Building With Pavers, Stone, And Brick

By Christine Rombouts

Many of today's parks and public spaces are benefiting from paver, stone, and brick designs made possible thanks to the creativity of architects and manufacturers.


Across the nation, new ideas are emerging to create the “wow” factor that people expect in parks.

Designers have selected the above materials over the years for good reasons:

• Durability

• Addition of beauty and form to a space

• Cost-effectiveness

• Versatility.

Whether rough and rugged or refined and elegant, pavers, stone, and brick offer a unique combination of natural beauty and historic style that few other materials can match.

Flexibility in design and sustainability are reasons clay pavers make sense for parks. Permeable pavers are often the environmental choice to preserve natural water drainage through both traditional and unique segmental pavements. They also significantly reduce runoff from common rainstorms, eliminating puddles and minimizing local flooding and erosion.

Certain pavers even meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Stormwater Phase II criteria as a structural best-management practice.

“Clay pavers are durable and long-lasting; their color will never fade, and they don’t require a sealer,” says Shelley Ross, director of marketing for Boral Bricks.

“Made from natural, sustainable materials--clay and shale--they provide color contrast and texture to a landscape. They also provide warmth and scale to a project. From a performance standpoint, there are some really good arguments.”

Another reason park designers like clay pavers is they allow air and water to reach the root zone of trees, allowing the snow to melt faster, thus reducing ice hazards.


Brick has been around for centuries, proving longevity and durability, but there are many other benefits that make brick a premier product for hardscapes and buildings.

Put simply, the natural colors of brick give a certain panache that is not necessarily seen with other building materials--an old-world feel that seems more reminiscent of a 500-year-old park that one might find in Europe.

Brick is also one of the most cost-effective materials of building because it doesn’t need any coating to preserve its good looks. Plus, maintenance is easy. Aside from occasional cleaning, brick requires no repairs or maintenance, which ultimately saves time and money. And unlike with painted finishes, the texture of natural brick actually hides dirt and grime.

Brick does have limited uses, however. For instance, a brick-veneer wall will typically be applied to a block backwall to make it look attractive. But a single-wythe brick wall is not structurally sufficient to function as a retaining wall; it is fine for a low two- or three-course flower bed, but it can’t stand alone for a 6-foot retaining wall.

One more element to consider when using brick or segmental paving is these products are installed for the long haul. If there is a chance a park will be redesigned in 5 or 10 years, or some of the hardscapes will be re-configured, consider materials that are easier to move or remove.

Stone Veneer
Stone veneer is a popular way to add the look of full-sized natural stone to park spaces. It normally costs less than other materials, and is easier to install.

When added to either internal or external walls, the veneer gives the impression of a solid stone wall. Veneers are often employed where a full stone wall is cost-prohibitive or impractical.

In some areas, the style and color of stone that architects need simply aren’t available. Veneers come in more than 100 colors and textures.

Not only are they versatile, but they also have the advantage of being low-maintenance, and can tolerate a wide variety of climate conditions.

What exactly is a stone veneer? One example familiar to many is Cultured Stone. Basically, it’s an exact replica of natural stones cast in flexible molds and hand-colored with mineral-oxide pigments. Made with Portland cement and lightweight aggregates, the veneers are approximately one-third the weight of full-thickness stone, and can adhere to most wall surfaces.

Cultured Stone products also have a minimum 54-percent recycled content.

To help break up a monolithic look and minimize the mass of a structure, use a variety of stone facades, textures, and colors.

“Certain materials really create elements of delight. While color blocking with paint is very effective in achieving this, stone cladding placed on important pedestrian-level building planes creates a warm and inviting atmosphere while visually de-massing the environment. Repetition, height, and consistent materials can make spaces seem dehumanizing, but clever use of materials will make it much more friendly and inviting,” says Miriam Tate, president of Miriam Tate Company.

Are there drawbacks? Stone veneer should not be submerged in deep water, or be exposed to heavy sprinkler saturation.


Be Creative
Stone veneer and brick can be used almost anywhere, even as architectural features. Here are some other ideas:

• Use as an accent or a full wrap for exterior facades. Depending on the intent, the effect can help a structure blend into a natural environment, or set it apart.

• Add texture to columns. Stone-veneer columns most often are featured at entrances and can vary in design from traditional Tuscan to sleek and modern.

• To achieve a Tuscan vernacular, completely clad elements--as if the materials were “pulled off the land”--and use the same materials on out-buildings (such as a bathroom, utility building, or snack bar).

• Construct a low wall to surround a flower bed, or build a retaining wall to contain plants.

• Clad a barbecue or cabana.

• Line walkways and/or park borders. A mortared stone veneer or brick wall is strong and stable, and adds the feel that it's been there for years.

“No matter where it’s used, pavers, stone, and brick make a lot of sense,” says Kurt Buxton, senior principal for ValleyCrest Design Group.

“Its raw beauty can be used throughout the park space. Because they’re such strong design elements, even using a little will make a large statement. The smallest spaces often can be the best, and because they’re small, as a park designer, I can invest more money in the highest-quality design and materials. High-quality hardcape design is definitely appreciated by my clients because that small attention to detail is often overlooked.”

Christine Rombouts is a freelance writer specializing in the building industry. She can be reached at