drew so much solar power that he literally offered his own power up to the grid and was compensated by the local power company. He had a small outbuilding which was completely filled with marine batteries. Really interesting guy.

Never one to let any potential sun get away – especially in often-dreary Portland – we erected a small pond out front for purposes of fire protection as well as for the reflection from the Eastern and Southern Sun to bounce off the water onto his living room ceiling where he had more collectors. 😉

Now this one is just pretty, lol. I liked the mixed colors. The view out the back is awesome ….this home straddled a ridge top, offering expansive views in all directions.

As hinted in the original picture above, people such as my hero in atristic nuttery like Isamu Noguchi were long ahead of the game. That plaza at Chase Manhatten Bank in NYC is among my 7 wonders of the hardscaping world.

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But Noguchi’s work in stone may be his very best. This is from his museum in Costa Mesa, Califonria.

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An overview:

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Back to the “somewhat normal”, lol, we have this, from a man who specializes in Labyrinths, of all things. http://labyrinthsinstone.com/ is his website and it is well worth a gander.

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This could go on. 😉 A lot of creative minds have been on this project of modernizing and making art out of the surfaces we walk on. This also occurred for thousands of years before now, dating back to Greek and Roan ruins where the gorgeous tiles and paintings drawn centuries ago last until this very day.

This ancient Greek floor below was discovered recently in Turkey, proving that humans have lavished beauty and much thought into what they walk on.

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Brick Pavers As A Product and Installation Issues

“Pavers”, in the sense we refer to here are compressed concrete bricks, perfectly formed to interlock initmately, forming a non-moveable structurally road strength surface. The “compression” comes from the manufacturing process, where the paver forms are filled, then shaken to void out air holes and to better distribute the cement itself. They end up being somewhere in the vicinity of 8,500 PSI (pounds per square inch). To get an idea of how hard that is, your standard concrete walkway downtown is about 4,500 PSI. A patio out back in your yard will usually be in the vicinity of 3,500 PSI. Thus, these are harder than ‘normal’ cement products. They are being used in many newer applications, including city streets. 5 million square feet of the Honk Kong Airport’s entire runway and general tarmac is composed of these little beggars, as well.

The concern in Hong Kong dealt with the massive rains of the Monsoon Season and the tendency to flood. Brick pavers offered a drainage solution which intrigued the planners, who still produced plans containing ample numbers of catch basins to conduct water throughout the airport’s tarmac. Later tests revealed the incredible infiltration of water between the actual cracks of the pavers themselves, producing very nearly zero work for the planned catchments.

Pavers, simply by their segmented nature, allow water to pass directly down between one another, as this picture shows in more detail.

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Another recommendation they carry with them is the fact that they are somewhat flexible. In this, I refer to the component factor: it takes a lot of brick pavers to contribute to a driveway. Whereas a cement driveway will develop cracks atop shifting bases, or can collect water underneath and thus heave, where the concrete structure will crack and split and then deteriorate further with time, pavers will heave just like the cement, but will not have some monolithic break. They will ride the heave and stay intact. Thus freezing and cracking may well be the least of worries. The actual fact is, those who prepare the base are the stars of this particular show. Proper preparation below any surface yields much less trouble, later.

PREPARATION

Under any surface, cement, asphalt, or brick pavers there needs to be a compacted base consisting of some sort of compactable material. Typically a mix of small rocks and “fines” from the same rock created at quarries do the trick. The fines do what we indicated above with the forming of pavers in the mold: they fill in totally and thus ensure, upon being squished with some titanic and compressing machine, that the subbase is going absolutely nowhere. When covered, there should be no voids to collect water where freezing can affect the ultimate size and cause breaks or heaving. A compacted base would also solve a lot of cement problems regarding breakage and deterioration but it seems not all contractors take the time for this hard and time-comsuming work.

Depending on the soils underneath, the base material should be at least 6 inches thick for drivweways and 4 inches for patios and walkways. In the absence of base material, or Class II Base as we call it, washed sand can actually be used as a base material.

