|Posted by Author on June 19, 2014 at 7:35 PM|
Image: Alleys of Seattle
Take a moment to glance at the photograph above. It is easy to see both character and age in these materials, but while it is pretty clear that this is a time-worn pavement, it might take a bit longer to realize that these are not stone cobbles.
Across countries and centuries, stone, brick, or poured concretes are the mainstay choices for exterior, at-grade pavements such as roadways, sidewalks, and paved patios. But one quirky exception -- wood paving -- should be noted for its unique merits.
Images: ForgottenChicago and Slvrmn
Examples of wooden pavement are rare, but they still can be found scattered around the globe. One historical example can be found in mid-nineteenth century Chicago, where wood pavers were installed as significant upgrade to Chicago's existing dirt roads. Using the Nicolson Paving System, many of the city's roads were covered in wood blocks to make them cleaner, safer, and still relatively quiet for carriage traffic. It seems apparent that at that time, issues of availability were a deciding factor in the selection of wood, which Chicago's civil engineer explained when he said, "Wooden pavement(s)…have great advantages in a city, where suitable stone was scarce, where lumber was the great staple of the market."
Common sense tells you that for any of its advantages, wood has significant drawbacks as a pavement material. Lacking the hardness and durability of masonry materials, wood is certainly more prone to degradation from wheel, hoof, and foot traffic, and it is obviously quicker to rot. In Chicago, Nicolson slowed rotting through the application of creosote, which you probably know as the tar-like substance that seeps out of railroad ties and telephone poles this time of year.
Images: Emily Long, Ryan Wilson, and Nancy Regan
A recent project has rehabilitated one of Chicago's last remaining stretches of wooden paving. Wooden Alley, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was restored, and by selecting naturally dense and durable black locust timber, the use of toxic creosote was avoided.
Images: J. McConnell, Gabrielle Marks, and Brigitte Reiser
If you are seeking a paving material for a garden terrace, patio, or pathway, do not be too quick to dismiss wooden paving as an option. Depending on the needs of the outdoor feature, wood blocks might be a perfect material choice. It is lightweight, affordable, easy to install, and has the hidden advantage of developing a rich,
aged patina much more quickly than stone or brick.