Woonerf: A Pedestrian-Friendly Street Idea Imported from Europe
by Sean O'Keefe, Sean O'Keefe Communications and Strategy
In commercial development, the thirst for something new is nearly constant. Developers, designers, and builders all continually search for a competitive edge in an ultra-competitive industry to distinguish their product from a sea of sameness. In this quest for new and unique, certain successful developments become mile markers along the highway of innovation; noteworthy reference points defining a technical or aesthetic advance that inspires future design. Such is the expectation for a small mixed-use, multifamily community in Louisville, Colorado where development vision, design response, and construction craftsmanship all combine to deliver a distinct, pedestrian-centric, multimodal community experience.
"Placemaking really impacts the people that occupy a space," says Paul Shoukas, vice president and landscape architect with PCS Group, of the innovative streetscape at the Delo Apartments designed to enhance community connections. Located just east of Louisville's downtown, the development objective for Delo was to foster easy pedestrian access to the city's recently revitalized commercial district. Particularly challenging, the link between the town center and Delo is bisected by a railroad, a potentially huge impediment to pedestrians. The solution, a living street.
"We borrowed from a Dutch design strategy called a Woonerf to create a curbless environment," continues Shoukas of the site's unusual, flat interface between the street and sidewalk. The design means to give equal priority to all modes of transportation including vehicular, bicycle, pedestrian, and wheeled. By seamlessly merging street and sidewalk into a single, more or less flat surface, the idea behind the Woonerf is that eye contact and continual human interaction are a more effective means of creating a safe, pedestrian-friendly environment than curbs, signs, and rules.
"Rather than separating uses with barriers, the design integrates several really beautiful architectural concrete techniques, colors, and patterns with small, raised truncated domes to delineate street and sidewalk," says Shoukas. The combination of color and texture changes are accomplished through the use of decorative concrete, prearranged by Colorado Hardscapes, which also ended up installing the project.
"The team at Colorado Hardscapes was extremely informative in the material selections we made. Their showroom and the number of different product samples we were able to see, touch, and mix and match was incredible."
Ultimately, the roadway at Delo incorporates the Bomanite SandscapeA(R) Texture, which combines locally sourced aggregates, black beauty sand and seed colored glass to create a granulated surface speckled with shiny jewels. Chosen for both durability and aesthetics, Sandscape's textured effect is similar to what happens when concrete is sandblasted, except more uniformly controlled and the glass jewels don't get frosted by the blasted sand.
Delo's public spaces also significantly incorporate stem walls to account for elevation changes across the site and provide ample opportunity for stopping, sitting, and chatting among neighbors. Many of the 500 linear feet of walls are curved, and all were specified for decorative finishes to match the overall design. To do so, the technique incorporated a Cappuccino color hardener with flecks of mirror and blue glass to add a sparkle to seat walls, planter walls, and concrete columns.
Incorporating architectural concrete into the site's drivable surfaces meant completely rethinking the way the final project would be managed. Often in greenfield construction, paved surfaces are placed first to provide immediate access for the heavy equipment and manpower required by vertical construction. Once the buildings are established, sidewalks and curbs are added, and finally, roads and parking lots are resurfaced with a topping layer when construction is nearing conclusion.
When using decorative concrete as a drivable road, hard surfaces must be placed after heavy-equipment construction is complete to protect the beauty and integrity of the finished product. So decorative concrete construction superintendent Rick Boer and his team were among the first trades activated and the last to leave.
"The concrete was here before the buildings were, so we really had to put an awful lot of trust in the surveyors and the markings they gave us to get things right," he acknowledges.
He adds that he feels blessed to be a part of such a dynamic project that will surely be a reference point in both decorative concrete and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes for many years to come.