In any event, for truly muddy or expansive type soils, one should overexcavate appropriately and add this completely new material. I once had a project, in Vancouver, B.C. where we were scheduled to install pavers aside a parking garage. The only problem was, there was this hole from earlier excavations about 12 feet deep and some 50 feet wide and it was full of water. This was exactly where the pavers were supposed to go.

I backed a line of trucks holding washed sand up and dumped them, pushing them in, finally, with my trusty Bobcat, bit by bit, allowing the water to escape from the rear of the hole, and succeeded in filling the hole in a day. Two days later, we were compacting and constructing and, 5 days later, we had made ourselves a brick fire lane, 20 feet wide, coursing over this former hole. It was actually sort of amazing, really, but I swear, that drive is at nearly the same level it was when we constructed it, today, some 22 years later. Here’s Nature’s bottom line: Nothing compacts like water!

SAND LAYER

For pavers, an extra step is typical at the end of the compaction drama: a one inch layer of sand is put in place at the exact level one desires the pavers to go. Eventually, this sand bed will allow a bit of movement as the pavers get compacted into place and grouted with yet more, and possibly other decorative, color coordinated, sand. What this achieves is some allowance for error, as well. Artists with a plate compactor can literally change a grade where necessary, by adding water and worrying a hump into submission by whacking it until it conforms. While this sounds inexact, the best operators can achieve a perfect grade. It’s what they are paid to do.

LAYING THE BRICK PAVERS

The job is almost done. I am being serious. There is some darn hard work, toting pavers over for placement and all, but establishing the base is always the big achievement. By the time your sand is screeded (levelled into place), laying the pavers is good old brainless work, in most cases. I advocate hiring the high school student for this phase, lol. (You know that saying, “Hire the high school student….while they still know everything?” oops, sorry, honey). I could not resist, sorry……now, where were we?

Establishing a laying pattern is mental. There are any numbers of patterns available, from Herringbone ones to Running Bond patterns and some extoic ones as well. Just the same, laying them becomes easier once the pattern is established and repitition becomes the norm. At this stage one fills in the blank area with bricks.

FINISHING

Finishing involves a few things: edges and retaining systems, grouting the pavers with sand and the final compaction. There is also sealing which I will also address elsewhere.

Edges and restraining: If curved, the edges of any paver edifice will require cutting. Many people use the “guillotine” method of pressing two sharp edges manually, thus cleaving the brick. I have seen projects done this way which worked well. Nevertheless, I always advocate cutting all pavers with a brick saw, using a diamond blade and water, thus getting a crystal clean cut at exactly the edge one desires. It just looks more professional, to me. Once in place, I restrain my bricks with either plastic or aluminum edging, complete with holes for knocking down some nice 8-10″ spikes and holding it tightly in place. The edges of all component structures are always the weak point, but with edge restraints, one can withstand tires and accidents alot better.

Grouting with sand: This implies spreading a layer of sand over the entire paver area, then sweeping and watering the sand into place inside the cracks of the pavers themselves. One also cleans when finishing with water. I like to compact the pavers one final time with a thin coat of sand over the bricks. The sand “lubricates” the passage of the compactor and the compaction process shakes the sand into those cracks. Then is when I typically wash, finishing the grout process and the project itself.

Essentially, that’s it. One can expect a lifetime’s worth of satisfaction from this stuff. Indeed, one may well expect generations to enjoy the fruits of this labor. Modern bricks are replacing city streets in many cities, especially those who experience rain problems, like Seattle, Portland or Vancouver, B.C. They add wonderfully to the resale value of a home, even aside from looking as good as anything out there can look. I will deal with the more artistic values of brick pavers elsewhere, but the color combinations, laying patterns and bricks themselves are mind boggling in their diversity and possibilities. They are a huge step forward in landscape technology and offer yet another wondrous and durable possibility for outdoor pleasure.

