Hardscape is a blanket category for any manmade materials incorporated into a landscape. Typically, the term hardscape is used to refer to patios, walkways, retaining walls, and other similar structures. Hardscapes can be made from a variety of materials including natural stone, brick, pavers, wood, and concrete.

Pavers: The Classic Hardscape

 Photo courtesy of County Materials

Photo courtesy of County Materials

The use of pavers dates to ancient Rome and Egypt. Stone, often cut into flat pieces or blocks, were meticulously placed on a graded surface to create early roads. Some of these roads are still around thousands of years later. As humans progressed, more structures were developed using natural stone and brick pavers. Many major European cities and some of the older American cities (such as Boston) are still paved using brick, stone, and cobbles. By the 1940s, engineers had developed economical interlocking pavers manufactured from concrete.

Pavers have a long and established history. With literality thousands of years in development, they can be a good solution for a variety of hardscapes. Modern concrete pavers offer superb durability and an excellent array of design options. However, pavers are far from perfect and have some noteworthy drawbacks. Since the dawn of the 20th Century, labor costs have continually gone up. Laying pavers, especially decorative interlocking pavers, is a very labor-intensive process that can cost a great deal. Pavers also require a great deal of ongoing maintenance to prevent plant growth in joints, heaving, and other issues.

A Modern Alternative to Pavers

 Photo courtesy of Salzano Custom Concrete.

Photo courtesy of Salzano Custom Concrete.

Concrete is one of, if not the oldest manufactured building materials used by mankind. Early forms of concrete date back to prehistory. Ancient Romans further developed concrete by incorporating early pozzolans and aggregate. The Romans used concrete effectively as a primary structural element in many buildings that still stand, today. By the mid-to-late 19th century, modern Portland cement had been developed in England and Germany, resulting in the first truly modern concrete.

Stamped Concrete

 Photo courtesy of Hudecek Cement

Photo courtesy of Hudecek Cement

Despite this long timeline, concrete is ironically the modern alternative to pavers. Since the 1970s, stamped concrete has been offered as an alternative to traditional pavers. Stamped concrete offers a wider variety of color options and some texture customization, as well as an additional degree of durability and stability. However, as a labor-intensive process, stamped concrete can also represent a significant investment. These characteristics make stamped concrete an attractive alternative to pavers in many situations.

Other Hardscapes

 Stamped concrete with exposed aggregate borders. Courtesy of Gradeline General Contractors.

Stamped concrete with exposed aggregate borders. Courtesy of Gradeline General Contractors.

When placing a new hardscape, an exposed aggregate finish presents the opportunity for an even more economical decorative hardscape when compared to stamped concrete or pavers. A surprising amount of detail and variation can be designed into the exposed aggregate finish using different exposure levels, different kinds of aggregate, different colors, stains, sawcuts, and embedded stencils. This finish is also a more easily maintained and more functional finish than most stamped surfaces or paver installations. However, as the design becomes increasingly intricate, it begins to reach price parity with stamped concrete.