Landscape Architecture: Design Ideas for “Taking It Outside”

Materials and strategies for creating safe and comfortable outdoor experiences
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Sponsored by Bison Innovative Products and Humboldt Sawmill Company
By Elena M. Pascarella, RLA, ASLA

Deck System Components

Deck systems are comprised of two major components: pedestals and tiles/pavers. The pedestals are designed to elevate and support a variety of tiles/paver surfaces, including structural porcelain, stone, granite or concrete pavers, wood tiles, composite materials, fiberglass grating, or conventional joist and plank systems.

As a component of the deck system, the pedestals offer tremendous design flexibility coupled with ease of installation. This adjustable component provides a unique and viable alternative to traditional deck-building systems for the following key reasons:

  • They are available in a range of heights and weight-bearing capacities to suit a variety of applications.
  • They are one of the most labor- and cost-efficient methods of creating a flat, level structure over a sloped surface.
  • They use a gravity system that protects roofing and waterproofing materials without damaging or harming the surface below.
  • They can support decks over occupied space, allowing space for electrical systems, duct work, or irrigation to pass underneath.

The pedestals are made with high-density polypropylene plastic (comprised of 20 percent post-industrial recycled content) that are 100 percent recyclable. The recycled material content of the pedestals provides points toward both LEED and SITES certification. The pedestals are screw adjustable and easily leveled with tapered base-leveling discs and/or shims, allowing the creation of level surfaces over a variety of conditions, including sloped surfaces. The pedestals can elevate and support wood tiles, concrete pavers, and an assortment of other surfaces when sophisticated, commercial-grade decking is required. They are also sturdy enough to support site furnishings, such as planters, tables, and benches, and structures such as pergolas.

The pedestals come in residential, commercial, and industrial grades with each grade having different characteristics. Deciding which grade to specify is dependent upon the load and elevation requirements of the installation.

Fastening kits and splines facilitate quick and secure pedestal deck system installations. The fasteners attach kerf-cut wood, concrete, and stone pavers or paver-tray-backed porcelain tiles to the pedestals without penetrating or damaging the roof surface. While the fasteners are hidden, they can be accessed to allow for easy removal of individual wood tiles or pavers if roof maintenance, drain access, or replacement is required. Some pedestal systems can also be designed to resist wind uplift; consult with individual manufacturers and engineers for confirmation on the capabilities of specific systems.

Pedestal systems can support decks over occupied space, allowing cavity space for electrical systems, duct work, and irrigation. A pedestal-supported system is an ideal method to incorporate a water-feature application onto a rooftop garden. The system conceals the water supply between the pedestals and beneath surface materials, allowing water to drain to the surface below for recycling. The sound of water provides a healthy, relaxing atmosphere in an outdoor setting. Additionally, the pedestal supports are impervious to water, mold, freeze-thaw cycles, and most chemicals. These pedestal systems also provide designers with the opportunity to include recessed lighting below the surface. Lighting can be selectively located to enhance the ambiance of the environment and improve visibility and safety during nighttime and/or dark conditions.

The pedestal system is one of the most labor- and cost-efficient methods of creating a flat, level deck over a sloped or uneven sub-surface. Using a gravity system, the supports protect roofing membranes and waterproofing and do not damage or harm the surface below. Rooftop decks are a way for residential, hospitality, or public spaces to expand outdoor experiences and create valuable outdoor spaces. Pedestal systems can be installed to accommodate wind-uplift requirements. Wind-uplift systems are designed to resist high-velocity wind zones when installed to the manufacturer’s specifications. Pedestals elevate the deck surface to provide an even and level transition from one space to another. This allows easy access for patrons with different levels of mobility.

Modular Wood Tiles for Ground or Rooftop Applications

Tiles and pavers are the second component of the adjustable deck system. Typically made from dense hardwoods, wood tiles are commercial grade and available in responsibly harvested standard and FSC-certified species. Wood tiles that are made from tropical hardwoods contain a rich variety of graining and coloration, are exceptionally dense, and are resistant to insects. These commercial-grade, responsibly harvested wood tiles weather well and are available in a variety of species. Wood species include fused bamboo, cumaru, garapa, ipê, and massaranduba. Wood tiles can be crafted from premium-grade remnants and harvested in an environmentally responsible method designed to preserve the economic viability of rainforest hardwoods.

