Landscapes, Streetscapes, Parks & Garden Fixtures

Downtown Upgrade

New pavers solved both aesthetic and functional problems for a downtown walkway in an historic town in New Jersey.

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By Martha McDonald

Kings Court Plaza in Haddonfield, NJ, has been updated, thanks to Alberto & Associates - Urban Design and Architecture, Remington & Vernick Engineers, Knolltop Nursery and new pavers from Pine Hall Brick. The walkway now features bluestone pavers around the edge to guide circulation while the interior squares alternate RainPave permeable pavers with Pine Hall's standard clay brick pavers. All photos: courtesy of Alberto & Associates

When a historic plaza just off of downtown Haddonfield, NJ's main street, Kings Highway, began to look a bit rundown, the town decided it was time to update its popular pedestrian gathering place. Known as Kings Court Plaza, the 11,000-sq.ft. walkway was experiencing drainage and cracking problems and the area had become less than inviting.

A local firm known for its traditional work, Alberto & Associates – Urban Design and Architecture (A&A), was brought in to update the plaza in a way that maintained its historic character while also solving the drainage problem. A&A studied pedestrian activity and events in the plaza and then led a public planning process to improve the area. Because it was a public space, the townspeople were very interested and involved in all of the decisions. Through town meetings with homeowners, garden clubs, shop owners and the general public, it was decided to upgrade the area with new brick and bluestone pavers, additional lighting, fresh landscaping and new seating.

A&A created a plan that combined two classic Colonial-era materials: brick and bluestone pavers. The central brick areas (some permeable) are designed for resting and sitting while the bluestone area is designed to direct pedestrians around the shopping area. By observing activity in the plaza, A&A noted that a popular gazebo at one end was underutilized due to handrails and bushes that restricted access. A&A reset the gazebo on a newly designed, continuous brick and bluestone plinth. Today crowds populate all 360 degrees of the iconic structure.

Previously the walkway was paved with red brick that had begun to show its age. In addition, there were drainage and cracking problems.

Originally the entire walkway had been paved in mortar-set brick so it had a uniform appearance. Excessive mortar cracks were evident and drainage problems were widespread. A&A selected standard clay brick pavers combined with permeable RainPave pavers from Pine Hill Brick, along with bluestone pavers, for the walkway. All materials were dry-set in sand for maximum drainage and repair flexibility.

"This was a community-driven project," says Paul Monson, LEED AP, project manager, Alberto & Associates. Residents understood that the plaza needed repair but were concerned that the historic appeal of the plaza would be lost in the update. "The space didn't feel as open as people wanted, but there were a lot of things about the walkway that were already working well. So our approach was to tweak the original design. People liked the brick, so we kept a herringbone brick pattern in the center and added bluestone for circulation paths. Before, it was all brick. There wasn't any differentiation."

The original plan for the walkway included a fountain and entry gate, but these had to be dropped for budgetary reasons. The town is hopeful that they might still be added.

The pavers solved both an aesthetic and a functional problem, according to Ted Corvey, paver business director for Pine Hill Brick. "They had a drainage problem with the previous mortar-set brick," he says. "They were getting puddling. The RainPave solves the drainage problem and it also has an historic look. We fire and then tumble it in a drum to beat it up and round the edges to make it look old. The standard clay brick pavers used in conjunction with the RainPave were Pine Hall Brick's Rumbled Full Range pavers, which are also tumbled after firing. Both offer the traditional look."

Crowds now enjoy the outdoor areas at Kings Court Plaza.

"One of the advantages of using brick pavers," adds Monson, "is that the shops could be kept open while the work was going on. The workmen just took out one area at a time, and replaced it with the new pavers. In the future, repairs can be made with little or no heavy equipment, which means business can continue uninterrupted." The work was done by Remington & Vernick Engineers, Haddonfield, NJ.

Another important part of the restoration was the gazebo, which is used extensively as a centerpiece in community events. Monson explains that the gazebo, which becomes Santa's headquarters at Christmas and a performance stage in the summer, had structural problems and was surrounded by balusters and hedges, cutting it off from the rest of the walkway. The solution was to repair the gazebo, adding hidden wiring and lighting for use in public performances, and to remove the barriers – the hedges and balusters – making it more open. In addition, the paver pattern was continued here, with an oval of red brick in a herringbone pattern around the gazebo and bluestone around the edges to guide circulation.

A low wall that can be used for seating was also added near the gazebo. This is now used by pedestrians and by people who come to the regular monthly public shows at the gazebo. "There is a festival on the first Friday of every month," says Monson. "The businesses pull out to the sidewalk and there are street vendors and performers. The gazebo is one of the main stages."

Other improvements included the new seating around the edges of the red brick areas, new hidden lighting to improve visibility in the evenings, and new landscaping done by Knolltop Nursery – Landscape Architecture of Haddonfield, NJ.

With hedges and balusters removed, the gazebo is now more open. The paver pattern continues here with red brick in a herringbone pattern surrounded by bluestone. The low walls were added to provide casual seating.

The original plans by Albert & Associates included a fountain, custom seating benches, an inset compass rose, and an entry gate at the Kings Road entrance to the walkway. The fountain was dropped for budget reasons. "We are hopeful that the benches, compass rose and gate will be added later," says Monson. "All it takes is a generous donor or two to step forward."

The plaza design also included new benches to curve around the planted trees, but these had to be put on hold along with the gate and compass rose for budget reasons. The benches in the plaza now are the same as existed before.

In the meantime, Kings Court Plaza has been revamped and is contributing to the sociability of the town. The entire project took about a year, including meetings and design work. The planning process began in January of 2008 and was mostly complete in time for the holiday shopping season. A few last-minute landscape items were done in the spring of 2009 and the walkway was officially opened in the summer of 2009.

Monson cites the advantages of a traditional downtown community. "We live in a throw-away culture," he says. "We want everything to be cutting edge and futuristic. Areas like Kings Court tie into the roots and historic character of the place. They use simple, traditional design principles to create an active community public space. And," he adds, "it is built to be permanent, which is one of the most environmentally friendly things we can do. The materials are high quality and they don't come cheap, but the savings over time makes it worth it."

"Public places are important," Monson states. "They can't be replaced by malls, 'fun-zones' or even private yards. In historic towns like this, you have a community space that you share. Investing in meaningful improvements means time, resources, and cooperation, but the results speak for themselves. A public place becomes the heart of the business area, an economic engine for the community, and a destination that brings people from around the region."

Click here for a list of suppliers of pavers and paving materials