Many urban districts seek out ways of creating a unique identity, but are hampered by the standard repertoire of commercially available products. Blank concrete sidewalks with, if you are lucky, a narrow decorative border along the curb line run on for block after block. ‘Upgraded’ sidewalks tend to consist of either colored monolithic concrete, concrete pavers or clay brick. The worst is imprinted concrete that tries to be something else; brick or stone. In the end though, the majority of these installations end up looking like they could be anywhere.
The sidewalks along the Passeig de Gràcia, in Barcelona however are an example of the successful use of custom designed pavers to reinforce the unique character of this street. There are a lot of other urban elements that make this street a great place for pedestrians, but the focus here is on the paving. The paver design is based upon a tile designed by renowned Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí in 1904 for the Casa Batlló, but actually installed in the nearby Casa Milà (La Pedrera), both of which are located along this street. At the request of the City of Barcelona, the manufacturer of the original tile, ESCOFET, re-issued the pavers in exterior grade material specifically for paving the pedestrian zones along this boulevard in 1997. While the pavers are uniform in color and are installed across the entire sidewalk surface, the abstracted snail, starfish and seaweed forms embossed into the hexagonal pavers create a sense of movement along the surface. They reflect Gaudí’s interest in incorporating natural forms into his architecture.
Given the advances in 3D modeling and printing, there is great potential for creating unique designs tailored to specific urban locations. A single paver, installed in three different orientations, was all that was needed. We already have the manufacturing capability to mass produce millions of pavers, so the only thing missing is the will to design something unique vs. selecting an off the shelf product. Architects and Landscape Architects already spend a lot of time trying to design streetscape environments. Wouldn’t it be better to spend our design time trying to create something that is unique?