The density of tropical hardwood species makes for minimal maintenance. If maintaining the wood color is desired, wood tiles can be periodically cleaned and sealed. Left to weather naturally, the wood tiles will develop a silvery-gray patina.

Wood tiles are ideal for blending the warm beauty and upscale appearance of real wood with durability and low maintenance. Weighing one-third as much as concrete tiles, wood tiles are a good alternative when surface material weight is a factor. Wood tiles can be laid in a parquet or linear pattern, or mixed with pavers, river rock, stone, plank decking, or other options to create a unique aesthetic. Wood tiles are available in a variety of finishes, including ribbed or smooth, and multiple plank counts, allowing for a particular look.

Because they are modular, the wood tiles meet SITES Criteria 5.3: Design for Adaptability and Disassembly. The wood tiles also meet SITES Criteria 5.8, as they support safer chemistry.

Pavers and Paver Trays

Pavers are a beautiful surfacing option for rooftop environments. Available in a wide variety of sizes with a wood, stone, or concrete appearance, 2-centimeter pavers create aesthetic appeal for rooftop decks, outdoor areas, and pool surrounds. When installed over pedestal supports, 2-centimeter pavers should be backed by paver support trays to enhance the impact resistance and provide additional strength. The 2-centimeter paver and paver-tray system provides weather resistance and protection as well as valuable rooftop outdoor space for buildings and ground-level outdoor areas. Paver trays provide simple, lightweight, and durable support for 2-centimeter porcelain, natural stone, and concrete pavers. Paver trays made from galvanized steel meet the testing requirements for noncombustible surface materials. The paver support trays are designed to enhance impact and wind-uplift resistance and provide additional strength to paver surface materials. Paver trays can be adhered to the desired surface pavers on-site before or during installation. They are available in a variety of standard and special-order sizes, including 24-inch x 24-inch, 24-inch x 18-inch, 24-inch x 16-inch, 24-inch x 12-inch, 20-inch x 20-inch, and 18-inch x 18-inch. Paver trays can be combined to accommodate larger-format pavers. Consult individual manufacturers for recommended configurations.

Creating Outdoor Spaces with Deck Systems

Modular surface materials, pedestals, and accessories allow for a unique design with quick and easy installation. The pedestal deck system provides an affordable way to create a usable outdoor space particular to a project’s needs and aesthetic. The system provides designers with tools to design and enhance underutilized outdoor spaces, turning an otherwise wasted space into a functional outdoor amenity, such as a kitchen, bar, lounge, or garden area.

Ground-level and street-level sidewalks and storefronts can be expanded through the design of mini-decks, parklets, or popup parks, all of which enhance urban communities. The mini-decks, parklets, and popup parks can be designed using pedestal systems and modular wood tiles placed over existing ground and street-level spaces. Green roofs can expand usable space to include gardens and walkways. Designs that include green roofs demonstrate imagination in the use of materials that minimize maintenance and a project’s environmental footprint. Incorporating a pedestal system can provide pedestrian access to green roofs. These exterior spaces provide areas that support social connections, mental restoration, and physical activities, which meet criteria under Site Design: Human Health and Well-Being in the Sustainable SITES guidelines.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in August 2021


Landscape Architecture: Design Ideas for “Taking It Outside”
Buyer's Guide
Rooftop Deck Systems
Bison pedestals are manufactured in Denver with 20 percent post-industrial recycled materials and have patented features that improve performance and stability. These versatile, adjustable-height pedestal deck systems create level rooftop decks over sloped surfaces, support a variety of different surface materials, and can be installed over any structural surface.
Bison Innovative Products
Lumber and Timbers
Redwood lumber and timbers are popular for landscaping projects where the natural beauty and durability of wood is desired. Redwood lumber encompasses 1-inch and 2-inch material. Redwood timbers encompass 4-inch, 6-inch, 8-inch, and larger members. Redwood from Humboldt Sawmill Company is available Forest Stewardship Council (FSC C013133) certified.
Humboldt Sawmill Company