Pebble Pathways – And Mosaics, Pebble and Brick

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Click all images to enlarge

Pebble Pathways are a specialty. I have done just a couple in my day but I have so enjoyed looking at those done by others, I’m actually late in speaking of them. The above is from the Portland, Oregon Chinese Garden and – to me – represents the absolute “state of the art” of the Pebble Path. Embedded in a loose layer of wet cement and arranged painstakingly (obviously!) the makers keep their supplies nearby and reach around to grab the pieces, then they fit them meticulously into position. It was interesting watching them make these paths – and I only saw them beginning rather than all the way through – but these guys were definitely specialists. What was perhaps even more remarkable was their speed. Believe me, they’ve had practice. I have mentioned before in this blog where I was involved in this project myself, along with a couple of other souls from Teufel Nurseries in Portland.  One of my mates on the project was John Stone, currently an independent and very good contractor in Portland and Southern Washington. Here is his website. In fact, I describe much of our role in this exciting and hugely rewarding project in this blog under the category of  “Chinese Garden” in my “Categories” section.

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Of some irony, during the construction of these pathways in Portland, a somewhat substantial amount of the pebbling had been accomplished when they were suddenly informed of a local building code which insisted that all “pebbled surfaces” were not to have more than a 1/8th inch depression. Since the ancient Chinese trait of providing such depths as a quarter inch – best for “massaging the feet” while traversing the -path – they had to redo what they had already done. The purpose, strictly non-judgmentally speaking, was for the ease of travel for wheelchairs and handicapped resources. Whether it made any difference whatsoever would be the question but – to their credit – the constructors sighed and went back to work.

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What led to me to this subject, in fact, was seeing the mosaic work of Helen Nock, who I featured below in this blog, the wonderfully creative British designer and maker of exotic and artful garden furnishings, among her other talents. I was reminded of a few projects we’ve done where we inlaid a rather “Mosaic” pattern of not only other pebbled pathways, but with bricks as well. When one does a mosaic pattern, one gets this sort of “Fractal Sense” of the smaller role of the mosaic pattern being subservient to the overall ambiance of the project – the macrolandscape – itself. By exploding in artistically free small patterns at the more “micro” level, we make fascinating details which are never necessary whatsoever, but which add so much of a human touch. Below is a simple sort of construction we laid by cementing bricks over a barren, glaringly white “porch scape” of plain cement. Note the circular pattern of the bricks by the doorway. In the bricky world, this is so much trouble as to be almost self-destructive to a budget unless it’s factored in. Naturally, in my case, I gave the sucker away! But the clients actually made up for it. They were somewhere beyond pleased. This picture can be enlarged quite huge by clicking twice, for the full effect.

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Here’s what it looked like from the front, after the lunch pails were removed:

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And one final look at paver mosaics, in this case the picture at the front of the Toronto Music facility, a public arena dedicated to music, as evidenced by the fascinating mosaic trends shown in the pavers out front. The designer used a computer simulation of musical chords – I bet Jazz, lol – to render this undoubtedly maddening project for his installers.

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Back To Pebbles:

There is a simply fascinating potential in constructing walkways and paths in these pebble finishes. There is literally no limit in possibilities. Indeed, Pebble Mosaics are a virtual art form of their own, some hanging in frames as representational art and others playful scenarios developed from the whimsical and fecund minds of homeowners and “amateurs”. I use the amateur term advisedly, as many of the best landscapes I have ever come across were done by the persons who lived where they worked. I’ve said this many times, but my respect for these folks is over the top. The best landscapes in the world can be those you happen onto visiting a party or dropping by for any purpose, into a back or front yard you never knew existed. Suddenly the floor moves. 😉

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Patience, a good selection of stones for the project, a great base of, say 3-4″ of unfinished cement upon which to work (a surface and finish we in construction often refer to indelicately as a “rat slab”) and a slurry of moist cement is about all one needs to get tight with the Pebbling Art. Here are some random pictures of other pebble art projects – not my own. The first 2 are more of the Chinese Garden in Portland, with the first picture featuring a multifaceted quartz-dominated walkway:

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This one is made even cooler by the plantings alongside – never to be underestimated as the adjunct of choice:

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A close up –

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On a wall…………………………….

