Curbless Curb Apeal

To make their community stand out, Delo Apartments in Colorado opted for a new strategy that would encourage resident interaction.

In commercial development, the thirst for something new is nearly constant. Developers, designers and builders all continually search for a competitive edge in an ultra-competitive industry to distinguish their product from a sea of sameness. In this quest for new and unique, certain successful developments become mile markers along the highway of innovation; noteworthy reference points defining a technical or aesthetic advance that inspires future design. Such is the expectation for a small mixed-use multifamily community in Louisville, Colo., to deliver a pedestrian-centric, multimodal community experience.

“Placemaking really impacts the people that occupy a space,” said Paul Shoukas, vice president and landscape architect with PCS Group, of the streetscape at the Delo Apartments designed to enhance community connections. Located just east of Louisville’s downtown, the development objective for Delo was to foster easy pedestrian access to the city’s recently revitalized commercial district. Particularly challenging, the link between the town center and Delo is bisected by a railroad, a potentially huge impediment to pedestrians. The solution, a living street.

“We borrowed from a Dutch design strategy called a Woonerf to create a curbless environment,” continued Shoukas of the site’s unusual, flat interface between the street and sidewalk. The design means to give equal priority to all modes of transportation including vehicular, bicycle, pedestrian and wheeled. By merging street and sidewalk into a single, flat surface, the idea behind the Woonerf is that eye contact and continual human interaction are a more effective means of creating a safe, pedestrian-friendly environment than curbs, signs and rules.

“Rather than separating uses with barriers, the design integrates several really beautiful architectural concrete techniques, colors, and patterns with small, raised truncated domes to delineate street and sidewalk,” said Shoukas.

At Delo, the only formal separation between road and sidewalk occurs through the use of steel plates covered in raised metal domes. Commonly used as an ADA measure where sidewalks slope to streets, here the raised domes will cause a warning rumble effect if a vehicle drives over them.

Putting the Plan into Action

Defining the work on paper and putting it into the ground are often two different challenges in the building industry. Incorporating architectural concrete into the site’s drivable surfaces meant completely rethinking the way the property was built. Often in greenfield construction, paved surfaces are placed first to provide immediate access for the heavy equipment and manpower required by vertical construction. Once the buildings are established, sidewalks and curbs are added, and finally, roads and parking lots are resurfaced with a topping layer when construction is nearing conclusion. When using decorative concrete as a drivable road, hard surfaces must be placed after heavy-equipment construction is complete to protect the beauty and integrity of the finished product. Adding to the complexity of the build, Delo’s public spaces also significantly incorporate concrete stem walls to account for elevation changes across the site and provide ample opportunity for stopping, sitting and chatting among neighbors.

Sean O’Keefe has more than 18 years of experience articulating the complexities, challenges, and camaraderie of construction and design. He writes Built Environment stories for owners, architects, builders and product manufacturers and can be reached at [email protected].

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