Granite: Revitalization projects spur use of material for longevity, durability

By Jason Kron

Cities across the country are finding new, vibrant ways to revitalize downtown areas. Often, plans include beautiful greenspaces and gathering spots to attract city dwellers and visitors. As this trend continues, landscape architects are increasingly choosing granite for its benefits—i.e., durability and design options, as well as versatility in finishes and other treatments.

Historically, granite has been a material of choice for any project intended to stand the test of time. Now, as cities are looking at their aging, vacant buildings or other unused spaces, they want to turn these areas into something beautiful and useful for the community. Parks and plazas are critical to the redevelopment of many cities, and granite is ideal for these hardscape areas, particularly when sustainable design is desired.

Granite’s small footprint and long life cycle make it appealing to a sustainability-minded design team. And when the hardscape is remodeled, beautiful stone remains to be reused for other purposes. In some instances, a redevelopment of an urban hardscape area might involve the re-use of granite for the next phase or re-purposed foran entirely new project.

Granite is not only beautiful and sustainable, but also durable and resistant to freeze-thaw cycles. It requires little long-term maintenance and meets ADA requirements.

Life-Cycle Cost
Though granite’s initial cost is greater than that of precast concrete, many parks departments agree the investment in granite is worth it. Granite has a longer service life—50 years versus 20 years for precast concrete.

Granite’s durability is primarily influenced by its absorption and resistance to abrasion, as well as its chemical resistance. In climates where freezing moisture is an issue, water absorption is a major consideration. Materials with lower water-absorption rates will experience less cracking during freeze-thaw cycles.

In high foot traffic, abrasion-resistance is important. Meanwhile, resistance to chemicals is an important consideration for staining and degradation due to exposure to acids used in cleaning and/or pollution. Granite is composed of mainly silicate materials that resist staining and acid attack.

Cincinnati Riverfront
Life-cycle cost is one reason the Cincinnati Parks Department specified granite for a major renaissance project: Smale Riverfront Park and an adjacent development called The Banks. The park’s fountains, art installations, promenades, gardens, playgrounds, and boat dock complement The Banks’ residential units, office space, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The project was conceptualized in the 1990s, and construction began in 2008.

City and park-board officials envisioned the once-dormant land along the riverfront to become the region’s new gateway. Though construction is ongoing for this multi-phase project, the area has attracted hundreds of thousands of new visitors into the downtown corridor and, according to economists, has pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.

The 32-acre project area lies in a flood plain, where freeze-thaw cycles are a concern. Salt is used to de-ice sidewalks, driveways, stairs, ramps, and parking lots in winter. Thus, walkways had to minimize Department of Public Services maintenance-staff demands and eliminate concerns about short- and long-term failure.

Philadelphia’s Dilworth Park
Located in Philadelphia’s Center City District, Dilworth Plaza recently received a much-needed renovation. What once was an inaccessible, multi-level plaza now thrives as a vibrant, open civic space above Philadelphia’s main transportation hub. Appropriately renamed Dilworth Park, the 20,572-square-foot gathering spot has nearly 7,000 square feet of green space to the west of city hall. Under the park, all major forms of public transportation converge at the redesigned transit hub, where natural light and unencumbered access to transportation systems are welcome additions.

Like Philadelphia itself, Dilworth Park’s new design is a fusion of modern and historic, and granite plays a key role. According to the design team, granite was selected for its ability to provide a contemporary look while complementing the historic surroundings. What’s more, the design team noted the importance of using stone for projects because of its low-embodied energy.

Nearly 100,000 square feet of beautiful, finely carved and crafted granite masonry was used throughout the park’s exterior, including paving, walls, and benches. In particular, the tones of the black granite provide an ideal background to the almost bluish tones of city hall’s granite, limestone, and marble exterior.

As a new “front door” to the city, Dilworth Park is a beautiful, inviting public space for all Philadelphians to enjoy. The project re-establishes William Penn’s original Center Square as the heart and soul of one of America’s most beloved, historic cities.

Port of Los Angeles
Known as the nation’s largest container port, the Port of Los Angeles, located 20 miles south of the city, occupies 7,500 acres of land and water along 43 miles of waterfront. For years, the port had served solely an industrial purpose, but in recent years the LA Waterfront project has sought to revitalize the area into a destination point. A series of waterfront development and community enhancement projects, the LA Waterfront encompasses more than 400 acres of existing Port of Los Angeles property. Today, the project is the largest waterfront development underway in the United States.

In March 2012, construction began on the fourth phase of the project. Known as Downtown Harbor and Town Square, the project has transformed a parking lot into a beautiful, accessible public space with features such as a pedestrian promenade, an overlook pier, viewing benches, and a community art project. A new harbor inlet was created for recreational watercraft, surrounded by a town square and pedestrian promenade. The project encompasses 1.2 acres of existing waterfront and connects the harbor with the city of San Pedro.

A variety of granite colors and finishes were selected for the paving, wallstone, and seating areas. More than 13,000 square feet of granite paving in shades of white, black, and red was selected for the promenade area. Nearly 8,000 square feet of cobblestone paving in black granite was also incorporated. In addition to paving, granite was the primary material for public seating, an important component of the project, allowing visitors to gather and watch ships as they enter and exit the port.

Construction of Downtown Harbor and Town Square was completed in June 2014, on time and more than $4 million under budget. A gathering place reflecting the beauty and history of the area, Downtown Harbor has brought new life to America’s Port.

Since 1999, Jason Kron has specialized in the natural-stone industry. In his current role, Kron works with architectural and design communities to meet their natural-stone needs and with cemeteries for memorial-product and cemetery-development needs. He can be reached at