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From the amazing Janette Ireland, I present the utter Lunatic Fringe of the Pebble Mosaic Art:

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For more on this stunning artist, click here:  Janette Ireland

You’ll never look at a cute pebble the same way again! Below is from This Blog Check it out.

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Well, we’ve gone from interesting to wild. My work is done. 😉

Landscape Paver Project – Interesting Pictures Of Pain

So what does a “landscape project” look like while the work is going on? My sister-in-law, Lisa, is a lawyer. She once visited a site I was on while she was with my brother, Mike, and the family on their way to the Oregon Coast for the weekend. On their way out, they stopped by my project. It was a “makeover”.  It had an original huge green front lawn and bushes all over, sort of rustic and wild-looking but was bought by this guy who sold Cray Computers for a living. He had some serious bucks. Well, what he wanted was a massive ‘redo’. When Lisa and Mike and the guys stopped by, we were very industriously tearing the crap out of the whole place. We had someone in every corner, making all those loud and obscene sounds of breaking branches and breaking cement and plastic. Honestly, she came as the “symphony” was reaching a true crescendo! Her son, Beckett looked on with amusement and avid interest, as their daughter, Zoe looked at us like we were all a troop of stark-raving mad jackals. I walked over to say Hi, grease-covered from a bit of earlier “wrassling” with some nasty machine incident or other.

“My God, I could never do that!” were Lisa’s first words. 😉   It made my day.

OK, let’s be honest. Naturally enough, at least in my experience, tearing stuff up, for any man, ranks up there with beer, playing sports and children as highly-rated fun. Poor gorgeous dear – What could she know?  Beckett got a trip inside the little excavator we ran and he also got into some of the fun by helping Uncle Steve break out some resistant cement and tear up a few more things. With me and him at the controls, I closely watched his interest develop into that well-known fever I have so often seen in the delighted faces of my male personnel when confronted with a machine and an obstacle.

For a great example of all this, I present this series from a project we had in Reno……….one of those “redo’s”…… We take an otherwise finished product such as this:

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or this:

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And then we go “on holiday”, as it were – to this:

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And this:

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And then they get to know us!!

We try and do our destruction in the quietest of ways but cutting and packing away cement is not something which lends itself to that. The truth is, we wear ear protection ourselves, lol. Don’t get me wrong – tearing things up is still cool, even protected!

Anyway, we generally mention just how loud we will be. However, there are times when they seem not to believe us. Suddenly, shopping looks attractive! Because of the paneled nature of this patio, we were able to get out of there in a couple days – less actually. But leaving it like this means adding stuff:

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Replacing 30 tons of cement also implies replacing it with at least that poundage, unfortunately for us. But, fortunately for us –

We have a machine!  Guess what!!  Yup………….it’s loud too! 😉

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Soon, however, the worst of the noise is gone. This all took about 3-4 days, the fact is. The machine had done its job, carting debris away and dumping it, prying up those gnarly slabs of cement and then delivering the base material for what we’re replacing all that with. So far, it’s handled about 40 tons of stuff. Considering the manual alternatives, this allows us to cut the price a bit and to spare our already-beleaguered backs. Finally, the purring of actual men and materials takes place. It can be a fine source for gossip but some protection is required – all too often – for “virgin ears.” Nevertheless, Cory’s love life got broadcast to the general public. The client here was the sister of a very. very dear client of ours who confided in me later that she thought Cory “could do better”, lol, with sly, knowing wink.

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Working in tight quarters, such as Ken is attempting here, slipping blind-cut pavers underneath the siding with little or no maneuverable room can yield to some ripe language now and then. Of course, we check to see if the natives are in earshot. We are usually successful at this. Having said that, there have been some pretty funny immediate changes in conversation on “close calls”.

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Oh well, after all that hubub, 2 weeks later, what’s the Big Deal? Everyone is happy.

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And we get to move on, disturbing yet more people!

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These guys were so disgusted, in fact, they had us pave the entry to their driveway!

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Satisfying in every respect – heck – we even get paid for all that! Honestly, it’s almost like stealing.