Concrete is a material one sees everywhere in the landscape. Ubiquitous, this workhorse of a material. Driveways, parking lots, commercial buildings, house foundations, bridges, walkways, wall foundations, -the list of landscape features that rely on concrete for strength and durability is long-as it should be. Reinforced concrete is incredibly strong, and durable. Concrete as a finished material can be quite beautiful. Polished concrete floors, countertops, and buildings can be extraordinarily beautiful and serviceable.
Concrete is an amalgamation of aggregate, or bits of stone, Portland cement, and water. This mix of these three materials produces a material strong enough to withstand fiercely hostile weather-great heat, great cold-and the upheaval in the spring that is known as the frost coming out of the ground. Concrete bridges handle no end of weighty car traffic-every day of the year, year round, and year after year. Properly reinforced concrete buildings withstand earthquakes. A simple and level concrete walkway provides a sure path from here to there. Concrete is providing a sturdy and reliable framework for the construction of a pool and spa-we have such a project going on this fall.
Cement is a binder. It glues all of the aggregate elements of concrete together into an extraordinarily strong and enduring building material. Cement, aggregate and water make for concrete. The composition and strength of concrete destined for public venues is subject to extensive review and exacting standards. Roads, bridges, and buildings made from concrete are built to last. This pool, poolhouse, and landscape project began with the pouring of concrete. The concrete is the foundation upon which a good deal of the project will be built. In this picture, a concrete wall overlooks a pool and spa. The pool coping-natural Indiana limestone, with a machined bullnose on the poolside edge. Anyone sliding into the pool will slip easily over that pool side curve.
As the natural grade of the property sloped towards the house, a retaining wall was necessary to provide a flat plane of ground for the pool and pool house. Of paramount importance-a drainage plan which would keep freezing water away fom the face of that wall. The retaining wall will be finished in stone, but the first step was to provide a concrete foundation to which the face stone could be attached. A wall which retains soil is subject to intense pressure-from the soil it is holding back, and from the ravages of water. This retaining wall has a concrete foundation which goes 42″ below grade. 42 inches? The ground in Michigan can penetrate the soil to the tune of 42 inches deep. The function of a concrete foundation this deep is to keep the wall from cracking, no matter how severe the winter. A concrete foundation set 42 inches deep insures a landscape feature that endures.
Some essential elements of solid landscape construction implies those concrete foundations that will never be seen. Chunks of flat rock faced stone cannot provide structure to a wall. This stone is being mortared to a concrete face that extends almost 4 feet below ground. A wall whose foundation is below the frost line will not crack, bow, or disintegrate. The beautiful part of the wall-the finished face of stone – will resist the distructive effect of the weather. It is solidly attached to a foundation of concrete that is designed and constructed to withstand the weather.
A beautiful stone retaining wall is a work of art. Each stone mason has their signature touch. This particular mason-his walls are as enduring as they are beautiful. He has a signature that I greatly respect. The concrete onto which this stone is mortared-the foundation onto which every other element in this landscape will be built.
I am not a concrete expert. Like everyone else, my knowledge has its limits. But I am thinking today that this ordinary and generally homely material that I call concrete is capable of enabling much in the landscape. In a finished and polished state, it has endowed many a modern building or bridge with considerable beauty. In its raw and powerful state, it makes many landscape gestures possible.
This project, at this moment, is all about the concrete. Raw, rough, and chilly. But what will be built upon this foundation of Portland cement, aggregate, steel reinforcement and water be anything but raw and chilly, once we are finished.
This is a landscape under construction.